Christian Cyclopedia

About the Cyclopedia

United Church of Christ.

Formed June 25, 1957, by merger of the Gen. Council of Cong. Christian Chs. and the Ev. and Ref. Ch. See also III.

I. Cong. and Christian Chs. In 1931 the Nat. Council of the Cong. Chs. of the US and the Gen. Conv. of the Christian Ch. (HQ Dayton, Ohio) united to form the Gen. Council of the Cong. and Christian Chs. (later name: Gen. Council of Cong. Christian Chs.).

A. Cong. Ch.

1. One of the questions raised by the Reformation for many Eng. Prots. was whether a Christian could hold membership in the Angl. Church. Puritans* believed they should remain in it and help purify it of papal elements. Separatists (also called Indeps. and Congregationalists) advocated congregationalism, holding that a cong. must be free of all ecclesiastical and pol. domination; see also Nonconformist; Robinson, John. After passage of the 1559 Act of Uniformity (see Roman Catholic Church, The, D 9), some intractables were executed, many dissident chs. were broken up. Robert Browne (ca. 1550–ca. 1633; b. Tolethorp, near Stamford, Rutlandshire, Eng.; educ. Cambridge; teacher; pastor based at Norwich ca. 1580; regarded by many as the founder of Congregationalism) emigrated to Holland with his cong. 1581; his views were called Brownism, his followers Brownists. Separatists in Holland developed a sense of being strangers and pilgrims in a for. land and became the Pilgrim Fathers who came to Am. 1620 on the Mayflower, est. the 1st permanent settlement in New Eng., and founded the 1st Cong. ch. in Am. at Plymouth, Massachusetts (see also Bradford, William; Brewster, William). Puritans est. Massachusetts Bay Colony 1629.

2. Pilgrims and Puritans agreed doctrinally, differing only on ch. govt. and membership, Pilgrims, as Separatists, denouncing the Angl. Ch., Puritans considering themselves mems. of it. The Cambridge Platform, adopted 1648, (see Democratic Declarations of Faith, 2) became standard of Congregationalism in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The intolerance that developed in New Eng. seems to have originated among Puritans, who emphasized the purity of the ch. and its authority also in the pol. realm. Heresy and witchcraft were accordingly to be condemned by ch. and state and punished by death. But Pilgrim ideals gradually prevailed. Separatists claimed freedom for themselves and granted it to others and so gave Congregationalism its distinctive mark.

But doctrinal freedom made doctrinal discipline and uniformity impossible. The Confession of 1680 (see Democratic Declarations of Faith, 2) was not binding on congs.

3. The liberalism of Congregationalism went hand in hand with modernism,* rationalism,* and Unitarianism.* See also Abbot, Lyman; Beecher, Henry Ward; Bushnell, Horace; Gladden, Washington; New England Theology. The Plan of Union of Congregationalists and Presbs. (see Presbyterian Churches. 4 a) was abandoned 1837 by Old School Presbs., by Congregationalists 1852.

See also American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions Kansas City Platform; Statement of Faith According to the Teachings of Congregational Christians, A.

B. Christian Ch. Resulted from a movement pioneered by J. O'Kelly,* who withdrew 1972 from the M. E. Ch. in protest against episcopacy, organized his followers as Republican Meths., who 1794 resolved to be known only as “Christians,” taking the Bible as guide and discipline and accepting only Christian character as test of ch. fellowship. A little later a similar movement arose among New Eng. Baps. See also Churches of Christ; Disciples of Christ, 2. Gen. meetings were held beginning ca. 1809. Gen. conferences were held regularly 1819–32. Gen. convs. were held beginning 1833. In 1890 the denomination was called “Christians (Christian Connection)”; the name “Christian Ch. (Am. Christian Conv.)” was used 1916; the name “Christian Ch. (Gen. Conv. of the Christian Ch.)” was adopted 1922. Unitarianism found adherents in the group. TheSocial* Gospel was emphasized.

II. Ev. and Ref. Ch. Est. 1934 Cleveland, Ohio, by merger of Ev. Syn. of N. Am. and Ref. Ch. in the US.

A. Ref. Ch. in the US.

1. Beginning traced to controversies in Ger. after the Interim,* esp. the Crypto-Calvinistic* controversy. In the early 1560s elector Frederick* III (1515–76) and the Palatinate became Reformed. The Ref. chs. in Eur. had much in common.

2. Ref. emigrants to the US included Ger. settlers from the Palatinate at Germantown, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1683. Others came from Switz., and others, early in the 18th c., from Fr. The 1st Communion service of the Ref. Ch. in the US was celebrated 1725 at Falckner's Swamp, ca. 40 mi. N of Philadelphia. But for scarcity of ministers no organization was effected till 1747, when M. Schlatter* organized a coetus (Lat. practical equivalent of “synod”) in Philadelphia, with ties to Holland. The coetus became indep. 1793 as The Syn. of the Ger. Ref. Ch. Liberal-conservative tension developed. See also Mercersburg Theology.

3. Upon expansion W of the Allegheny Mountains, The Syn. of the Ger. Ref. Ch. divided 1819 into 8 districts called Classes. The Ohio Classis organized itself into the Ohio Syn. 1824. The mother syn. and the Ohio Syn. united 1863 to form the Gen. Syn. Most of the Hung. Ref. Ch. in Am. joined the Ref. Ch. in the US 1921 (see Reformed Churches, 4 d-e). The Gen. Syn. ceased to function at the 1934 merger.

B. Ev. Syn. of N. Am. Grew out of the Prussian* Union. Six ministers formed the Ev. Union of the West (a kind of ministerial assoc.) at Gravois Settlement, near St. Louis, Missouri, 1840, on basis of Luth.- Ref. compromise. Congregations began to join 1849. Similar assocs. sprang up in other states. They joined 1872 and 1877 adopted the name Ger. Ev. Syn. of N. America. Ref. theol. gained control; modernism* followed.

III. A proposal was made 1938 to merge the Cong. Christian Chs. and the Ev. and Ref. Ch. to form a body to be called United Ch. of Christ. A “Gen. Syn. of the United Ch. of Christ,” composed of delegates from both groups, met 1957 Cleveland, Ohio, and elected a const. committee. Last meetings of the constituent bodies were held 1958. The 1st Gen. Syn. of the newly created United Ch. of Christ met 1959. The const. was adopted 1961 and says in its preamble: “The United Church of Christ acknowledges as its sole Head, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Saviour of men. it acknowledges as brethren in Christ all who share in this confession. It looks to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world. It claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers. It affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God. In accordance with the teaching of our Lord and the practice prevailing among evangelical Christians, it recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion.” The const. describes the relationships of local chs., Assocs., Conferences, and ministers with the Gen. Syn. as “free and voluntary.”

In 1959 a Statement of Faith was adopted expressing belief “in God, the Eternal Spirit, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father. … In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord,. … He bestows upon us his Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the Church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races. … He calls us … to accept the cost and joy of discipleship … to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table. … He promises to all who trust him forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace. …” Local chs. are neither bound by this Statement of Faith nor required to accept it.

1973 inclusive membership: more than 1,900,000. FEM, EL.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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Content Reproduced with Permission

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