Cambridge Platform, a system of Church discipline agreed upon by the elders and messengers of the New England churches, assembled in synod at Cambridge, 1648. The object of the synod was to define accurately the ecclesiastical position of the New England churches. In matters of faith they were agreed, but there were differences in regard to Church government, some being inclined to a more strict Presbyterianism, some to a more loose Independency, while the great majority were Congregationalists.
As regards doctrine, the synod declared their adhesion to the Westminster Confession; but they did not accept that confession in regard to discipline, but proceeded to construct a platform, of which we give the following abstract: It declares that the form of Church government is one, immutable, and prescribed in the Word of God. The Church in general consists of the whole company of the redeemed, but the state of the visible Church militant, walking in order, was before the law economical, or in families; under the law, national; since Christ, only congregational. "The matter of the visible Church in quality consists of saints by calling;" and in quantity "a church ought not to be of greater number than may ordinarily meet together conveniently in one place, nor fewer than can conveniently carry on church work." The saints must have a visible political union among themselves, and this form is the visible covenant whereby they give themselves up to the Lord, to the observing of the ordinances of Christ together in the same society. The supreme power in the Church belongs to Jesus Christ; subordinate power, as extraordinary, to apostles, etc.; as ordinary, to every particular church. The officers in a church are necessary to its well-being, but not to its existence. The extraordinary, as apostles, are temporary; the ordinary, which are elders (or bishops) and deacons, are perpetual. There is a difference between teaching and ruling elders. The ruling elder is to assist the teaching elder in ruling. The deacon's office is confined to temporalities. Church officers are elected by the church in which they are to minister, and the church may depose, as well as elect them, though the advice of neighboring churches in such case should be sought. Church officers are to be ordained after their election by the church; ordination is the solemn putting a man into his place, but does not constitute an officer. As the people may elect, they may also ordain; though, where there are elders, these, as representing the church, are to perform the service of imposition of hands. In respect to Christ, the head, the Church is a monarchy; in respect to the brotherhood, the body, it resembles a democracy; in respect to the Presbytery, it is an aristocracy. Church government or rule is placed by Christ in the officers of the church, who are subject to the power of the church, and who pronounce sentence with consent of the church.
In a right administration, all church acts proceed after the manner of a mixed administration. There are rules also for the support of church officers, admission and dismission of members, excommunication, etc., all based on the preceding principles; and it is declared that churches, though distinct and equal, ought to preserve church communion with each other, 1st, by way of mutual care; 2d, by way of consultation; 3d, by way of admonition; 4th, by way of participation in acts of worship, etc.; 5th, by way of recommendation; 6th, by way of relief and succor. In gathering a church, this communion should always be attended to.
Synods according to the pattern of Acts xv, though not necessary to the being, are useful for the well-being of the churches. They are constituted by the churches sending forth elders and other messengers to meet together in the name of Christ. A magistrate has power to call a synod, but the constituting of a synod is a church act. Synods are not to exercise church censures by way of discipline, but to debate and determine the principles on which such acts are based, and, so far as consonant with God's Word, they are to be received with reverence and submission. , Synods are not permanent ecclesiastical bodies. An article on the power of civil magistrates in matters ecclesiastical completes the platform. — Savage's Winthrop, vol. 2; Boston ed. Cambridge and Saybrcok Platforms,; Shedd, Hist. of Doctrines, 2:482. SEE CONGREGATIONALISTS.