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English Speaking Protestantism

United Church of Christ

Doctrines The church is based on Protestant doctrines, but within that tradition individual congregations are free to choose their own emphasis. The member congregations are linked together for purposes of fellowship, co-operation and admonition, and each congregation retains final control of all internal decisions. In general the church follows a modern liberal theology.

History The church was formed in 1959 and combines the church traditions of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and a majority of the members of the Congregational Church. The history of the former begins with the Reformed Church in the United States which had its origins in the churches set up by German migrants in the 18th century. These churches followed a Presbyterian organisation and Reformed theology and formed a united body in 1863. In 1934 the church was joined with the Evangelical Synod of North America, to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The Evangelical Synod was the American counterpart to Prussian attempts in the 1810s to create a state church which merged Reformed and Lutheran churches together. The shared German roots of the two churches, combined with a similar doctrinal attitude which stressed Christian action over doctrinal analysis, made the 1934 union possible. (See Congregationalism for early history.)
In the nineteenth century the Congregational church failed to expand successfully from its New England base. For purposes of frontier missionary work it allied itself with the Presbyterians in conducting joint services in the west, but by the time the alliance collapsed the Presbyterians had benefited more than them. Meanwhile Congregational government made it difficult to stop the internal spread of the Unitarian and Universalist movements, which both advocated liberal, non-Trinitarian theologies, and created local schisms. In 1852 a National Council was formed and the Church attempted aggressive missionary activity to make up lost ground. The church remained most influential in the contributions of its theologians to the growing strength of modern liberal theology. It also played a leading role in campaigns against the slave trade and other social causes.
In 1931 the Church joined with the General Convention of Christian Churches to form a unified church. The General Convention was one of the church groups formed from the anti-credal movement of the early nineteenth centuries. It was a cross church movement which attacked the authority of church creeds in an attempt to recreate a unified Christian Church with specifically American roots. Its emphasis on doctrinal flexibility easily melded with Congregational principles.
Today the United Church of Christ, in common with other established liberal churches is experiencing a substantial fall in members. (See United Methodists for another example.) Nevertheless, the church represents one of the most successful examples of the modern trend for church amalgamation as it represents the alliance of quite divergent traditions.

Symbols The different traditions present in the church means there are strong variations, from Lutheran style congregations which are quite ritualistic and believe in a real presence at communion to more austere Reformed congregations.

Adherents In 1995 had 1,555,382 followers in the USA (World Almanac, 1995, 730).

Main Centre
 United Church Of Christ, 105 Madison Avenue, New York NY10016, USA