Also known as the Platform of Church Discipline, it was framed by a synod held in Cambridge, Mass., in 1648. Representatives of the Puritan churches in the four New England colonies gathered to take steps against interference by unfriendly authorities in England and to formulate a common church polity based on Scripture. The westminster confession had proposed a national church on a Presbyterian pattern, and the clergy of New England—not seeking freedom from English political rule—were determined to maintain the autonomy of their own churches. Though recognizing a bond through the covenant of grace, the leaders wanted to ensure the right of each congregation to elect and ordain a minister of its own choosing and to regulate its affairs without direction by any higher authority.
The 17 chapters of the Platform, mainly the work of Richard Mather, described carefully a system of church discipline that would regularize the practices of the New England churches, with each item supported by texts from Scripture. The synod used the word Congregational and provided for the free election of church officers by the church members. Although each church was to be distinct, the Platform recommended consultation among neighboring churches. The support of the churches by local taxation was taken for granted, but the civil authorities were to have no control, except in cases of heresy, blasphemy, profanation of the Lord's Day, and open disturbance of worship.
The Cambridge Platform established a new church order, a type of government that served the congrega tionalists for 200 years. Its principle of the autonomy of the local church was adopted by the baptists, the uni versalists, and other groups, so that nearly half of American Protestants belong to churches that are congregational in practice.
Bibliography: f. l. fagley, "The Narrative of the Cambridge Synod," in Cambridge Platform of 1648: Tercentenary Commemoration …, ed. h. w. foote (Boston 1949). h. w. foote, "The Significance and Influence of the Cambridge Platform of 1648," ibid. bibliog. of editions of the Platform, ibid. 115–119.
[w. d. hoyt, jr.]
CAMBRIDGE PLATFORM, a resolution drawn up by a synod of ministers from Massachusetts and Connecticut (August 1648), which met pursuant to a request of the Massachusetts General Court. The New England authorities desired a formal statement of polity and a confession of faith because of the current Presbyterian ascendancy in England and the activities of local Presbyterians such as Dr. Robert Child. The platform, written by Richard Mather, endorsed the Westminster Confession and for ecclesiastical organization upheld the existing Congregational practice. The Cambridge Platform remained the standard formulation in Massachusetts through the eighteenth century and in Connecticut until the Say-brook Platform of 1708.
Cambridge Platform, declaration of principles of church government and discipline, forming in fact a constitution of the Congregational churches. It was adopted (1648) by a church synod at Cambridge, Mass., and remains the basis of the temporal government of the churches. It had little to do with matters of doctrine and belief. The Congregationalists of Connecticut later subscribed (1708), in the Saybrook Platform, to a more centralized church government, resembling Presbyterianism. See also Congregationalism.