The Cambridge Platform and the future of the church

This special supplement to the Theology Page is a resource for congregations and seminaries using the 1648 Cambridge Platform as a tool for study in U.S. Christian history and polity. The Cambridge Platform was a transforming event in the life of 17th-century Congregationalism and is relevant to serious issues that concern all Christian churches today. In a global church that is becoming increasingly congregational, non-hierarchical and fragmented by culture wars, how do churches maintain bonds of love with each other? How can we resolve the tensions between unity and freedom, tradition and modernity, the integrity of community and the rights of the individual?

Papers at the Cambridge Platform 350th Anniversary Conference in Cambridge, Mass., explored these issues in depth. We are able to invite you to this feast of theological reflection through the courtesy of the Congregational Library in Boston, which granted us permission to reprint the conference papers. Also included are six audio files of an unprecedented conversation between leaders of the four communions that can claim descent from the Cambridge Platform—the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. These groups represent the left, center and right of the American religious spectrum, and show how a defining moment 350 years in the past can produce strikingly different results. The audiotape was provided through the courtesy of the First Church in Cambridge, United Church of Christ. Papers are linked below. 

Elizabeth C. Nordbeck writes that the heritage of the Cambridge Platform “heritage is immensely powerful, immensely compelling and still capable of shaping the present and future.”

 Social and Spiritual Roots
Francis J. Bremer explores the Platform’s roots in the social and spiritual values of New England’s Puritan community.

 Relevance for Today
Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe asks what the Platform can teach divided and often warring churches in the 21st Century.

 Looking Back, Forward
Harvard University chaplain Peter Gomes preaches the concluding sermon at Harvard’s Chapel.