This article was found in the March 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Letters from an Uncle to his Niece and Nephew
Unfortunately, the beginning of this letter has been lost.
... They called one of their number to be their minister and others they appointed deacons. These folk who joined together in one church in order to worship God in praise and prayer were very conscious of the fact that they had direct access to Christ himself without the need to call upon any civil or religious authority.
In the second century of our era things began to alter quite a lot. Bishops had been appointed and Churches came more and more under their rule. To the Bishops gradually accrued all the powers formerly held by the members themselves. Creeds also began to be formed. No longer could you join the Church by a simple direct confession of faith, you had to do so by subscribing to a creed. (In the end Christian people even came to believe that the Grace of God came through Bishops and not by way of associations with fellow Christians.) By the middle of the third century the Bishop was controlling all the Churches in his area. Slowly but surely a vast and outwardly imposing edifice was erected of Pope, Cardinal, Bishop and Priest, with the result that the Church itself became enfeebled and weak. Congregational life became impossible and its power vanished. More and more Christian people became content to leave everything to the "spiritual head" of the Church and real Christian religion decayed and with decay came corruption and evil.
This process continued until the Reformation, and while the Church became very wealthy it also became very unreal. Throughout these centuries, however, Congregationalism remained alive; although often driven underground it yet never died. You see it cannot die, because whenever men and women came freely together in spiritual association there is the fundamental principle of Congregationalism. Sects like the Montanists and Donatists in the earlier centuries; the Beguines in the Netherlands and the Waldenses in France and Italy all tried to recapture the spiritual freedom of the 1st century.
Then came an event which shook the Church to its very foundations and heralded the centuries of persecution which were to follow. The discovery of the Printing Press and the translation of the Bible into common tongue. Christians began to read the Bible for themselves. They found how Bishop and Priest had interfered with the Divine flow of God's Grace to ordinary men and women. There grew up a demand for the "Open Bible." Folk urged that Christian men and women should have the Bible and only the Bible as their supreme authority for Christian living and faith.
It is perhaps hard for us in the 20th century to realise what the "Open Bible" meant to those people. Remember when you see that Bible in your own Church the many centuries of strife and persecution that had to be endured before men and women won the right to use it.
May God bless you,
To be continued