WHAT IS THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST?
A brief history
The United Church of Christ came into being in 1957 with the union of two Protestant churches or “denominations.” They were the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches.
The Congregational Churches were organized when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation (1620) and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1629) acknowledged their essential unity in the Cambridge Platform of 1648.
The Reformed Church in the United States traced its beginnings to congregations of German settlers in Pennsylvania founded from 1725 on. Later, its ranks were swelled by Reformed immigrants from Switzerland, Hungary and other countries.
The Christian Churches sprang up in the late 1700s and early 1800s in reaction to the theological and organizational rigidity of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches of the time.
The Evangelical Synod of North America traced its beginnings to an association of German Evangelical pastors founded in 1841 in Missouri. The Synod reflected the values of a union in 1817 between Lutheran and Reformed churches in Germany.
Through the years, other groups such as American Indians, Afro-Christians, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Volga Germans, Armenians and Hispanic Americans joined with one of these antecedent churches. In recent years, members of other traditions—including Roman Catholic, evangelical and Pentecostal Christians—have found a new home in the UCC, and so have gay and lesbian Christians who have been rejected by other churches. The United Church of Christ celebrates and continues to embrace a broad variety of traditions in its common life.
Characteristics of the United Church of Christ
The characteristics of the United Church of Christ can be summarized in part by the key words in the names that formed our union: Christian, Reformed, Congregational, Evangelical.
- Christian. By our very name, the United Church of Christ, we declare ourselves to be part of the Body of Christ—the Christian church. We continue the witness of the early disciples to the reality and power of the crucified and risen Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.
- Reformed. All four denominations arose from the tradition of the Protestant Reformers: We confess the authority of one God. We affirm the primacy of the Scriptures, the doctrine of justification by faith, the priesthood of all believers, and the principle of Christian freedom. We celebrate two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (also called Holy Communion or the Eucharist).
- Congregational. The basic unit of the United Church of Christ is the congregation. Members of each congregation covenant with one another and with God as revealed in Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. These congregations, in turn, exist in covenantal relationships with one another to form larger structures for more effective work. Our covenanting emphasizes trustful relationships rather than legal agreements.
- Evangelical. The primary task of the church is the proclamation of the Gospel or (in Greek) evangel. The Gospel literally means the “Good News” of God’s love revealed with power in Jesus Christ. We proclaim this Gospel by word and deed to individual persons and to society. This proclamation is the heart of the leiturgia—in Greek, the “work of the people” in daily and Sunday worship. We gather for the worship of God, and through each week, we engage in the service of humankind.