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V

1 Voluntarism is a concept of great importance in classical liberal thought, originating in arguments over church government, but applied more generally. In the traditional parochial model of church government the church was organized on a hierarchical basis with power flowing from the top downwards through bishops and priests. The individual Christian belonged to a particular parish by virtue of birth or residence but had no choice in the matter of his fellow parishioners or his priest. The voluntarist model of church government has power flowing from the bottom upwards. The basic unit of the church, the congregation, is a free association of individual believers who have chosen to meet together for worship and the practice of the faith in accordance with a covenant which they freely subscribe to. The congregation is self-governing and choses its minister or pastor and may chose to associate with other self-governing congregations. These two models could be, and were, applied not only to church affairs but to society in general, hence the central importance of debates over church establishment between liberals and conservatives in the last century.