The first church to open in the Congregational model was the Circus in Edinburgh in 1798. It was funded by the Haldane brothers, who had attempted a form of evangelism not specific to any form of Protestantism. After they first opened non-denominational preaching stations, they realized some structure was necessary. The brothers became substantial funders of the rapidly spreading movement, which by 1807 had formed 85 churches on the congregational plan and trained nearly 300 men for the ministry.
|James Haldane; image courtesy of Electric Scotland|
The brothers began to question the validity of infant baptism and in 1808 they became Baptists. They foreclosed on all outstanding loans and repossessed all of the buildings they had funded. The Glasgow Theological Academy was founded in 1811 and replaced the patronage previously provided by the Haldane brothers. In 1812 the Congregation Union was formed with 55 churches. By 1824 the union included 72 member churches and soon after, nearly a hundred.
In 1843 the disruption within the Church of Scotland occurred. Several new "flavors" of Presbyterianism resulted. The Evangelical Union was one formed by those who had suffered for their theology and their consciences. The union espoused freedom of conscience and autonomy of local churches and away from hard-line Calvinism. The union was also at the forefront of the temperance movement and frequently prohibited anyone who worked in the spirits trade from membership.
From 1843 until 1896 Scotland had two unions of voluntary, independent churches -- the Congregational Union and the Evangelical Union. They had similar standards for membership and both had an aversion to creeds. Where they differed was over the issue of predestination. Over the decades the theology of both unions became more liberal. In 1867 the idea of a merger was broached informally. Negotiations began in 1892 and in 1896 the unions were united.
"James Haldane," Electric Scotland, http://www.electricscotland.com/
A Scottish Congregationalism, by Alan Paterson