The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination principally in the United States, generally considered within the Reformed tradition, and formed in 1957 by the union of two denominations, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches.
Origin of the United Church of Christ
The Evangelical and Reformed Church itself was formed in 1934 by the merger of the Reformed Church in the United States and the Evangelical Synod of North America:
- The Reformed Church in the United States carried out the tradition of the German version of the Reformed/Calvinist movement, which many characterized as less rationalistically doctrinal than its Dutch and British Isles counterparts. The German Reformed Church employed the Heidelberg Catechism as its primary, if not sole, confession. Its roots trace mostly to 18th-century immigrants hailing primarily from areas near the Rhine River in Germany, but also from certain parts of Switzerland. The denomination had strong concentrations in Pennsylvania, northern Maryland, and eastern Ohio, but was also present in more scattered patterns in states to the west and south.
- The Evangelical Synod of North America traced its roots to later waves of 19th- and early 20th-century German immigration, which settled primarily in the Midwest (especially Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan). Members of this group largely came from the Evangelical Church of the Union, which formed in 1817 as a union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia.
The Congregational Christian Churches trace their roots to the following:
Statements of Doctrine and Beliefs
Many of the primarily Reformed/Calvinist Congregational churches, whose organizational structure was, obviously, congregationalism, separating them from the then-theologically similar Presbyterians. This denomination was centered in New England (being the state churches of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut from colonial times until into the early 19th century). The church spread wherever New Englanders migrated, including significant numbers in the Great Lakes region of the Midwest (states like Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, etc.).
The Congregational churches traced their colonial-era origins to two English dissenting Protestant groups: the separatist Pilgrims, who established Plymouth Colony in 1620; and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who landed in 1629 and 1630 and settled Boston.
The UCC uses four words to describe itself: "Christian, Reformed, Congregational and Evangelical." The church's diversity and adherence to covenantal polity (rather than government by regional elders or bishops) give individual congregations a great deal of freedom in the areas of worship, congregational life, and doctrine.
The motto of the United Church of Christ comes from John 17:21: "That they may all be one." The denomination's official literature uses broad doctrinal parameters, honoring creeds and confessions as "testimonies of faith" rather than "tests of faith," and emphasizes freedom of individual conscience and local church autonomy. Indeed, the relationship between local congregations and the denomination's national headquarters is covenantal rather than hierarchical: local churches have complete control of their finances, hiring and firing of clergy and other staff, and theological and political stands.
In the United Church of Christ, creeds, confessions, and affirmations of faith function as "testimonies to faith" around which the church gathers rather than as "tests of faith" rigidly proscribing required doctrinal consent. As expressed on the United Church of Christ constitution:
The United Church of Christ acknowledges as its sole Head, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior. It acknowledges as kindred 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 denomination, therefore, looks to a number of historic confessions as expressing the common faith around which the church gathers, including:
Click each item above for more information.