Historically modern Congregationalism began in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Just after Easter 1559 the English queen introduced a bill known as The Act of Uniformity, which was designed to unify the church in what had become a very troubled period of compromise in areas of doctrine and practice. The Church of England in the Middle Ages was almost wholly Roman in its theology and worship. The land was overrun with monks and friars, while churches were full of relics of martyrs and saints. Transubstantiation; adoration of Mary and the Saints were now all part of the English church scene. Parishes of the Church of England were to be found all over the land, but the truth of the gospel was virtually unknown. Parliament had previously adopted another Act known as the Act of Supremacy in which the Monarch was made Head of the Church, giving Queen Elizabeth the authority to govern the disciplines and direction of the Church.
The Act of Uniformity majored on three areas:
This Act was designed to secure the future and ensure the stability of the Church under the complete control of the supervising authorities. The term Puritan was first used during the 1560s as a term of abuse, and represented the purists who refused to submit to the Act and refused its every demand. The Puritan age lasted from about 1560 to the end of the seventeenth century, and was characterized by an intense struggle as Puritans and Crown disagreed, often vehemently, over issues of doctrine and administration.
As many within the church capitulated to the demands of the Act of Uniformity the Puritan movement saw preaching centers established outside the perimeters of the Act, and these though increasing in popularity provoked the ire of the authorities charged with the responsibility of policing the Act's demands, and soon under direction from the Queen these gatherings were declared illegal. Those who refused to conform were ejected from their pulpits and parishes with many thrown into prison; and here they continued to affirm Biblical principles and disciplines. John Bunyan wrote his classical work Pilgrim's Progress while in prison.
The following years brought a series of Acts of Parliament designed to curtail the growth of the Puritan Movement and if possible stamp it out all together. For example, the Conventicle Acts 1664, 1670, made it a punishable offence for anyone over sixteen years of age, except for members of the same family, to meet for any religious service without full and proper use of the Book of Common Prayer. Goods and chattels could be sold to pay the fine and one third of the fine would go to the informer. Houses could be broken into on suspicion and any magistrate, or officer, who did not apply the law would themselves be fined.
In 1665 the Five Mile Act was passed in Parliament confirming it was unlawful for anyone who had been a Parson, Vicar, Curate, or who had been in holy orders; and who did not subscribe to everything in the Prayer Book, to approach within five miles of any city, town, or borough, or within five miles of any parish in which he had ministered. All who broke the law were liable to a fine of forty pounds. This Act seems to have been designed to cut off all support and starve these dissenters into submission. The nonconformists however were determined to keep their witness alive, and their churches intact. It was around this period two great statements were drawn up to clearly identify the doctrinal position of these separatists.
In 1658 one hundred and twenty Congregational churches sent a total of two hundred delegates to the Savoy Palace for the purpose of agreeing upon a Confession that would embody the theological position and ecclesiastical order of Congregational churches. They took as their model the Westminster Confession of Faith recently completed by an Assembly of that name. After two weeks of intense and sustained prayer and dialogue the Savoy Declaration was drawn up, and became the subordinate standard for those who adopted the Congregational position. The Savoy Declaration is Reformed in theology.
Our foundation is built on four principles:
For more than four centuries godly men have pursued the way, which is Independent, Reformed, Puritan, and Evangelical. SGBC is part of that way. As such she is a mainstream church with a sense of history, she is also an evangelical church with a vision for the future. SGBC continues to embrace the Doctrines of Grace and the Five Solas of Reformation theology:
1. We believe the Bible is the Divinely inspired and infallible Word of God as written and is the sole authority in all matters of Christian faith and practice.
2. We believe God is one, existing through all eternity in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; co-eternal; co-equal; exercising sovereign power in creation, providence, and redemption.
3. We believe Satan is a fallen angel, a malignant spirit, the enemy of Jesus Christ and of the saints, deceiving mankind. He has been condemned to eternal damnation as a defeated foe.
4. We believe God created man perfect, but after being tempted by Satan, man disobeyed God's law and thereby all mankind became sinners, falling under the curse and condemnation of a broken law. Man's whole nature is totally corrupted by sin and his fellowship with God is broken, therefore no-one has the will or the ability to come to God in his own strength.
5. We believe God alone can deal with the problem of man's sin. God must initiate and confirm a work of sovereign grace in the heart in order for man to be delivered from sin's bondage and condemnation, and to be restored to a right relationship with God.
6. We believe the holy Scriptures affirm that the sinner is justified by faith alone in the finished work of Christ, that is, His substitutionary death upon the cross and his resurrection from the dead. The works of men and the traditions of the visible church are of no avail in the salvation and justification of the lost. Saving faith is a gift from God.
7. We believe the Lord Jesus Christ was shown to be the Son of God by: His birth; teaching ; works ; death and resurrection from the dead. He has ascended in power and glory to the presence of God, where He now pleads on behalf of those who call upon Him in truth.
8. We believe God is bringing all human history to a climax which will be marked by the personal bodily return to the earth of the Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory.
9. We believe God has appointed Jesus as Judge and there will be a final judgement. Those who are saved will be raised in a glorified body and enjoy, eternally and to the full, the presence of their Lord in heaven. Those who have rejected Christ will also be raised and banished from God for ever in Hell.
10. We believe all belong to Christ who have been personally redeemed with the precious blood of Christ and upon whom God has bestowed His righteousness as a free gift. They alone are members of the one universal and eternal Church - which is the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ. Those who are Christ's are sealed with the Holy Spirit and will never again be irretrievably lost.
11. We believe the Church consists of all who are chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and born again by the Holy Spirit. The Church finds its visible expression in a local assembly of believers, gathered by Christ and under His sole, sufficient and supreme authority, and under the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit are appointed to glorify Christ by promoting His worship, teaching His word to believers and proclaiming His gospel to the lost.
12. We believe the Holy Spirit gives many different gifts to equip all God's people for various forms of ministry in order to build up the Body of Christ, and that He distributes those gifts according to His sovereign will. A gift is to be valued in the Church according to its contribution to the common good.
13. We believe every Christian is called to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love his neighbour as himself. All are called to be conformed to the likeness of Christ doing all things to the glory of God. The indwelling Holy Spirit makes this new life a reality as God's children yield themselves to Him.
14. We believe Christ has instituted two ordinances in and through which His person and benefits are represented. In Baptism and the Lord's Supper, believers identify with the Death, Burial, Resurrection, and Second Coming of Christ, in acknowledgement of His covenant promises to His people.
15. We believe we are under obligation to fulfil the Great Commission given to the Church by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples of all nations.