United Church of Christ

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United Church of Christ,

American Protestant denomination formed in 1957 by a merger of the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches (see CongregationalismCongregationalism,
type of Protestant church organization in which each congregation, or local church, has free control of its own affairs. The underlying principle is that each local congregation has as its head Jesus alone and that the relations of the various congregations
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) and the Evangelical and Reformed ChurchEvangelical and Reformed Church,
Protestant denomination formed by the merger (1934) of the Reformed Church in the United States and the Evangelical Synod of North America. Both of these bodies had originated in the Reformation in Europe.
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. The constitution for the new body was adopted in July, 1961, thus completing the union. The statement of faith promulgated in 1959 maintains the noncreedal position common to both religious bodies, holding only to baptism and communion as sacraments, ordination as an act of laying on of hands, and local autonomy in all matters of worship, doctrine, and congregational life. A general synod of the whole church meets biennially and establishes the various agencies through which its social action, ecumenical work, and missionary work are carried out. The church has about 1.4 million members (1997).

Bibliography

See L. Gunnemann, The Shaping of the United Church of Christ (1977).

United Church of Christ

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In 1648 the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony decided they were in essential political and religious unity. They joined together under conditions outlined in a document called the Cambridge Platform.

More than one hundred years later, they joined together with a group called Christian Churches, which had formed a union in opposition to the perceived organizational rigidity practiced by their Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist neighbors.

The name chosen for the new denomination was Congregational Christian Churches (see Congregationalism).

Meanwhile, beginning about 1725, the Reformed Church in the United States began to draw together immigrants from Switzerland, Hungary, and other European countries. These people had grown up in the Reformed tradition (see Christianity, Development of). They joined with a denomination called the Evangelical Synod of North America, made up of mostly Lutheran and Reformed Christians from Germany. This new denomination became known as the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

In 1957 the four diverse traditions and two denominations united to form the United Church of Christ. It came as no surprise that their new logo bore the inscription, "That they all may be one." Their motto is simple: "In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, diversity. In all things, charity." Believing that "there is yet more light to break forth from God's holy Word," they set about doing their best to reverse the trend begun with the Protestant Reformation, in which churches divided and further divided into separate denominations. They began to teach that actions spoke louder than words. It was not enough to talk about faith. It had to be demonstrated. So the tempestuous 1960s saw marches and demonstrations as members of the new "liberal" denomination took to the streets with southern "freedom riders." They were shot at in Mississippi, where proactive UCC ministers went to help register black voters. They were ridiculed and lambasted from fundamentalist pulpits when they supported the infamous Angela Davis defense fund and refused to support Billy Graham in local crusades. Many conservative congregations departed the ranks, swelling the numbers of denominations such as the conservative Christian Congregational Churches. But the UCC persisted, convinced they were on the right side of history.

The story, in some ways, hasn't been a happy one since the 1960s. Membership has dwindled, churches have closed their doors, and struggling congregations have been unable to attract younger members.

New trends, however, have begun to offer hope for the denomination. The closing years of the twentieth century saw an increase of interested young families who found in the UCC a tradition in which they could raise their children. The very openness that drew criticism in the 1960s now attracted a new generation that appreciated a familiar church service, spruced up with inclusive language, new music, an interest in scientific thought, and even, in some cases, open and affirming acceptance of gay and lesbian people. That same openness, however, also provided the opportunity for traditional, conservative theologies to flourish. Groups such as the Biblical Witness Fellowship, devoted to an evangelical theology, began to form within the ranks, dedicated to restoring traditional values and ideologies.

It all makes for a yeasty mix. Conservative and liberal, gay and straight, evangelical and reformed—all can sometimes be found within the same local church. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. There are now many more women seminarians than there are men. A lot of second-career senior citizens can be found studying for the ministry, sponsored by their local UCC Church. A typical state conference is apt to draw pickets protesting the guest speaker if he or she is considered to be either too liberal or too conservative. Big-time television personalities have been known to show up in small New England villages, broadcasting the final service of a particular reverend who is leaving to become pastor of a gay church, a fundamentalist church, an overseas mission group, or most anything else.

The point of all this is that the church deliberately refuses to dictate to its membership. Each congregation is free to pursue its own path. So is each conference. One person equals one vote. UCC theologians affirm the authority of God, but how that authority is defined and followed is up to the individual. Church leaders hold very definite beliefs and opinions, and they state them firmly. But a person is not going to be excommunicated for disagreeing. The denomination reserves the right to recognize, or not to recognize, the ordination of individual pastors. And if a local church wants to either ordain or hire a pastor not recognized by the UCC, it has the right to do so.

The United Church of Christ recognizes the challenge it faces. It summarizes that challenge in this way:

We recognize our calling both as individuals and as a church to live in the world: To proclaim in word and action the Gospel of Jesus Christ To work for reconciliation and the unity of the broken Body of Christ To seek justice and liberation for all. This is the challenge of the United Church of Christ.

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