Religious newspapers and magazines have played a formative role in the development of many American denominations. This was especially true among the Christian churches that eventually joined together to form the Christian denomination. The United Church of Christ draws a deep appreciation for the importance of communications in our contemporary world from this source. Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, film, and other audiovisual productions supported by the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries (e.g., United Church Press), and the news and public relations efforts of the Office of Communications are building a legacy deeply rooted in the history of the Christian denomination.
Although the publications of the Congregationalists, the Evangelical Synod of North America, and the Reformed Church in the United States were significant to denominational identity, especially certain German and Hungarian periodicals, the power of religious journalism to shape and strengthen discipleship and community is exhibited most clearly among the Christians. As that denomination matured, the expectations of its publications changed, but the centrality of its journalistic witness remained extremely important.
THE FIRST RELIGIOUS NEWSPAPER
The earliest publication in the Christian tradition was The Christian's Magazine. It was first issued in 1805 from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, by Elder Elias Smith, soon after he decided to forsake his Baptist origins for Christian principles. Smith organized a Church of Christ in Portsmouth in 1803, "owning Him as their only Master, Lord and Lawgiver, and agreeing to consider themselves Christian without the addition of any unscriptural name." The same year Elder Abner Jones, another important Christian leader, visited Portsmouth. Smith later said that Jones was "the first free man he had. ever met."
The Christian's Magazine, published quarterly, cost twelve and a half cents a copy, payable on delivery. As its editor, Smith held his pen in one hand and a battleax in the other. He used the journal to attack the established ministry of the church, criticizing powdered wigs and useless church paraphernalia.(1) He wrote on many subjects, "historical, doctrinal, experimental, practical and poetical." With the encouragement of friends, including a member of the U.S. Congress, he decided to publish a more frequent periodical in which to report religious events. On September 1, 1808, Elias Smith began publishing the Herald of Gospel Liberty, claiming that it was the first religious newspaper in the world.(2)
Smith published the paper from his house near Jeffrey Street in Portsmouth every other Thursday evening. He charged one dollar a year, exclusive of postage, fifty cents to be advanced when the first number was delivered and the other fifty cents when twentysix numbers were delivered. He arranged for the fourpage Herald to be "punctually forwarded to any part of the United States where conveyance is practicable."(3)
From the beginning, readers of the Herald of Gospel Liberty were primarily pastors and members of the Free Christian Churches in the New England states. They were pleased with the pioneering journal. Soon the model that Smith created was copied by others. His work was noted with pride throughout the Christian Church, when a century later an impressive leatherbound volume was published to mark The Centennial of Religious Journalism.(4) During the negotiations that led to the union with the Congregational Churches in 1931, Christian Church leader Warren H. Denison identified the publication of the "first religious newspaper in the world" as a major contribution of his church.(5) Today members of the United Church of Christ who know the heritage of the Christian Church speak of the Herald of Gospel Liberty with family pride.
The claim to be the first religious newspaper in the world is disputed. American Baptists, who trace their journalistic history back through Missions to the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine, which was launched in 1803, also make that claim. William B. Lipphard, editor of Missions for fifty years and executive secretary of the Associated Church Press, knew of "no other church publication on this continent or in Europe" and therefore in the worldas old as Missions. Lipphard believed that UCC claims to pioneering journalism dated back to 1820 and the Missionary Herald, published by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, now the United Church Board for World Ministries.(6) Because of this competition for the distinction of being first, the Christian Publishing House included Smith's Christian Magazine among the historical facts mentioned in a booklet printed sometime before 1931.(7)
THE THEME OF LIBERTY
The Herald of Gospel Liberty began out of a deep concern to nourish the new freedoms enjoyed by citizens of the young United States. The Constitution, with its Bill of Rights guaranteeing religious freedom, was fresh in the minds of thoughtful people. Yet, Smith noted, "it is not now a tyrannical government which deprives us of liberty; but the highly destructive principles of tyranny which remain in a good government." He quoted Isaac Wilbur, a member of Congress: "The people in this country are in general free, as to political matters; but in the things of religion, multitudes of them are apparently ignorant of what liberty is." The design of the Herald of Gospel Liberty was to "shew the liberty which belongs to [all], respects their duty to God, and each other." Smith had no doubt but that "many will be displeased at what may appear in this paper from time to time, unless they own that right is equal among all."(8)
The idea for the newspaper had come originally from Smith's congressional friend Isaac Wilbur. Wilbur offered Smith generous financial support for a publication dedicated to religious liberty. Although Smith's first Magazine had struggled financially, and he knew that costs for a weekly newspaper were high, the thirtynineyearold preachereditor declined the support. Smith feared that his own "liberty of utterance" would be abridged and that his friend might be unpleasantly involved.
In the first 146 issues of the Herald Smith wrote fiftythree articles on "Liberty." He wrote forcefully about religious liberty "what I long for all [people] to enjoy." He affirmed that he was "bound as a lover of [humanity] to instruct them, and teach them the nature of it, according to my ability and the opportunity given to me to do it." Within the4 first year of publication the three principles of the Christian Church were identified: "1st. No head over the church but Christ. 2d. No confession of faith, articles of religion, rubric, canons, creeds, etc., but the New Testament. 3d. No religious name but Christians." Smith insisted, on January 19, 1810, that "every Christian hath an equal right to the peaceable and constant possession of what he believes to be the truth contained in the Scriptures. . . even though his principles may, in many things, be contrary to what the Revered D. D.'s call Orthodoxy."(9)
Relentless in his opposition to religious despotism, Elias Smith hurled bitter invectives against church polities, clerical trappings, ministerial titles, ecclesiastical associations, hireling preachers, creeds, and all the "isms" that lead to religious tyranny. Although his editorial successor believed that the time had come "when arguments instead of censure, and entreaties instead of the scourge may do more for the cause of truth than a host of censures and volumes of invective," Smith had firmly established that the editor of a religious journal was free to express his or her own opinion and select the articles and news for publication. This concept, frequently tested and continually reaffirmed, became the foundation for all periodicals issued by those denominations that later came together in the United Church of Christ.
For example, editors of the Congregational Christian journal Advance frequently wrote about church politics and often raised the hackles, as well as the eyebrows, of some subscribers. It was one thing to espouse a nonecclesiastical cause (such as the welfare of laboring persons, or the United Nations), but it was another to argue about an issue coming before the General Council (specifically, union negotiations with the Evangelical and Reformed Church).
After the United Church of Christ was formed and had begun publishing the United Church Herald, Douglas Horton wrote:
"The Herald is the organ of the denomination, though its editorial policy, expressing the individuality in fellowship that runs all through the United Church, is wholly in the hands of the editor."(10) Obviously, each editor must test that principle, and only when the concept of freedom of the press has been affirmed in some practical way is the liberty of the gospel available to a responsible editor. As the United Church News comes of age its editorial freedom tests the principle once again.
SUPPORT FOR IDENTITY
In the early days, when a visit from an itinerant preacher was the event of the year and secondclass mail was delayed because a postmaster wanted to read the magazines, church periodicals provided the bonding agent for most denominations. The Herald of Gospel Liberty facilitated communication between conventions, conferences, and boards.
The proceedings of our general convention, local conferences and various boards would be known to a limited number only, were it not for this avenue of information. And the same is true for the fellowship of the church. The church paper brings the whole [community] into fellowship. . . . Then, too, it is the unifying force of the whole church, and as such directs the energy of the church toward one common denominational purpose.
Elias Smith, more than any other person, held the conservation and preservation of the church's prosperity.(11)
In 1834 the Christian Herald (as the Herald of Gospel Liberty came to be known) had trouble paying its bills. Christians in New England, however, were determined to preserve their journal. On the first day of the new year an assembly of preachers and others met in Hampton, New Hampshire, to organize the Eastern Christian Publishing Association. Under a new name, the Christian Journal, the old Herald still served the church. By 1851 the name was changed back and the Herald of Gospel Liberty took a motto welcomed throughout the church: "In necessary things, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity."(12)
Elsewhere in the Christian Church journalism thrived. In 1843 Christians in North Carolina selected D. W. Kerr as itinerant preacher (superintendent) and as editor of a paper known as the Christian Sun, begun in 1844. By 1850 the Christian General Book Association published a weekly Christian Messenger and a semimonthly Christian Palladium. When North Carolinians considered union with some of the northern churches, they spoke of the Christian churches connected with the Palladium and wrote to its editor. So important did the Sun become to churches throughout the Southern Conference that biographies of clergy published in P J. Kernodle's Lives of Christian Ministers frequently included references to articles published in the paper. In the discursive style common at the turn of the century it was recorded that such and such a pastor was "a regular contributor to the church paper, which owing to the death of the editor, Elder D. W. Kerr, had been moved to Raleigh, North Carolina."(13)
Loyalty to the Christian Sun did not die with church mergers. Christians from the Southern Conference continued to subscribe to the Sun long after their church had united with the Congregationalists and even with the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Its weekly editions, edited by E C. Lester, were replaced by the monthly newsletter of the Southern Conference of the UCC in 1965.
The Herald of Gospel Liberty gradually absorbed more than a dozen papers, including the Gospel Herald, founded in 1843 by the Ohio Christian Book Association. In January 1868 the offices of the Herald of Gospel Liberty moved to Dayton, Ohio, and the paper became the general denominational organ. Its most distinguished and energetic editor was Alva Martin Kerr, a man who suffered for forty years from an incurable bone disease. Kerr encouraged the Christian Church to look beyond its small size and struggle with important issues in the decade that followed World War I. His editorials and the articles he selected convinced people that the newspaper was the "greatest factor binding the people of the Christian Church as a fellowship."(14)
That conviction about the importance of a church journal led those who shaped the United Church of Christ to agree that the first agency of the new church should be its periodical, United Church Herald. In an introductory editorial Theodore C. Braun and Andrew Vance McCracken expressed their agreement that the "united journal must provide concrete, visible evidence that the United Church of Christ is in the process of becoming a reality." Historian Louis H. Gunnemann noted that "the birth of the United Church Herald was not only of symbolic importance but also proved to have immeasurable influence in giving the United Church a sense of unity and identity."(15)
In the early years editors were intentional about the selection of authors and news, believing that the pages of the magazine must introduce members of the new and larger church family to one another.
As the United Church of Christ discovered its identity in a courageous struggle for justice and peace, the Herald reflected and led churches in their response to the turbulence of the 1960s. The concern for identity was not lost in 1972, when the Herald and Presbyterian Life merged to form a unique ecumenical journal called A.D.. A widely reprinted article by Oliver Powell described the United Church as a "Beautiful, Heady, Exasperating Mix."(16) One issue attempted to answer the question, "What does it mean to belong to the UCC?"(17) Another celebrated the twentyfifth anniversary of the United Church of Christ.(18)
COMMITMENT TO UNITY
The identity of the Christian Church was closely tied to the goal of Christian unity. From its earliest editions the Herald of Gospel Liberty argued that the division of Christians was both weakness and sinful. In July 1840 the Rev. Ira Allen wrote in the Christian Palladium: "The principles upon which union is based are a matter of revelation, and not of human policy. It is not for Christians to say how, and for what purpose they will unite, for these things are fixed by a higher power. . . . Union is the sine qua non of the religion of Christ."(19)
When a hymn was written, to the tune of America, for the centennial of the founding of the Herald, its verses linked the paper and the cause of Christian unity:
Our fathers' God, we raise
To thee our hymn of praise
For gospel light.
It shines from sea to sea,
Before it shadows flee,
It sets the bondmen free
From error's night.
One hundred years have gone,
The day begins to dawn
When souls are free;
The vision of the years,
Delayed by doubts and fears,
Within Thy church appears,
Thou Herald of the right
Long may the gospel light
Illume thy page!
For truth and unity,
For love and liberty,
May all thy witness be—
From age to age.(20)
Alva Martin Kerr, longtime editor of the Herald, was a staunch Advocate of Christian unity. In an editorial he wrote: "The door of the church has been made narrower than the gate of Heaven, and the church has cast out those whom Jesus received." After he addressed the Ohio Pastors Association in 1924, a Columbus newspaper reported: "Ministers from all over Ohio, many of them men of eloquence, listened enthralled for more than an hour last night while a little chap with the inspired logic of a prophet, condemned isolated denominationalism. . . . Crippled in body, he revealed to his listeners a flaming soul afire with the conviction that in union lies the true strength of the church."(21) It was no accident that the tradition of the Herald of Gospel Liberty, so committed to church union, merged with The Congregationalist in 1934 to form Advance. It was a step forward.
As the Congregational Christian Churches considered union with the Evangelical and Reformed Church, Advance editor John Scotford became a target of antimerger forces for his outspoken editorials and support for union. Malcolm K. Burton, a vigorous opponent of the merger, was named as part of a threeperson "Forum on the Merger' in a 1947 issue of Advance. Burton stated that "the committee was appointed by the Executive Committee of the General Council in an effort to offset the onesided treatment of the merger by the editor, Dr. John Scotford."(22)
Scotford's editorials built on the assumption that church union was part of the identity of the Congregational Christian Churches. In June 1948 he wrote:
We have prided ourselves upon being the most broadminded, liberal, and progressive of American denominations. A proposition has been put before us which has been accepted by the other party and a majority of our churches and people. If we cannot unite with a church as reasonable, as gracious, and as Christian as the Evangelical and Reformed, what chances are there of reducing the divisions which plague Protestantism? The eyes of the world will be upon us at Oberlin; the hope of future unions depends on our decisions.(23)
This commitment to unity continued to shape UCC identity as defined in an August 1981 A.D.. editorial. The editor wrote:
I hope that we will reclaim our ecumenical heritage and invest heavily in cooperative mission efforts. . . . We have turned inward during the last decade, feeling the need to build a United Church identity. . . . It is time to build on our new selfconsciousness and to work selflessly for larger goals. I hope that we will use these years of conversation with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to understand what it means to be a uniting church in the 80s.... We need to test with our Disciples friends how the Spirit is leading us to serve together. Perhaps our careful work in the Consultation on Church Union will lead us to an altogether new approach to unity.(24)
The '70s and '80s gave rise to a broader, if not altogether new, approach to unity. It is not unity for the sake of unity, but unity for the sake of mission and service. Describing "A Continuing Search for Unity," on the occasion of the twentyfifth anniversary of the UCC, Dorothy G. Berry quoted President Avery Post: "United Churches have been created by God to birth the world's new global people."(25)
ADVOCATE FOR JUSTICE
The quest for social justice and peace found expression in many of the journals that are part of the history of the United Church of Christ. When Elijah Shaw became editor of the Christian Journal in April 1835, he announced that "doctrinal subjects will find a place in our columns.
Doctrine is the foundation of practice." During his editorship the paper was a progressive advocate of measures "that promised success in building the Redeemer's kingdom." The Journal was owned by the Eastern Christian Publishing Association. It went to considerable lengths to prove that it was the successor to the Herald of Gospel Liberty and, therefore, the oldest religious paper in the nation. (The Association seemed especially eager to establish seniority over the Congregational Boston Recorder!) In 1838 the Association duly resolved 'that the columns of the Christian Journal be open for articles on the evils and sin of slavery, so far as the same may involve the fundamental principles of morality and religion."(26) Shaw, however, had not waited for the authorization of the Association. Soon after he became editor he published an article that began: "We believe slavery to be a sin, always, everywhere and only a sin."(27)
This subject was more difficult in the Southern Christian Convention. In 1854, the year before he became editor of the Christian Sun, William Brock Wellons withdrew from the American Christian Convention over the issue of slavery. By 1862, with the Civil War pressing on Suffolk, North Carolina, he had moved the editorial offices of the Christian Sun to Petersburg, Virginia. Shortly thereafter publication of the Sun was suspended, and Wellons became editor of the Army and Navy Messenger and served as a chaplain.(28)
The most influential editor of Christian Church periodicals was Alva Martin Kerr, who edited the Herald of Gospel Liberty from 1919 to 1928. His editorials sparkled with his zeal for racial justice. He sought to substitute "human relations" for "industrial relations" and called for better immigration laws. Kerr was at his most eloquent, however, when he was writing about the search for peace and the need for a new international order. He appealed to his readers to support President Wilson's plan for a League of Nations. Opposition to the League was based on a theory that "God wants America to be superior, safer, and stronger than any other nation, instead of a little kinder so that others may love her and not fear her. If you start with the God of Christ," he wrote in an editorial, "you can predict nothing less than some kind of League of Nations." In one Christmas editorial he reminded his readers that Christ could never be the prince of peace to the nations until the spirit of national selfrighteousness and selfseeking was destroyed. He believed that Christ could save society, and would enable the nations to practice a Christian internationalism.(29)
After 1934 the pages of Advance, building on Christian and Congregational traditions, frequently discussed race relations and an emerging concern for the institutionalization of social action. Under the editorship of Andrew Vance McCracken, Advance, and later United Church Herald, published articles by Herman Reissig, the international affairs specialist of the Council for Social Action. Many of the articles dealt with the role of the United Nations. During the years of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war the pages of the Herald, and later A.D., carried articles and editorials, along with letters to the editor, showing the commitment of the UCC to the "struggle for justice and peace." A.D. kept its UCC readers informed about the incarceration and ultimate release of Benjamin Chavis, a staff member of the Commission for Racial Justice who was falsely convicted on charges related to racial violence in Wilmington, North Carolina. A.D. highlighted the needs of women in society and helped the United Church see itself as more than the continuation of four AngloSaxon denominational traditions. Through its pages the UCC emerges as an inclusive church in which the heirs of African slaves and Native Americans, Hispanics and Asians, can take their place alongside the descendants of Europeans.
Social commitment continues to shine through the columns of the United Church News. UCC readers are pushed to understand "What might it mean to be a 'Just Peace Church'?"(30) or how
church efforts to end apartheid in South Africa relate to investments.
In his booklet describing the founder of the Herald of Gospel Liberty, J. E Burnett put a high value on the journals of the church.
The religious newspaper ranks with churches, colleges, and philanthropies as an indispensable institution to Christian progress. None of these could live without the church paper. . . . The church paper brings the entire brotherhood into fellowship; and without it, such fellowship could not exist.. .. It is the unifying force of the whole church, and as such directs the energy of the church toward one common purpose.(31)
Although patterns of denominational life have changed in recent decades, there can be little doubt that church journals have contributed greatly to the style and identity of what is now the United Church of Christ. From our Christian beginnings we have a rich legacy.
1. J. F. Burnett, "Elias Smith, Reformer, Preacher, Journalist, Doctor," one of a series of undated booklets issued sometime before 1931 by the Department of Publishing of the American Christian Convention, "that members of our churches and Sundayschools may be well informed as to the history and distinctive principles of The Christian Church," pp. 18ff.
2. Ibid., pp. 2024. Dates for periodicals mentioned or related to those mentioned in this essay are:
The Christian Magazine, June 1805August (?) 1808 succeeded by Herald of Gospel Liberty in September 1808.
Herald of Gospel Liberty, September 1, 18081934 absorbed Christian Messenger and Palladium, in December 1862; absorbed Gospel Herald, on January 4, 1868; absorbed Christian Messenger of New Bedford, MA, in January 1907; was merged with The Congregationalist to form Advance in 1934. Christian Herald, May 1818April 2, 1835 (absorbed Watchman, in May 1829)
Christian Journal (formerly Christian Herald), April 2, 1835April 1841 absorbed The Christian on June 28, 1838; name changed back to Christian Herald. Christian Sun, February 17, 1844December 31, 1965 Christian Messenger, c. 1848January 1861; absorbed Christian Herald on March 27, 1850; was merged with Christian Palladium in January 1861 to form Christian Messenger and Palladium.
Christian Palladium, c. 1831January 1861
Christian Messenger and Palladium, January 1861December 1862
Christian Banner,?1861 (consolidated with Gospel Herald)
Gospel Herald, October 2, 1843January 4, 1868 (consolidated with Herald of Gospel
Christian Messenger (of New Bedford, MA), February 1900January 1907
Advance, April 1934September 1958
United Church Herald, October 9, 1958July/August 1972
A.D., September 1972June/July 1983
United Church News, May 1985
3. Daniel Benoni Atkinson, "The Herald of Gospel Liberty: The Pioneer Religious JournalA History," in The Centennial of Religious Journalism, ed. J. Pressley Barrett (Dayton: Christian Publishing Association, 1908), pp. 3775.
5. In a unpublished manuscript by Dr. Denison in the files of Mary Denison Fiebiger.
6. William B. Lipphard, Fifty Years an Editor (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1963), pp. 16, 21819.
7. J. E Burnett, "The Origin and Principles of the Christians," the first booklet in an undated series, p. 56.
8. Elias Smith, in an "Address to the Public," published September 1, 1808, in the first issue of the Herald of Gospel Liberty and reprinted in The Centennial of Religious Journalism, pp. 2934.
9. Quoted by Atkinson, op. cit., p. 49.
10. Douglas Horton, The United Church of Christ (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1962), p. 180.
11. Burnett, "Elias Smith," pp. 2123.
12. Atkinson, op. cit., pp. 5558.
13. P J. Kernodle, Lives of Christian Ministers (Richmond, VA: Central Publishing Company, 1909), pp. 114, 127, 205, 219, 256.
14. Alfred Wesley Hurst, in an unpublished monograph an the life and work of Alva Martin Kerr called "The Fun of Being an Editor" (1976), p. 19. Copies are on file in the archives of the Congregational Christian Historical Society.
15. Louis H. Gunnemann, The Shaping of the United Church of Christ (New York: United Church Press, 1977), pp. 5960.
16. A.D., September 1975, pp. 3948.
17. A.D., August 1981.
18. A.D., June 1982.
19. Quoted in The Centennial of Religious Journalism, pp. 105106.
20. Ibid., pp. 7677. The hymn was written by the Rev. Thomas S. Weeks of Troy, Ohio.
21. Hurst, op. cit., p. 39.
22. Malcolm K. Burton, Disorders in the Kingdom (Rev. ed.; New York: Vantage Press, 1982), p. xii.
23. John Scotford, "The Council Faces Church Union," an editorial in the June 1948 Advance.
24. J. Martin Bailey, "My Hope for Our Church" in A.D., August 1981, p. 6.
25. Dorothy G. Berry, 'A Continuing Search for Unity" in A.D., June 1982, p. 25.
26. Atkinson, op. cit., pp. 5658.
27. Ibid., p. 59.
28. Kernodle, op. cit., pp. 25758.
29. Hurst, op. cit., pp. 5152.
30. United Church News, July 1985, p. 3.
31. Burnett, "Elias Smith," pp. 2122.
J. Martin Bailey served from 1963 to 1982 as the editor of United Church Herald and A.D.. He is the Associate General Secretary for Media and Member Services of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
Written by Thomas E. Dipko
Discipleship requires more than "book" knowledge of the Christian faith. Although Christians in all times have agreed, in mid-eighteenth-century America people were especially agitated about the relationship of "experience" to their salvation. When a respected, scholarly pastor in the German Reformed community, Philip William Otterbein, announced that cognitive Christianity was deficient, he caused a stir. Otterbein declared:
The question is not whether one has heard or learned something about Christ and his death, or whether one can talk about it, but whether one has experienced the death of Jesus Christ in the putting to death and riddance of the old man [woman]. . . Consequently, if these things are yet strange to you, then your Christianity is merely appearance, imagination, shadow tricks.(1)
The candor and conviction of this graduate of Herborn Seminary, Nassau, Germany, who was devoted to the teachings of the Heidelberg Catechism, led his pious mother to say of his ministry, "My William will have to be a missionary; he is so frank, so open, so natural, so prophet-like."(2)
NURTURED IN GERMAN PIETISM
William and his twin sister, Anna Margaret, were born on June 3, 1726, in the town of Dillenberg, Germany. They were the fourth and fifth children of the seven sons and three daughters born to John Daniel and Wilhelmina Henrietta (Hoerlen) Otterbein. William's twin and one other sister died in infancy. One brother died at age twelve. William's grandfather, uncle, father, and five surviving brothers were all ordained ministers of the German Reformed Church. His surviving sister married a pastor, and four of his oldest brother's sons also entered the ordained ministry of the German Reformed Church.(3)
When John Daniel Otterbein died in 1742, Wilhelmina was concerned for her children's education and moved the family to Herborn. A theology school had been established there in 1584 by Count Johann VI of NassauDillenberg. Its founding faculty included Caspar Olevianus, who, with Zacharias Ursinus of Heidelberg University, was a coauthor of the Heidelberg Catechism. In recognition of Wilhelmina's commitment to the education of her children, the Herborn faculty
issued an official commendation in her honor.(4)
When the Otterbein brothers attended Herborn Seminary, it stood firmly within the Cocceian pietistic tradition that had been introduced in the 167Os.(5) According to this "Federal Theology," and in contrast to the predestinarian theology of John Calvin, human beings can make faith decisions in a manner that emphasizes freedom of will. "What God offers and what Christians need is an interiorly experienced faith relation which permits God to release his power in the continuing transformation of the believer's life."(6) Professors Arnoldi and Schramm, two of Philip William Otterbein's teachers, upheld federal theology. At Herborn Seminary their pietism was so congenial and ecumenical that the school's press published the popular Mennonite tract Geistliches Lustgartlein in 1787.(7)
Otterbein graduated from Herborn Seminary in 1748. He served as a private tutor until he received a call to serve as vicar of Ockersdorf in 1749. He was ordained June 13, 1749, and quickly introduced in his first parish some of the pietistic devotional practices taught at Herborn.
THE CALL TO AMERICA
Soon thereafter Otterbein responded to the appeal of Michael Schlatter, on behalf of the Synods of North and South Holland, for missionaries among Germanspeaking settlers in America. After satisfactorily completing the customary examinations at the Hague, Otterbein and five others set sail on April 15, 1752, reaching New York on July 27, 1752. The next day, in a gesture that demonstrates the ecumenical spirit of the time, Schlatter and the six missionaries met with Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, "the eminent pioneer missionary of the Lutheran Church." He greeted them with the words of Jesus: "Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves."(8)
These ominous words of welcome reflect the spiritual situation of the time. Although the religious enthusiasm of the Great Awakening reached its full flower in the 1730s and 1740s, its influence had begun to wane by midcentury. Otterbein and his missionary colleagues faced a period of decline in the religious commitment of the diverse population. During the struggle for American independence and the Revolutionary War, "only about five percent (one in twenty) of the colonial population openly professed religious faith or admitted church relationship."(9)
As Otterbein began his ministry in Pennsylvania, the Coetus, under whose direction he labored and in whose ranks he held membership, was responsible to the Classis of Amsterdam and the Synods of North and South Holland. This arrangement continued until 1794, when the German Reformed Coetus of Pennsylvania became an independent synod. During this period of subordination to the Reformed Church in Holland, there were occasional disagreements between church authorities in Europe and the Coetus of Pennsylvania. The contention usually involved the proper authorization of ordination because the needs of the church in the colonial setting did not always correspond to established practices. On one occasion, in 1773, the Coetus apologized for proceeding with the ordination of several "preachers" before approval had arrived from Holland. The Coetus confessed: "All this was done before we received your fatherly warnings. From these we now learn that we acted hastily, and hereby ask, hoping for a favorable answer, your pardon of this hasty action by Coetus."(10)
The internal spiritual life of the Reformed Church reflected the general religious malaise of the time. A century after Otterbein's arrival in Pennsylvania, John Williamson Nevin looked back at the last half of the eighteenth century and lamented Otterbein's role in the founding of a new sect. However, Nevin added, "he was a good man who seems to have been driven into a false position by the cold, dead temper that he found generally prevalent in the regular church."(11)
LANCASTER AND THE RULES OF ORDER
Otterbein began his American ministry at Lancaster (1752 57). There he responded to the nominal Christianity of the day by insisting that "Rules of Order" be adopted by the congregation. This was deemed necessary to correct irregularities in the life of the parish and to ascertain "who they are that acknowledge themselves to be members of our church."(12) The Rules of Order introduced into the Lancaster Church pietistic practices similar to those that Otterbein had instituted at Ockersdorf. One of these practices was the expectation that each member have a private interview with the pastor before receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion. This practice was not alien to the German Reformed Church. In retrospect, church historians valued it highly: "Pity that the good custom has been suffered to sink out of sight. Its abandonment brought no blessing to the church at Lancaster."(13)
During his pastorate at Lancaster, Otterbein also underwent an experience akin to John Wesley's "special warming of the heart." Many years later when Francis Asbury, a wellknown Methodist leader, asked, "By what means were you brought to the gospel of our God and Savior?" Otterbein responded, "By degrees was I brought to the knowledge of the truth, while I was at Lancaster."(14) This led Asbury to remember Otterbein as one who 'had been sixty years a minister, fifty years a converted one."(15)
FRIENDSHIP WITH MARTIN BOEHM
Otterbein left the Lancaster Church in 1758, apparently disillusioned that the congregation did not achieve the spiritual growth he had envisioned. He intended to return to Germany that year but was prevented by the turmoil of the French and Indian War in America and the Seven Years' War in Europe. He agreed to supply the church at Tulpehocken, where he continued his emphasis on the personal experience of salvation.
In 1760 Otterbein accepted a call to the church at Frederick, Maryland. It was here that his pietistic zeal led to what has been called a "lock out." Otterbein was barred from preaching in the church and began to conduct the service from the cemetery. The morning ended happily, however, when the majority relented and the keyholder opened the door.(16)
While at Frederick, on April 19, 1762, Otterbein married Susan LeRoy, a woman of French Huguenot background. The marriage was short, however, owing to her death in 1768 at the age of thirtytwo. They had no children and Otterbein never remarried.
Otterbein accepted a call to the church in York in 1765. Soon thereafter, probably on Pentecost Sunday in 1767, he attended a preaching assembly or "great meeting" at Isaac Long's barn northeast of Lancaster. After hearing a sermon by the Mennonite preacher Martin Boehm, Otterbein embraced him, greeting him with the words "We are brethren."(17) The close association between these two ministers led to the movement eventually called the United Brethren.
In April of 1770 Otterbein returned to Germany for a visit with his family. In Germany he told others about his experience at Lancaster and his renewed ministry. Georg Gottfried Otterbein, known in Germany for his pietistic interpretation of the Heidelberg Catechism, responded, "My dear William, we are now, blessed by the same Lord, not only brothers after the flesh, but also after the spirit. I also have experienced the same blessing."(18) Otterbein returned to York on October 1, 1771, continuing his ministry there until 1774.
In 1774 Otterbein received a call to the German Reformed Church in Baltimore, a church deeply troubled with division. Although the Coetus made every attempt to reconcile the parties in the congregation, all efforts failed. A minority faction had built a separate house of worship on Conway Street. They were served for a time by a Pastor Swope, who had recently come from Germany. Otterbein was originally invited to succeed him in 1772, but the Coetus disapproved. However, the new congregation persisted. Francis Asbury also urged Otterbein to accept the call. Finally, in 1774, Otterbein became pastor of the Conway Street church. Later he wrote to the church in Holland: "Finally, I consented because of their many solicitations, yet with the condition that the Coetus would give its approval."(19) In 1775 the Coetus reluctantly blessed the call with the words, "Coetus after mature deliberation deems it advisable for Dom. Otterbein to continue his ministry in the congregation at Baltimore. It appears from the report that his labours are blessed and the opposing party is becoming quiet.(20)
Although the spirit of the new congregation from the outset was independent, it strains the evidence to claim, as a United Brethren historian does, that "in the year 1774, . . . we find William Otterbein in the city of Baltimore, organizing a Church, separate and apart, in doctrine and disciplinary rules from the German Reformed Church."(21) Nevertheless, rebellion was evident. The manner in which the new church held its property, its reluctance to send delegates to the Coetus, its participation in the emerging pattern of "class" meetings in which the United Brethren and others shared, its strong insistence on the personal experience of salvation, and its provision for "preachers" to share in a ministry to other churches under the "superintendency" of William Otterbein were indicative of a local church that in some measure began to take on the features of a seminal local denomination.(22) After examining "The Constitution and Ordinances of the Evangelical Church of Baltimore," it has been argued that "the articles are not only complete in themselves, but they present, in discipline, doctrine, methods, and spirit the antithesis of features belonging to the Reformed Church."(23)
Otterbein, however, tried to remain faithful to the church of his heritage while at the same time responding in innovative ways to the spiritual needs of the people. In 1784 the Coetus belatedly recognized both congregations in Baltimore as separate churches with standing in the German Reformed Church.
In the same year that Otterbein went to Baltimore, the Pipe Creek meetings of the various classes in the United Brethren movement began to meet regularly and keep minutes. However, the rural and small classes of the Pipe Creek region looked on the classes in Otterbein's Baltimore church with some suspicion, indicating on one occasion that "those at Baltimore are at peace; but it is to be feared and guarded against, that with their good order and regular meetings they do not take the appearance for the reality."(24)
LIVING BETWEEN CHURCH AND MOVEMENT
From 1774 until his death in 1813, Otterbein attended many meetings of the Coetus and participated fully in gatherings of the United Brethren. During this time he also became a friend of Francis Asbury, sharing in his consecration as bishop of the Methodist Church in 1784. Otterbein, however, resisted overtures to introduce Methodist polity into the United Brethren movement, even after it was meeting in official Annual Conferences after 1800. Asbury praised him for his learning and piety but expressed disappointment that the United Brethren did not organize along Methodist lines. Asbury remarked one year before Otterbein's death:
I pause here to indulge in reflections upon the past. Why was the German Reformation in the middle States, that sprang up with [Martin] Boehm, Otterbein and their helpers, not more perfect? . . . There was no masterspirit to rise up and organize and lead them. Some of the ministers located, and only added to their charge partial traveling labors; and all were independent. It remains to be proved whether a reformation, in any country, or under any circumstances, can be perpetuated without a welldirected itinerancy.(25)
It is important to remember that the very time when Asbury and the United Brethren were pressing for a new denomination, the Coetus of Pennsylvania was negotiating its independence from Holland. Autonomy was granted in 1794. The new status raised hopes in the German Reformed Church for a new chapter in its life, and Otterbein stood between two groups anticipating that new day. He provided leadership in the United Brethren movement with the understanding that it was an "unsectarian" endeavor.(26)
In fact, it was not long before the United Brethren began sounding in their gatherings very much like the Coetus with respect to matters of order and discipline. In 1789 the Coetus had reported to Holland that absenteeism was a problem. Otterbein was among the absent that year. The Coetus minutes read: "Since only a minority of the absent ministers had sent in excuses, it was resolved to require from these gentlemen, at next Coetus, a strict account of their conduct. Especially the excuse about serving other congregations at the time of Coetus, was declared invalid."(27) The minutes of the Annual Conference of the United Brethren in 1801 discuss the same problem. Action was taken to require that for the next Annual Conference, "whoever of the preachers cannot come shall write to the conference."(28)
As Otterbein and Boehm aged, new leadership arose among the United Brethren. Christian Newcomer, a Mennonite in his youth, became one of the early secondgeneration superintendents or bishops of the United Brethren. Unlike Otterbein, who never left the Reformed Church, and Boehm, who was expelled from the Mennonite Church, Newcomer left the Mennonite Church by choice. His Journal is a rich source of material concerning the organization and practices of the United Brethren. As Otterbein neared the end of his life, he was urged by some of the United Brethren to ordain Christian Newcomer as an elder. When Newcomer visited him for the last time in October of 1813, Otterbein agreed to the request but added, "I have always considered myself too unworthy to perform this solemn injunction of the Apostle, but now I perceive the necessity of doing so, before I shall be removed."(29)
Newcomer did not object to ordination but asked that two of his colleagues be ordained with him. And so it came to pass that on October 2, 1813, with the consent and participation of the vestry of Otterbein's church, and the assistance of William Ryland, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Otterbein ordained elders for the United Brethren.
In this act some see Otterbein making a clean break with the German Reformed Church. Others believe that he was simply regularizing a ministry in a movement that now had an identity of its own. The fact remains that he is claimed with esteem by both the German Reformed Church and its successor, the United Church of Christ, and by the United Brethren, those continuing as a separate denomination and those who, as part of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, came into the United Methodist Church.
In the typical language of the American church of his day Otterbein would probably have been known as a "New Light" in New England, similar in spirit to Jonathan Edwards, who just a few years before had been discharged from his pulpit in Northampton for his evangelical views. In Presbyterian circles, Otterbein would have been a "New Side" pastor stressing with the Tennents the necessity of both education and religious experience.(30)
At Otterbein's memorial service, held in his Baltimore church, Asbury said: "Forty years have I known the retiring modesty of this man of God: towering majestic above his fellows in his learning, wisdom and grace, yet seeking to be known only of God and the people of God."(31)
THE LEGACY OF OTTERBEIN AND THE UNITED BRETHREN
The United Church of Christ, at significant points, stands in the tradition of Otterbein and the United Brethren. His understanding of the church was covenantal without making a fetish of the term. His Rules of Order in Lancaster and the Constitution of his church in Baltimore are covenant documents that remind every baptized person in the community of faith that "membership" is more than ink on a church register. The importance of "classes" supports the participatory covenant community by providing weekly opportunities for Christians to assemble for prayer, personal sharing of faith journeys, and Bible study. Membership in the full congregation was a privilege prepared for by the nurture and discipline of the small church within the larger one, in the manner of the collegia pietatis of German pietism.
Otterbein's concern for vital Christianity within the local church did not cause Otterbein to ignore the larger bond of unity among Christians. Even his early Rules of Order at Lancaster were presented to the Coetus and approved in 1757.(32) When he prepared the Constitution for the church at Baltimore, he was deliberate in including in it the following reference:
Persons wishing to commune with us at the Lord's Table, although they have not been members of our church, shall be admitted by consent of the Vestry, provided that nothing can be alleged against their walk of life; and more especially, when it is known that they are seeking their salvation.
Forasmuch as the difference of people and denominations end in Christ,(Romans 10:12, Colossians 3:11) and availeth nothing in Him but a new creature(Galatians 6:1316)it becomes our duty, according to the gospel, to commune with, and admit to the Lord's table, professors, to whatever order, or sort, of the Christian church they belong.(33)
These words do not represent an indifferentism to matters of polity, but a subordination of diversity in polity to the higher value of common life in Jesus Christ. They are consistent with Otterbein's view of classes in the local church and denominations in the larger church, as ecclesiolae in ecclesia, or little churches within the ecumenical church. In his preaching at the great meetings he often said, "I ask you not to leave your church; I only ask you to forsake your sins."(34)
This regard for oneness in Christ that takes precedence over ecclesiastical structures is evident in the language used by the United Brethren to describe themselves. They called themselves, with Otterbein in their midst, "the unsectarian [unpartheiische] preachers," dedicated to "preach untrammeled by sect to the honor of God and [the good of all]."(35) For Otterbein, faithfulness across denominational lines was urgent in an age when many within the churches were unregenerate. Otterbein's commitment to ecumenism "led him to participate in the 'unsectarian' meetings of the United Brethren in the hope that, the more pietism grew, the more the church would become one."(36) Otterbein's relationship with the Coetus, the United Brethren, and the other denominations located in Pennsylvania and Maryland shows that "the Reformed Church has contributed its full share of effective ecumenists."(37) This is reflected in Otterbein's last days. On his deathbed he was ministered to by a Lutheran pastor, who joined with a Methodist minister to conduct his funeral two days later. His committal service was led by an Episcopal minister. Francis Asbury, a Methodist, preached his memorial service. Christian Newcomer remembered, "Here were ministers of different persuasions assembled to pay the last tribute of respect to this servant of the Most High,Methodists, Brethren, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians all mingled together to pay homage to [his] departed worth."(38) Otterbein always held the Heidelberg Catechism in high regard. His rules in the Constitution of the Baltimore church specifically required that the pastor "catechize" the children and youth once a week. Although the Heidelberg Catechism was not specifically named, it informed Otterbein's teaching and preaching. At the end of his life he arranged to have most of his papers burned. However, the one sermon that remains is organized on the basis of the threepart outline of the Heidelberg Catechism. Concerning human sin, he stated: "For by nature we are in a desperate condition. We are without God and are children of wrath."(39) Concerning redemption, he wrote: "But just as fear arises from our sin, so also it ceases with the blotting out of the same. And that happens through Jesus Christ."(40) With respect to part three, human gratitude and obedience, he asked: "Has Jesus delivered you from sin? Have you satand how long have you satweeping with Mary at the feet of Jesus? Which sin in you has been put to death by Jesus? Does Christ and his Spirit live and dwell in you? What good thing has grace wrought in you?"(41)
Otterbein's use of the Heidelberg Catechism demonstrated an irenic spirit that affirmed the place of human confessions and yet subordinated them to scripture and the informed conscience. In the language of the United Church of Christ, he saw the Heidelberg Catechism more as a "testimony" than as a "test." In the Constitution of the Baltimore church one finds that "no doctrinal standard outside the Bible, is ... referred to. The Heidelberg Catechism while prized by Mr. Otterbein, was yet, doubtless, at this time, accepted by him as Wesley accepted the ThirtyNine Articleswith the reserved liberty to modify and construe. He catechised rather than taught a catechism."(42)
Under the influence of the Heidelberg Catechism, Otterbein gave considerable attention to Christian education for persons of all ages. His brother Georg Otterbein was a champion of a sound psychology of education that sought to counter the rationalism of the age with concern for the affective nature of persons.(43) In all of Otterbein's ministry the parish parochial school and the Bible study that characterized the classes extended the privilege of church education to adults as well.(44) The United Brethren, with some initial dissent on the part of an antiintellectual minority, recognized Otterbein's high regard for education by naming their first institution of higher learning Otterbein University.
The importance of the local congregation in Otterbein's thought also shows a special affinity with the United Church of Christ. Although he respected the Coetus, he shared fully in the decision of the Baltimore church to hold the title to its property separate from the Coetus. This eventually led to litigation between the Coetus and the Baltimore church in which a civil court decided in favor of the congregation.(45)
Otterbein's regard for the local church is also seen in his refusal to imitate the itinerancy system of the Methodists as a means to settle clergy. However, and despite Otterbein's personal views, the United Brethren later opted for the Methodist pattern. For Otterbein, itinerancy was a "voluntary" matter. There was a presbyterate among the "preachers" in the Pipe Creek meetings and the Annual Conferences, "but the primary governing power lies, according to Otterbein, in the local church."(46) Local churches could not agree on the scriptural warrant for membership lists; therefore, the decision was left to each local church. Preachers should "love one another" in spite of differing views on this issue.(47)
Otterbein was a moderate in doctrinal disputes. When confronted with those who wished to develop a schematic blueprint of the millennium, he would say: "Some of them believe that Christ will personally reign in his Church on earth a thousand years; but the best and most judicious divines do not believe that. And in this I agree with them."(48) To those who wished to make him an advocate of instantaneous conversion in opposition to growth in faith, he refuted the charge that he ever preached that a person must be converted in a moment.(49) "God acts according to his free and unlimited power and wisdom, calling one directly, another indirectly; pulling some at once fully from destruction as a brand from the burning, while with others the work proceeds more slowly."(50)
Even his disagreement with Calvin on predestination was expressed with humility and sensitivity. He explained to synodal authorities in Holland, to tell the truth I cannot side with Calvin in this case. I believe that Gad is love and that he desires the welfare of all his creatures. I may be permitted to explain myself more clearly. I believe in election, but cannot persuade myself that God has absolutely and without condition predestined some to perdition.(51)
Otterbein pressed the issue of human responsibility in answer to what God has done in Christ for our salvation. He distinguished between the power of the cross to reconcile "God to us and Christ's yettobe"concluded" work of reconciling us to God. With an impassioned emphasis on the place of suffering in the Christian life, he admonished the hearer to bear Christ's cross so that the "mystery, Christ in us," may become the means whereby Christ concludes his saving work in each believer.(52) Although he spoke eloquently about the possibility of "sanctification," and the "assurance" that one "can know whether Christ has killed sin in him [her]," he also cautioned: "If anything does cost, then certainly this does, in terms of determination and effort. That is why we only seldom meet such [people] in Christ in our time.(53) Otterbein had an optimism about human nature that did not adequately take into account the Reformation teaching of simul justus et peccator, but he also had a spiritual realism.(54)
Finally, Otterbein's view of the relation of the gospel to social issues was liberal for his time. When asked whether it was wise for a preacher to address political matters from the pulpit, he replied, "He that goes upon the sea will be tossed about by the waves, and whether he will get to shore, time must determine."(55) On other matters he was more direct. Although he smoked and used alcoholic beverages, he was firm in condemning excess and in calling an alcoholic friend to total abstinence.(56) He was opposed to the theater and once reasoned that the death of two relatives in a theater fire was a warning from God to others in the family and to the city of Baltimore that such entertainment was inappropriate for Christians.(57)
On the question of slavery, there is little evidence of Otterbein's views. However, in 1815, two years after his death, the United Brethren established a constitutional rule that read: "All slavery, in every sense of the word, is totally prohibited, and shall in no wise be tolerated in our Church.(58) Observers note that these early leaders of the United Brethren, "living in Maryland, a slave stateshowed it no favor, neither did they make war with it, but guarded the Church against this sin of sins.(59)
On the question of gambling, Otterbein and his Baltimore church took the road of expediency. In 1789, when a new bell was needed for the steeple, funds were raised by a special lottery authorized by the Maryland legislature.(60)
Otterbein decided not to occupy the large manse built for him while he was in Baltimore. He chose to remain in the old fourroom house and asked that the income from the manse be distributed to the poor.(61) Otterbein, like Asbury, did not aggressively address social problems in a manner we might value today. However, personal faith was judged meaningless if it did not bear the fruits of righteousness in daily life. "Together, they held that both irreligion and conventional religion imperiled true religion.(62)
Philip William Otterbein, although he was a charismatic leader of an evangelical movement that became a separate denomination, remained a minister of the German Reformed Church until his death. In the debate between United Brethren historians and German Reformed historians, both sides sometimes lose sight of the fact that this "scholarly pietist" wished to maintain "a double relation."(63) "Fault" is easily assigned to the person of conscience who wishes, in the Pauline sense, to be all things to all persons.
Looking back one asks: How comprehensive can any one denomination be? Was it really necessary for the United Brethren movement to find a home outside the German Reformed Church? In their defensive response to "sectarianism," a term readily applied to any group that stretches the norms of the majority, denominations behave like sects and exclude those within their ranks who express the Christian faith with peculiar fervor. The wonder is not that Philip William Otterbein chose a "double relation," but that his choice so troubled others. History will bear him out that in the midst of the polemical debate, he was more an ecumenist than a schismatic.
In 1929 the United Brethren and the German Reformed Church, known as the Reformed Church in the United States, sought reconciliation in a united church, which would have included the Evangelical Synod of North America. Discussions proceeded to the extent of preparing a "Plan of Union" for the new denomination, "The United Church in America."(64) The "Plan of Union" was never adopted. However, it is evidence that the relationship between the United Brethren Church and the German Reformed Church had experienced God's healing grace.
The United Church of Christ, like the German Reformed Church of Otterbein's day, faces the question of how inclusive, how comprehensive, how catholic it can be. A review of Otterbein's "double relation" could help the UCC support those contemporary saints who, like Otterbein, wish to call the church to renewal and reform.
1. Philip William Otterbein, "The SalvationBringing Incarnation and Glorious Victory of Jesus Christ Over the Devil and Death," in Philip William Otterbein, ed. Arthur C. Core (Dayton: the board of Publication, the Evangelical United Brethren Church, 1968) pp. 8688. Referred to hereafter as "Sermon."
2. A. W. Drury, The Life of Rev. Philip William Otterbein, founder of the church of the United Brethren in Christ (Dayton: United Brethren Publishing House, 1884), p. 47. As was the custom in Germany, Otterbein used his second name throughout his life.
3. Ibid., p. 23.
5. Core, op. Cit., pp. 1415.
6. Ibid., p. 15.
7. John Steven O'Malley, The Otterbeins: The Postlude of Pietism. Ph.D. diss., Drew University. 1970, p. 284.
8. Drury, op. cit., p. 56.
9. J. Bruce Behney and Paul Eller, the History of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, ed. Kenneth W. Krueger (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1979), p. 27.
10. Minutes and letters of the Coetus of the German Reformed Congregations in Pessylvania 17471792 (Philadelphia: Reformed Church Publication Board, 1903), p. 340. Hereafter Coetus.
11. Drury, op. cit., p. 256.
12. Core, op. cit., p. 109. This was not new. It had been done in 1725 by John Philip Boehm in Philadelphia. See O'Malley, op. cit., p. 413.
13. Henry Harbaugh, The Fathers of the German Reformed Church in Europe and America, vol. 2 (Lancaster, PA: J. M. Westhaeffer, 1872), p. 52.
14. Drury, op. cit., p. 68.
15. Paul H. Eller, "Philip William Otterbein and Francis Asbury" in Core, op. cit., p. 66.
16. Drury, op. cit., pp. 1023
17. Ibid., p. 117.
18. O'Malley, op. cit., p. 429.
19. Core, op. cit., p. 99.
20. Coetus, op. cit., p. 300
21. Henry G. Spayth, History of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ (Circlevile, OH: Conference Office of the United Brethren in Christ, 1851), p. 43.
22. Core, op. cit., pp. 10914.
23. Drury, op. cit., p. 183.
24. Core, op. cit., p. 27.
25. Francis Hollingsworth, "Notices of the Life and Labours of Martin Boehm and William Otterbein; and other Ministers of the Gospel among the United German Brethren," The Methodist Magazine 6 (July 1823):253.
26. Core, op. cit., p. 34.
27. Coetus, op. cit., p. 428.
28. Core, op. cit., p. 122.
29. Christian Newcomer, The Life and Journal of the Rev.'d Christian Newcomer, Late Bishop of the United Brethren in Christ, trans. John Rust (Hagerstown, MD: F. G. W. Knapp, 1834), p. 219.
30. Raymond W. Albright, "Philip William Otterbein: Reformed Pietist" in Core, op. cit., p. 55.
31. Eller, in Core, op. cit., p. 66.
32. Coetus, op. cit., pp. 15455.
33. Core, op. cit., p. 111.
34. Harbaugh, op. cit., p. 68.
35. Core, op. cit., p. 120.
36. OMalley, op. cit., p. 340.
37. Core, op. cit., p. 28.
38. Newcomer, op. cit., p. 223.
39. Otterbein, "Sermon," in Core, op. cit., p. 78.
40. Ibid., p. 82.
41. Ibid., p. 88.
42. Drury, op. cit., p. 177.
43. OMalley, op. cit, p. 448.
44. Core, op. cit., pp. 2021.
45. Drury, op. cit., pp. 16566.
46. Jeffrey P. Mickle, "A Comparison of the Doctrines of Ministry of Francis Asbury and Philip William Otterbein," Methodist History 19 (July 1981):197.
47. Core, op. cit., p. 124.
48. Ibid., p. 102.
49. Ibid., p. 101.
51. Ibid., p. 100.
52. Ibid., p. 84.
53. Ibid., pp. 8486.
54. OMalley, op. cit., p. 386.
55. Drury, op. cit., p. 331.
56. Core, op. cit., p. 105.
57. Ibid., p. 106.
58. Spayth, op. cit., p. 155.
60. Drury, op. cit., p. 333.
61. Core, op. cit., p. 60.
62. Ibid., p. 69.
63. Drury, op. cit., p. 261.
64. The United Church in America, A Handbook of Information Published by the Reformed Church in the U.S.A., the United Brethren in Christ, and the Evangelical Synod of North America (n.p., n.d.).
Thomas E. Dipko is Conference Minister and Executive of the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ.
Written by J. Harvey Gossard
John Winebrenner was a German Reformed minister who founded a religious movement known as the Church of God.(1) In the 1820s, as pastor of the Salem German Reformed Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he came into conflict with the vestry over his use of New Measures revivalism and other issues. Eventually this dispute led to his dismissal by the vestry and his removal from the rolls of the Synod of the German Reformed Church. He developed new theological views about the Bible, the church, free will, baptism, the Lords Supper, and foot washing that were in opposition to the beliefs of the German Reformed Church. In 1830 his followers officially organized, forming a denomination known as the Churches of God, General Conference.
In the 1840s he became an antagonist of John Williamson Nevin, a professor at the German Reformed seminary in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. Winebrenner's activities, letters, and publications were among the precipitating factors that led Nevin to write The Anxious Bench and "The Sect System," two important early expressions of what became known as the Mercersburg Theology.
A study of Winebrenner's life reveals that, in addition to being a religious leader, he was an advocate of moral and social reform, a publisher, and a businessperson. His reform activities included antislavery, temperance, and peace.
EARLY LIFE AND MINISTRY
John Winebrenner was born March 25, 1797, in Frederick County, Maryland. He was baptized and confirmed in the Glades Valley Church, part of the Frederick County German Reformed circuit. His father, Philip, a second-generation GermanAmerican, wanted him to prepare for a career in business, law, or medicine. But John decided to follow the advice of his mother, Eve, a pious woman of Scotch and German ancestry, who encouraged him to pursue his interest in the ministry.
The German Reformed Church did not develop its own seminary until 1825, so John followed the common practice of persons wishing to enter its ministry and served an apprenticeship under a wellknown pastor. After preparatory study at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, he spent three years under the tutelage of Dr. Samuel Helffenstein Sr. of Philadelphia, a pastor who trained twentyseven persons for the ministry. Helffenstein came from a prominent ministerial family. His father, three brothers, and three sons were all German Reformed pastors. Helffenstein was held in such respect by his peers that he was invited to become the professor of the proposed German Reformed seminary. He declined the invitation.
From Helffenstein, Winebrenner learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew, theology, and the practice of ministry. Like most German Reformed leaders in America in the early nineteenth century, Helffenstein held to a form of Reformed theology that was influenced more by Melanchthon and Zwingli than by strict Calvinism. The Heidelberg Catechism, not the Westminster Confession, was the foundation of his faith. He also appreciated German pietism, which had widely affected all Pennsylvania religious groups with roots in the Palatinate, and encouraged his members to lead moral and pious lives.2
Winebrenner was influenced by Samuel Helffenstein's theological ideas and a form of ministry that stressed a warm, personal relationship with Christ. On Easter Sunday 1817 he underwent what he later described as a conversion experience, when "the 'Sun of Righteousness' arose, and shone upon my soul, 'with healing in his wings.'"
During his apprenticeship in Philadelphia a controversy over the use of the English language in worship came to a head in Helffenstein's Race Street Church (today known as Old First Reformed Church, United Church of Christ). A German party, who controlled the board, dismissed the pastor because he had promised those favoring English to conduct some services in that language. The board locked the doors of the church against him, forcing Helffenstein and those loyal to him to worship in the nearby parochial school. In a short time the court ordered the board to open the doors and recognize Helffenstein as their pastor. Six years later, when Winebrenner was locked out of his church in Harrisburg, he continued to hold services with those loyal to him at a nearby location. Winebrenner appealed his being locked out to church judicatories rather than to the court, but his refusal to compromise may well have been influenced by Helffenstein's example. Like his mentor, Winebrenner felt that, in the end, he would be vindicated and return in triumph to his church.(3)
Upon completing his studies in 1820 Winebrenner accepted the call to Harrisburg. This charge included the German Reformed church in the capital city of Pennsylvania, and three churches in nearby villages. His ministry went well during the first several years, and he proved to be a popular preacher in his congregations and in community interdenominational meetings. During his pastorate a new church building was erected for the Harrisburg congregation and a Sunday school established. (The building erected during Winebrenner's pastorate at the corner of Fourth and Chestnut Streets is still in use by Salem United Church of Christ.) Winebrenner also published a book, an abridged English translation of the Heidelberg Catechism, which he used in instructing the young people of his congregations.
This happy relationship was shattered in the fall of 1822 when the vestry of the Harrisburg parish presented the synod with a document listing ten grievances against the pastor. It contained a list of complaints that Winebrenner had been using a number of practices, later called "New Measures," and associated with the Second Great Awakening revivals of Charles G. Finney. Specifically, Winebrenner was accused of holding prayer-meetings, denominated anxious meetings, where he divided the members into two classesfirst, those that say they have experienced a change, and believe themselves to be Christians; and, secondly, the sinners, those who believe themselves to be mourning sinners. And during all prayer meetings he encourages groaning, thereby disturbing others who might, if the groaning were omitted, receive some benefit. Allows during prayer certain persons to respond 'Amen! Amen!" thereby drawing the attention of the gazing crowd which usually collect on the outside.(4)
The most sensational allegation was that he kept an "experience meeting" going until four o'clock in the morning, at the conclusion of which he remarked: "This is the way to fan the chaff from the wheat." The document also charged that Winebrenner invited Methodists and ministers of other denominations to occupy the pulpit, that he worked independently and failed to consult the vestry, and that he was given to intemperate outbursts and derelictions of duty.
Winebrenner answered the charges during a sevenhour meeting with the vestry. He later published his account of that session in a pamphlet entitled The Truth Made Known. Winebrenner admitted that most of the actions he was accused of were true, but he denied that there was anything reprehensible about them. He saw nothing wrong with participating in the services of other denominations and holding experience meetings in his own congregation. In his view, the low state of spiritual life in the church and community justified extraordinary measures. However, he denied most of the inflammatory statements attributed to him, or claimed that they were taken out of context.
Much of the friction between vestry and pastor lay in different understandings of their roles. The vestry charged that Winebrenner usurped its responsibilities by admitting members or scheduling guest ministers without its approval. Members of the vestry were particularly upset when he invited the congregation to examine them as to their fitness for office before their installation. They believed that the election itself was all that was necessary for establishing their right to serve. The examination and installation constituted interference by the minister. Winebrenner, in turn, was dismayed that funds collected to pay his salary had been used by the vestry to pay other church debts, even though his pay was already significantly in arrears.
At the end of the meeting each side pledged to be more temperate in their treatment of each other and to seek harmonious solutions to their disagreements. The vestry asked Winebrenner to stop holding prayer meetings in local homes. He declined to do so, saying that many members desired the meetings, but he promised to maintain better order and decorum in all future experience meetings. The agreement was soon shattered, however, when Winebrenner invited a United Brethren minister to speak in his absence and one of the elders refused to allow the sexton to ring the bell or unlock the door. The church split over Winebrenner's use of extreme revivalistic techniques and the right of the vestry to control the actions and countermand the decisions of the pastor.(5)
Attempts at reconciling the dissident members and the pastor failed. In April of 1823 Winebrenner arrived at Salem German Reformed Church in Harrisburg and found the doors locked. Undaunted, he led the waiting crowd to the shore of the Susquehanna River and held a worship service. By 1824 the synod ordered the four churches on the circuit to hold elections to determine whether they wanted Winebrenner as their pastor. He won all four elections. Whereas he continued serving the three rural congregations, at the Harrisburg church his opponents refused to attend the election or recognize its results. They had called Albert Helffenstein, son of Samuel Helffenstein Sr., to be their pastor six months earlier.
Winebrenner continued to meet with members who were loyal to him at various locations in Harrisburg. Both sides appealed to denominational judicatories. This process was complicated by the fact that the Harrisburg church had been transferred to the newly formed Lebanon Classis, while Winebrenner still had ministerial standing in the Susquehanna Classis. The Lebanon Classis sided with the vestry, and the Susquehanna Classis with Winebrenner. The synod was called on to arbitrate the dispute. In 1825 the synod sustained the vestry's actions.
Soon thereafter, in 1826 and 1827, the three rural churches also dismissed Winebrenner as their pastor. Winebrenner became an itinerant minister, preaching in many small towns in central Pennsylvania. He also promoted and spoke at a number of camp meetings in the area. His activities continued to upset several German Reformed pastors and churches. Finally, in 1827, the Lebanon Classis requested the synod to expel Winebrenner, since he "rejects infant baptism, holds camp meetings and forces himself into other congregations."
In 1828, when Winebrenner failed to appear to defend himself before a committee appointed to investigate the charges, the synod accepted the recommendation that his name be dropped from the rolls.(6)
After the synod sided with the actions of the vestry and dismissed Winebrenner, his supporters decided to build a permanent house of worship of their own in Harrisburg. A modest building was erected on Mulberry Street in 1826, just two blocks from the German Reformed Church. During this period Winebrenner carried on a correspondence with members of Zion German Reformed Church in Hagerstown, Maryland. They were seeking a new pastor. Winebrenner was elected in January 1826 over two other candidates and continued to negotiate with the church as late as April. The salary offered and his reluctance to leave Harrisburg led him to decline the call.(7)
By 1827 Winebrenner had begun a theological transformation that would have prevented him from staying with the German Reformed Church, even if other differences could have been resolved. Two points became central in his new theological position: first, the Bible is the "only authoritative rule for faith and practice"; and second, every Christian needs to have a personal conversion experience, or "new birth."
In American religious history these two emphases were held by a number of small Protestant groups that came into existence after the Revolution. The most widely known were those movements that became the Disciples of Christ and the Free Will Baptists. Many smaller groups also shared a desire to reinstitute principles of "primitive Christianity," as they discerned them in the scriptures, and a belief in the importance of being "born again." The stress on the individual in this theology was very much in keeping with the emphasis on individualism in American society and politics. The Disciples of Christ, the Free Will Baptists, the United Brethren, and the Evangelical Association expressed a common dissatisfaction with the traditions and spiritual life of churches rooted in Europe. These new groups wanted churches to be informal in worship, less strict in doctrine, and free of ecclesiastical control. They encouraged spontaneity and emotion in worship and stressed human responsibility and personal morality. They aggressively sought the conversion of the unchurched and held to a basic belief system that was simply stated but rigorously practiced. Thus Winebrenner stands among those people who sought to "Americanize" the church by returning to first principles and emphasizing the person over the institution.(8)
Generally speaking, most members of the German Reformed Church would have agreed with the two cardinal principles of John Winebrenner. They had been taught the Reformation principle that the scriptures were the "authoritative rule for faith and practice." They believed in the necessity of regeneration, and many of those who favored revivalism stressed the need for a definitive conversion experience. But in practice, Winebrenner interpreted these principles too narrowly for most German Reformed people. When he proclaimed the superiority of divine scriptures as the basis for faith and practice, he condemned the use of all "human creeds." As a result, he rejected the beloved doctrinal formulations of the German Reformed Church, including the Heidelberg Catechism. When he insisted on a conversion experience as the gateway to discipleship, he rejected confirmation as the primary route to church membership.
Winebrenner also repudiated the doctrine of predestination. Most German Reformed in America were mild Calvinists. They maintained belief in God's election of persons for salvation. Winebrenner argued that God had given each person a free will, the capacity to accept or spurn God's offer of redemption. He readily accepted the label 'Arminian" but was angered when his enemies called him "Pelagian," being quick to point out that regeneration was made possible by God's mercy, not by human ability.
The charges of the Lebanon Classis noted that Winebrenner questioned the doctrine of infant baptism. Winebrenner came to the conclusion that a personal conversion experience must precede this important act. Later he decided that immersion, not sprinkling or pouring, was the only proper mode. In 1830 he was rebaptized by that manner in the Susquehanna River by Jacob Erb, a minister in the United Brethren in Christ and coparticipant in area camp meetings. Through association with the United Brethren, Mennonites, and Dunkards in interdenominational revivals and camp meetings, Winebrenner reshaped his theology. He upheld believer's baptism and saw the Lord's Supper as a memorial meal, preferring to call both of these acts "Ordinances," not "Sacraments." Foot washing, which was also practiced by these groups at camp meetings, became a third ordinance. Winebrenner said that because baptism, the Lord's Supper, and foot washing were instituted and commanded by Christ, it was mandatory to observe them. However, they imparted no special grace in and of themselves.
In 1829 he summarized his new theology in A Brief View of the Formation, Government and Discipline of the Church of God. In this book he declared that the term "Church of God" was the only true scriptural name for both a local church and for the invisible church that was made up of all truly regenerated Christians. "New birth" was the sole requirement for initial membership in the church, and a godly life was the essential requirement for continued membership.
He condemned the practice of forming churches into "sectarian" denominations; however, his solution to the problem of denominationalism was vague. He did not urge all Christians to join his movement, or to combine into one large ecumenical group, as Count Zinzendorf did earlier with his "Congregation of God in the Spirit." Rather, he implied that every Christian body should reform itself by dropping human names and polity and restoring the use of biblical forms of church government.
By 1830 a number of congregations associated themselves with Winebrenner's views and felt the need to form some kind of formal association. After studying the Bible, Winebrenner asserted that the correct form of polity was neither the congregational pattern of the Mennonites and Dunkards, nor the episcopal system of the Methodists and United Brethren, but the presbyterian organization of the German Reformed Church. Each local church should have a "teaching elder" (the pastor) and one or more "ruling elders" (elected laypersons). Each year the teaching elders and the ruling elders ought to meet to conduct the affairs of the church at large. Therefore, in 1830, six elders met in Harrisburg for the purpose of establishing the first "General Eldership" of the Church of God. In time this organization became known as the East Pennsylvania Eldership. As Church of God pastors followed the population west, they established many new churches among the settlers. By Winebrenner's death in 1860, Church of God Elderships were found in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, and Texas.(9)
REVIVALISM AND NEW MEASURES
Attitudes about the proper conduct of revivals of religion played an important part in German Reformed dissatisfaction with Winebrenner. Some German Reformed leaders were antagonistic toward Methodists and United Brethren, which in past years had taken away a number of their members. German Reformed people maintained a settled ministry and were especially wary of itinerant preachers, who came uninvited to local communities and caused disruption in established churches. Winebrenner's association with these groups was undesirable. His activities as an itinerant evangelist after 1826 were unacceptable.
But it was his methods that ultimately upset the vestry, the classis, and the synod, not the issue of revivalism. In fact, most German Reformed pastors in Pennsylvania favored and held revivals. What upset Winebrenner's critics were the methods he used, techniques considered disruptive and excessive.
In the late eighteenth century a "German Revival" swept through German religious groups in the Middle Atlantic states. Rooted in German pietism and influenced by Englishspeaking groups, like the Methodists, the German Revival featured spirited preaching and an "experiential knowledge" of Christ. One feature of the German Revival was the practice of holding "big meetings" in which ministers from many denominations attracted large numbers of unchurched persons. These meetings stressed pious living and a personal relationship with Christ. They were conducted with a high degree of decorum. Preaching and prayer were emphasized, but no special techniques were used to identify or excite sinners to repentance.
German Reformed ministers and members participated in these revivals, along with Mennonites, Dunkards, Moravians, Lutherans, and Methodists. Two new religious bodies arose among GermanAmericans: the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Association. Another German Reformed minister, Philip Otterbein, was closely associated with the founders of the United Brethren but never officially joined the denomination. Jacob Albright, a Lutheran layperson, spiritually awakened by the preaching of several German Reformed ministers, founded the Evangelical Association.(10)
By the 1820s many German Reformed people felt antipathy toward the "big meeting." They were ambivalent about association with Methodists, United Brethren, and other divisive groups. Stories about falling, jumping, and other disruptive behavior at frontier revivals, such as one at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, disturbed them. Nevertheless, they continued to promote revivals in their local churches, feeling that the state of religion was at a low ebb and that sinners needed to be converted.
The Helffenstein family leaders in the German Reformed Church of the early nineteenth century, had a favorable attitude toward revivals. J. C. Albertus Helffenstein, father of Samuel Sr., died while conducting a revival service. Jonathan Helffenstein, brother of Samuel Sr., held successful revivals while he was pastor of the Frederick, Maryland, circuit from 1811 to 1829. Samuel Jr.,
Albert, and Jacob Helffenstein, sons of Samuel Sr., all conducted revivals in their churches. The fact that the Harrisburg vestry replaced Winebrenner with Albert Helffenstein, a person known to favor revivals, indicates that their dissatisfaction with Winebrenner stemmed more from personal dislike than from an aversion to revivals.(11)
If revivals were so widely accepted, why were so many people upset with Winebrenner's promotion of them? Generally, they were not upset by his stress on the need for spiritual rebirth, but by his controversial methods. He used techniques that departed from the decorum of previous revivalstechniques later known as "New Measures." New Measures involved using protracted meetings to stimulate greater religious response, praying for sinners by name, allowing women to pray and speak in public, promoting "inquiry meetings" for persons under conviction of sin, and using exceptionally emotional preaching. The most controversial practice was the "anxious bench," designating a place in the church or camp meeting where those seeking a conversion experience went for special prayer and assistance.
New Measures are often associated with the revivals of Charles G. Finney, which began in the late 1820s. Reports of New Measures used in his campaigns in Upstate New York shocked traditional revivalists like Lyman Beecher and Asahel Nettleton. In 1827 they called a meeting at New Lebanon, New York, to question Finney about his methods and motives.(12) Finney always insisted that New Measures existed before his ministry, and that people attending his meetings instigated their use without his encouragement. The complaints against Winebrenner are examples of the use of New Measures before they were popularized by Finney.
Winebrenner's ministry in Harrisburg marked one of the first reported uses of New Measures in the German Reformed Church. In the 1820s the denomination was not ready to accept these innovations. However, by 1840 a large percentage of the ministers in the synod favored the use of such methods. A review of the pages of the German Reformed newspaper, The Weekly Messenger, in the late 1830s contains appreciative comments about revivals in which New Measures were used. Not all segments of the church looked with favor on these trends. Areas with large percentages of Germanspeaking members were generally unwilling to endorse them.(13)
An interesting illustration of the acceptance of New Measures revivalism by the German Reformed Church was a story about Samuel Helffenstein Sr. and Charles G. Finney. When Finney was invited to conduct a campaign in Philadelphia, he was offered the use of the German Reformed Church on Race Street, where Helffenstein was pastor. The congregation was so taken by Finney and the results of his methods that they forced Helffenstein to resign, so that they might secure the great evangelist as their pastor. Finney declined the offer, but a pastor with New Measures leanings was called.(14)
It is ironic that the denomination that had so severely criticized Winebrenner a few years earlier for his use of New Measures later moved to accept those same methods. Eventually, however, new forces gathered to call the German Reformed Church and Winebrenner to task for these practices.
JOHN WINEBRENNER AND JOHN NEVIN
John Winebrenner was a chief spokesperson for revivalism and the Americanization of the German Reformed Church. John Williamson Nevin became the chief critic of revivalism and an advocate for a return to traditional Reformed theology and practice. The encounter between Winebrenner and Nevin is an important chapter in the history of the Churches of God, General Conference, and the United Church of Christ.
Nevin was born near Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, in 1803. He was raised a Presbyterian, educated at Union College and Princeton Seminary, and served for a decade as a professor at Western Theological Seminary in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. In 1840 he was called to teach at the German Reformed seminary at Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. In concert with Frederick Rauch and Philip Schaff he developed the Mercersburg Theology.
On a philosophical level, this new theology tried to introduce the insights of German idealism to American Protestantism. On a practical level, it tried to replace the emphasis in American churches on individualism and revivalism with a view of the church and the sacraments that represented a return to the traditional confessional standards of the Reformed faith. German idealism is best illustrated by Nevin's The Mystical Presence (1846), which condemned spiritualistic, subjective, and memorial views of the Lord's Supper and urged an appreciation of the "spiritual real presence" in the Eucharist. A more practical contribution to Reformed theology is seen in Nevin's essays on The History and Genius of the Heidelberg Catechism, which he describes as the "crown and glory of the whole Protestant Reformation." Mercersburg theologians stressed the significance of the incarnation, the corporate nature of the church, and a high view of the sacraments. They stimulated liturgical renewal, leading in 1866 to a new Order of Worship for the German Reformed Church.(15)
In the August 10, 1842 issue of the Weekly Messenger, as part of an article on the Heidelberg Catechism, Nevin spoke out against Winebrenner and the Church of God, saying: 'This latter sect especially glory in being the patrons of ignorance, rail at hireling ministers, encourage all sorts of fanatical unscriptural disorder in their worship, institute their own fancies and feelings in religion, for the calm deep power of faith. In doctrine they are of course pelagianistic." This statement, which probably described Nevin's view of all persons who stressed revivals, resulted in a series of ten letters between the two men. The first was written in August 1842 and the last in July 1843. Both Winebrenner's Gospel Publisher and Mercersburg's Weekly Messenger reprinted the correspondence.
Winebrenner quite naturally took offense at Nevin's characterization of his movement. He admitted the correctness of the charges that "groaning, crying, shouting, clapping of hands, jumping, falling down, etc." did take place in his meetings, and that women did pray in services in which men were present, but he denied that these things deserved to be called "fanatical." These were all secondary issues to Winebrenner; it was the "true conversion of soul" that was of primary importance.
Nevin was not satisfied with Winebrenner's defense and announced that he was going to "take up the subject of 'New Measures' in a separate publication, without direct reference to Mr. Winebrenner, or 'THE CHURCH,' commonly distinguished by his name.... I have prepared a tract according to this intimation which may be expected to appear under the title the ANXIOUS BENCH, in a few days."(16)
Nevin's pamphlet The Anxious Bench was one of the most renowned condemnations of New Measures revivalism ever published. It first appeared in 1843 but was followed the next year by a revised and enlarged edition. Nevin declined to specify which activities he was against but used the anxious bench as a symbol of the entire New Measures system. He contrasted the weaknesses of the "system of the bench" with the strengths of the "system of the catechism." He said the anxious bench promoted a vulgar, irreverent style of religion that was unfavorable to earnest piety and even discouraged the serious seeker of religion. Despite his promise not to mention Winebrenner and his movement, he specifically referred to the "spurious conversions" at Winebrennerian camp meetings. Nevin's consistent use of the term Winebrennerians must have especially irritated Winebrenner. Winebrenner spoke out against the use of human names for religious bodies and insisted that "Church of God" was the only biblical name for churches. Perhaps that was Nevin's intention.(17)
A lively debate followed the publication of the pamphlet. Many denominations, especially those of Pennsylvania German background, agreed or disagreed with the position taken by Nevin. Years passed before most of the German Reformed Church accepted Nevin's position. Revivals were still popular with clergy and laypersons in the German Reformed Church.
Winebrenner was indirectly the stimulus for another important statement by Nevin in 1849. In 1848 Winebrenner published a revised collection of essays on American denominations, first issued by I. D. Rupp in 1844. This widely distributed 600page History of All the Religious Denominations in the United States was an impressive reference work. The advertisements spoke of its articles on fiftythree denominations and twentyfour engravings of "distinguished men in different denominations." Nevin made a twopart review of the book entitled "The Sect System," in which he lamented the number of "sects" that had arisen in the United States.(18)
Nevin was scandalized by the number of small religious groups that had splintered off larger denominations and held to narrow theological viewpoints. He satirically noted that most of these small groups claimed to have "no creed but the Bible." How could so many "sects" believe so firmly in the authority of the Bible and yet have so many differing opinions on what it said? The problem, stated Nevin, was the overemphasis that American Christianity placed on private judgment. The "unhistorical" approach of most sects, which gave little credence to the historical judgments of the church over the centuries, made them irrational, tyrannical, and inconsistent.
In the review Winebrenner received numerous jabs from Nevin's caustic pen. Nevin commented:
Mr. Winebrenner's portrait may be said to go beyond all the rest, in a certain selfconsciousness of its own historical significance and interest. It has an attitude, studied for dramatic effect; an air of independence; an open Bible in the hands; in token, we presume, that Winebrennerism makes more of this blessed volume than any other sect, and that it was never much understood till Mr. Winebrenner was raised up at Harrisburg, in these last days, to set all right, and give the "Church of God" a fresh start, by means of it, out of his own mind.(19)
Both Nevin and Winebrenner lamented the low level of piety in midnineteenthcentury America, but they had different solutions for its remedy. Winebrenner stressed the importance of individual regeneration through new birth. Nevin stressed a deeper knowledge of what it meant to be a Christian through the traditional system of catechism and confirmation. Winebrenner emphasized the "unity, visibility, sanctity, universality and perpetuity of the Church of God," believing that the true church derived these attributes from the fact that it was made up only of regenerate people. Nevin stressed the view that the church was established by God through Christ and that its members received Christ only through the church.
A MANYFACETED PERSON
The story of Winebrenner's relationship with the German Reformed Church, the conflict over New Measures, his role as antagonist to John Nevin, and his founding of the Church of God fails to note that John Winebrenner was also a reformer, a publisher, and a businessperson.
Like many other religious leaders of American history during "the Second Great Awakening," Winebrenner considered moral and social reform a natural concern of the church. He believed that the best way to effect a better society was through moral suasion of persons, not through political action. Among the reform movements he supported were antislavery, temperance, and peace.
His first antislavery activity was supporting the colonization movement, an effort to establish African colonies for freed slaves. Like many other nineteenthcentury reformers, he eventually became dissatisfied with this effort and joined the abolitionist movement. He became the manager of the newly formed Harrisburg AntiSlavery Society in 1836 and later was elected corresponding secretary. Speaking for the Church of God in 1844, he said that it "believes the system or institution of slavery to be impolitic and unchristian."
Temperance reform was also an enduring concern of Winebrenner. He wrote many articles for church publications that condemned the use of "ardent spirits" and tobacco. Although he preached abstinence from hard liquor, like whiskey and rum, he saw nothing wrong with limited use of wine, beer, and cider. Church of God congregations used wine in communion services until the late 1800s, and church periodicals advertised patent medicines that contained considerable amounts of alcohol. He opposed the use of tobacco in all forms, recognizing that it was a potential hazard to one's health.
Winebrenner also associated himself with the aims of the peace movement. His editorials kept readers informed of the activities of the American Peace Society and various international peace congresses. He thought that the war with Mexico (184648) was an irrational and immoral venture. One of the principles of the Church of God was a belief that "all civil wars are unholy and sinful, and in which the saints of the Most High ought never to participate."
In his espousal of reform views on slavery, temperance, and peace, Winebrenner often ran counter to the popular opinion of the nation and even the Church of God. It took time before the members of the denomination accepted his reform positions as their own. For example, in 1857, when Winebrenner urged a more tolerant attitude toward slaveholders, with the hope of persuading them of the evils of slavery and preventing a civil war, he was loudly condemned for his views by church leaders.(20)
A significant amount of Winebrenner's time was spent as a publisher. In 1835 he established The Gospel Publisher and Journal of Useful Knowledge as the official church paper. He served as both editor and printer, being responsible for both the production and the debts of the newspaper. He turned editorial duties over to others in 1840, only to see the paper go bankrupt. In 1846 he founded the Church Advocate, which is still the denomination's official periodical. A number of books were published by Winebrenner. The most successful was his Prayer Meeting and Revival Hymnbook. First published in 1825, it went through twentythree editions. The History of All the Religious Denominations in the United States was a modest financial success. He operated a printing establishment in Harrisburg until 1857, as well as a bookstore that carried Bibles, religious works, hymnals, and schoolbooks.
After 1830 Winebrenner spent only four years as pastor of a local church, usually being appointed as "preacher at large" or "general missionary" of the church. Because he did not have the regular income of a pastor and church periodicals usually operate at a loss, he became involved in a number of business ventures to provide a livelihood for himself and his family. When his first wife died he inherited partinterest in an apothecary shop, which he moved into the printshop next to the Mulberry Street church. During his travels as an evangelist, he often sold books and patent remedies. The pages of the Gospel Publisher and Church Advocate contain advertisements for his books and drug products, fruit trees, seed wheat, and new varieties of corn. Late in his life he sold farm machinery and even won a medal for his harrow at the 1856 Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society Exhibition.
His most infamous business enterprise was the silkworm episode. Convinced that the production of silk would be one of America's next boom industries, he set up the Harrisburg Silk Agency in the late 1830s. There one could purchase Morus multicaulis (mulberry trees) and silkworm eggs, as well as obtain information on how to enter "this valuable branch of home industry." Winebrenner grew silkworms for a while, assigning to his children the task of keeping the cocooneries warm. This illfated venture became a standing joke among friends and enemies alike.(21)
WINEBRENNER IN PERSPECTIVE
Winebrenner's main contribution to the German Reformed Church was the lesson his disaffection taught that body. His New Measures activities and his theological inclinations helped to establish the boundaries of what was acceptable and unacceptable ministerial practice for the German Reformed Church during the 1820s. Although his banishment from the German Reformed Church did not prevent others from adopting New Measures, it did make people more aware of the importance of maintaining doctrinal purity. In time, persons like Winebrenner made German Reformed leaders more appreciative of the historic creeds and confessions of the church. They could see in him the dangers of departing too far from their traditions. Winebrenner's theology was a living illustration of what could happen when the Heidelberg Catechism was ignored and the formulation of doctrine was left to individual interpretation of the Bible. As one of the antagonists that caused John Nevin to speak out against the excesses of revivalism and individualism, Winebrenner deserves to be recognized as a significant footnote in German Reformed history.
Although Winebrenner wandered far from the traditions and theology of the German Reformed Church, the Churches of God still proudly traces its roots to that religious body. After Winebrenner's death the Churches of God and the German Reformed Church became less antagonistic toward each other. One former Churches of God pastor played an important part in the history of the German Reformed Church and the United Church of Christ. Dr. James E. Wagner grew up in the Altoona Fourth Street Church of God, served as pastor of St. Peter's German Reformed Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as president of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, and as one of the two copresidents of the newly formed United Church of Christ.(22)
United Church of Christ members may find themselves a little uncomfortable with the approaches of Winebrenner the evangelist and theologian. But they need to remember that there was another side to this manyfaceted person. He was an advocate of social reform. He was not afraid to speak out against the evils of racial inequality and the immorality of war. He was concerned over social issues like alcoholism and smoking. His business ventures remind us that even founders of denominations are human. John Winebrenner was at times idealistic and unbending, but he was also practical. Perhaps our greatest affinity with him can be that amid all the controversies and problems surrounding his life, he took time to speak out for peace and justice.
1. The standard modern biography of John Winebrenner is Richard Kern, John Winebrenner Nineteenth Century Reformer (Harrisburg, PA: Central Publishing House, 1974). For accounts by a person who knew him see C. H. Forney, History of the Churches of God in the United States of North America (Harrisburg, PA: Publishing House of the Churches of God, 1914), pp. 3118, 13041, and George Ross, Biography of Elder John WinebrennerSemiCentennial Sketch (Harrisburg, PA: George Ross, 1880).
2. Kern, op. cit., pp. 717.
3. John Winebrenner, camp. The Testimony of a Hundred Witnesses (Baltimore: J. E Weishampel, 1858), pp. 2930; James 1. Good, History of the Reformed Church in the U.S. in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Board of Publication of the Reformed Church in America, 1911), p. 10.
4. Forney, op. cit., pp. 1112; John Winebrenner, The Truth Made Known (Harrisburg, PA: Michael W. McKinley, 1824), p. 8.
5. Winebrenner, Truth Made Known, pp. 426.
6. Ross, op. cit., pp. 1213; Kern, op. cit., pp. 2633.
7. Daniel Schurbly to John Winebrenner, January 8 and 18, 1825; John Winebrenner to Daniel Schurbly, January 14, 1825; Committee of Correspondence of German Reformed Congregation, Hagerstown, to John Winebrenner, January 10, 1826; John Winebrenner to Consistory of German Reformed Congregation of Hagerstown, April 18, 1825 and April 27, 1826, in Winebrenner Letters, Churches of God Archives, Findlay, Ohio.
8. John Winebrenner, comp., History of all the Religious Denominations in the United States (Harrisburg, PA: John Winebrenner, 1848), pp. 7879, 17677, 22930.
9. John Winebrenner, Doctrinal and Practical Sermons (Baltimore: John F. Weishampel, 1860), pp. 97124, 259402; John Winebrenner, A Brief View of the Formation, Government and Discipline of the Church of God (Harrisburg, PA: Montgomery and Dexter, 1829).
10. John B. Frantz, "Revivalism in the German Reformed Church in America to 1850 With Emphasis on the Eastern Synod," Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1961, pp. 3258, 6368.
11. Ibid., p. 118; Kern, op. cit., pp. 15, 36.
12. Charles C. Cole Jr., "The New Lebanon Convention," New York History 31 (October 1950):38597.
13. Frantz, op. cit., pp. 81, 95109, 11121, 14041.
14. Marion L. Bell, Crusade in the City (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1977), pp. 6267.
15. For a summary of Mercersburg Theology see James Hastings Nichols, Romanticism in American Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961).
16. Kern, op. cit., pp. 5773.
17. The second edition of the Anxious Bench has been reprinted in Catholic and Reformed: Selected Theological Writings of John Williamson Nevin, ed. Charles Yrigoyen Jr. and George H. Bricker (Pittsburgh, PA: Pickwick Press, 1978), pp. 9126.
18. Mercersburg Review 1 (September and November, 1849): 482507, 52139; John Williamson Nevin, AntiChrist; Or the Spirit of Sect and Schism (New York: J. S. Taylor, 1848), passim. The Mercersburg Review articles have been reprinted in Yrigoyen and Bricker, op. cit., pp. 12873.
19. Yrigoyen and Bricker, op. cit., p. 489.
20. Kern, op. cit., pp. 93176.
21. J. Harvey Gossard, "John Winebrenner: Founder, Reformer and Businessman." Unpublished manuscript of paper presented at Rose Hill Seminar, Chambersburg, PA, July 15, 1985, pp. 1520.
22. "James E. Wagner Remembers: An Oral History Interview," Historical Intelligencer 3 (Fall 1985):27.
J. Harvey Gossard is Associate Professor of Church History at Winebrenner Theological Seminary, Findlay, Ohio. He is an ordained minister in The Churches of God, General Conference. His wife, Barbara Chong, is part of a wellknown Hawaiian UCC family.
Written by Dorothy C. Bass
"What shall I do with my life?" a recruiting pamphlet from the Congregational Education Society early in the twentieth century urged its readers to ask themselves. Careers of service in the church, the pamphlet answered, offered exciting opportunities to make a difference in the world and to develop one's own life to the full. "The need is great. Christian leaders are called for at home and abroad. The strongest and best of our young men and women are wanted. No others can fully meet the need. Where and how will you invest your life?"(1)
Congregational women who sought to invest their lives in Christian leadership during the early decades of this century responded to this challenge. They were supported by the Congregational Training School for Women, established by Congregationalists in Chicago in 1909. The school aimed to be "a school for women where a high grade of instruction is offered along the lines of modern thought in religious life and modern methods in social work."(2) According to the school's founders, the churches sorely needed trained laywomen to take on staff positions in congregations and agencies. However, the Congregationalists' dominant image of paid leadership was that of the clergyman. Could the churches be convinced to hire professional women? Those who supported and attended the school hoped to develop new forms of employment for laywomen that would both enrich the churches and provide women with an opportunity to answer the call to Christian service.
WOMEN AND SERVICE
Although women who devoted their lives to Christian service can be found in every era, women have often been excluded from paid leadership and service in the churches. Around the turn of the century, however, a mass movement of American Protestant laywomen developed new models for women's participation in ecclesiastical life. Like the woman suffrage movement of the same period, with which it was closely connected, this movement of churchwomen raised women's expectations about their own ability to make public contributions.
Early in the nineteenth century, women had discovered the rewards and effectiveness of unified moral action in support of missions, education, and social reform. By 1900 they had developed large organizations to further these ends, and hundreds of women held paying positions as Christian workers in bodies such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). The foreign mission field also provided opportunities. In 1900 more than half of all American Protestant missionaries overseas were women, most of them single women supported by denominational women's missions organizations. In addition, more and more institutions of higher education were opening their doors to women. For middle-class women, the period was one in which the excitement of emerging opportunities and the genuine necessity of many women to support themselves financially created a quest for new careers, inside and outside of the church.
Progressive church leaders were open to receiving the public contributions of this generation of women. It was an era of growth and excitement about the mission of the churches. Advocates of the Social Gospel, which had a strong following among Congregationalists, were aware of the pressing need for a Christian response to the turmoil and injustice that accompanied rapid social change. Christian workers were needed to respond to human crises in rapidly growing cities transformed by industry and immigration. Many city congregations explored new forms of social outreach to their communities. Overseas, the foreign missions movement was at its peak, as confident American Protestants sought to minister to the spiritual and physical needs of a vast but shrinking world. For millions of liberal Protestants, at the turn of the "Christian" Century, the tasks of ministry at home and abroad were exceptionally urgent, alongside the hope that the current ferment would soon usher in the kingdom of God. In these circumstances, women's desire to participate in the work of the churches was hard to rebuff.
As the career expectations of women and the mission of the churches rapidly expanded, the idea of training dedicated laywomen to assist churches in meeting the challenges of the day was appealing. Located in a city transformed by immigration and industry, the Congregational Training School for Women fostered an activist view of the church in the world. Continuing the Congregational commitment to education, it sought to maintain high academic standards and raise the status of women employed by the churches. In the two decades of its existence about 200 women attended, most of them going on into employment in the churches.
The school was never large, but its story contains in microcosm a larger story of women's search for positions of usefulness and respect as professional workers in the churches. It is a story of accomplishment and limitation. It is a story that sheds light on many of the dilemmas faced by church-employed women in all times.
The Congregational Training School for Women was incorporated as an independent institution in 1909. Its origins, however, must be traced from earlier sources. Two separate initiatives on the part of women seeking opportunities for employment and education formed the wellspring of the institution.
The first initiative came from a group of now-forgotten women who claimed the ancient church title of "deaconess" as they sought to develop new opportunities for ministry for themselves and other women. In the late nineteenth century a movement to restore the office of deaconess swept through many Protestant denominations. The idea originated in Germany around 1836, and German Lutheran deaconesses arrived in the United States in 1884. American Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Methodists authorized orders of deaconesses within the next few years.
In the Evangelical Synod, a forerunner of the United Church of Christ, an order of deaconesses was founded in 1889 in St. Louis, where hundreds of women eventually trained and lived in consecrated service, usually as nurses. Their historian has called them "pioneer professional women" for the United Church of Christ.(3) These late-nineteenth-century deaconesses and their advocates were proud that deaconesses were trained for their duties; a pious heart, though essential, was not enough for a world in need of service. And so schools to train deaconesses-early institutions of theological education for women-were founded in a number of denominations.(4)
In 1896 a Miss Dockery, a Congregationalist who had graduated from the Methodists' Chicago Training School for City, Home, and Foreign Missions, called herself a deaconess and went to a small town in Illinois that was in the throes of a miners' strike. Another deaconess soon joined her, and together they opened a home for the sick, poor, and homeless. Once the strike was over, their work expanded to include a Sunday school, weekly prayer meetings, and a Christian Endeavor program. It was a Christian settlement house, providing the kind of service offered by Jane Addams' Hull House in Chicago.(5)
The work of these pioneer deaconesses and others doing similar work in a church on the South Side of Chicago soon attracted the interest and support of other Illinois Congregationalists. Support came from the Illinois Home Missionary Society for Miss Dockery's Deaconess Home. A resolution was made in the General Association of Illinois to charter the American Congregational Deaconess Association. When these actions were reported to the triennial meeting of the National Council of Congregational Churches in 1901, the council expressed "profound sympathy with a movement which looks toward the special training of forces long unused, but which are essential to the speedy and fuller development of the Kingdom of God."(6)
Arrangements for training Congregational deaconesses provided the first initiative for what later became the Congregational Training School for Women. In 1901 the American Congregational Deaconess Association obtained housing in the west side neighborhood where the Chicago Theological Seminary was located and persuaded the seminary to offer some courses for prospective deaconesses. A few part-time instructors were also hired. Few records remain of this institution, which was called the Deaconess Training School and then the Chicago Christian Training School for Women, but by 1904 thirty-six women had attended it(7)
As time passed, however, it became clear that Congregational women did not find the office of deaconess attractive. "Perhaps the atmosphere in the United States is unfavorable to such a movement," suggested the disappointed advocates of the deaconess movement at the National Council meeting in 1907. American women-and particularly independent-minded Congregationalists-may have felt "prejudice against the costume as savoring too much of Romanism."(8) Although the deaconess movement in Congregationalism failed, it provided a crucial step toward theological education for women. It was the first root from which the Congregational Training School for Women would grow.
FLORENCE AMANDA FENSHAM
The second initiative providing a point of origin for the Congregational Training School took place in 1900, when a woman sought admission to the regular Bachelor of Divinity program at Chicago Theological Seminary. Florence Amanda Fensham, a missionary on furlough from her position as dean of religious work in the American College for Girls in Constantinople (now Istanbul), was already an accomplished scholar, knowledgeable in the biblical languages and experienced in graduate study after previous furloughs spent at Cornell and Oxford Universities. Thirty-eight years old, she had lost her father in the Civil War and her mother a few years later; women's need to support themselves financially was something she understood firsthand. After attending a normal school in New York state she taught for a few years. Her academic aspirations were high, and she continued to study, hoping to go to Radcliffe College. A conversion experience and a minister's challenge that she dedicate herself to foreign missions led her to change her plans. She sailed for Turkey in 1883. There she advanced from teacher to associate principal to professor of Old Testament to dean. Intelligent and learned, she asked for admission to Chicago Theological Seminary with no desire to seek ordination. But she did want graduate theological study to satisfy her intellectual appetite.(9)
Florence Fensham's application caused considerable consternation when it was presented to the seminary's board of directors. Was there any legal obstacle to admitting a woman to an institution whose chartered purpose was to train "men" for the Christian ministry? The directors stewed over this question, refusing to seek a legal change in the charter on account of pending litigation about the seminary's tax exemption. They granted Fensham a sizable scholarship and welcomed her to classes, but they avoided the question, would a degree be awarded? Finally, they answered her affirmatively, although without changing either the charter or the institution's de facto policy of neglect on the issue of women in ministry. Fensham was granted the Bachelor of Divinity degree in January 1902 and returned to Constantinople to resume her work.(10) She had made an impression in Chicago. Later one of her professors reported that while at the seminary, she had "raised the tone of the student body distinctly."(11) In autumn of 1904 she was back.
From that time until her death in 1912, Florence Fensham was the key figure in the Chicago Congregationalists' efforts to provide theological education for women. Her first position was as instructor of Bible in the Christian Institute, a school for both men and women that had been founded in 1903 to consolidate the seminary's undergraduate instruction and provide for deaconesses. Three years later she became the assistant dean of the institute. Moreover, she maintained an active presence within the all-male seminary itself: she served as librarian, as secretary of correspondence work, and, when a professor of Old Testament died suddenly, as an instructor.(12) A woman teaching an all-male seminary class on the Bible was uncommon, perhaps even unique. Although it is likely that none of these positions gave her the recognition she deserved, she was a busy and valuable member of the seminary community.
As an activist Protestant laywomen she was ambitious to find new ways of expanding educational and vocational opportunities for women in missions, education, and parish work. The coeducational Christian Institute made only limited contributions toward these goals. Women who enrolled alongside men in the two-year course did find church-related employment on graduation. If they were college graduates, they could cross-register into the seminary's regular courses. Many did so, although no woman again took the B.D. degree at CTS until 1926.(13) Most courses, although taught in seminary buildings by seminary professors, were shared with the institute's undergraduate male students. These men planned to enter ordained ministry in many of the Congregational churches that were too small to afford seminary graduates. In this setting the contrast between men's and women's aspirations and opportunities was striking.
A supportive environment to deal with women's special concerns was needed. Consequently, when the Christian Institute closed in 1909-the victim of financial difficulty and professorial exhaustion-Florence Fensham determined to found an institution dedicated to the theological education of women.
The Congregational Training School for Women was the result of her vision and the culmination of her life's work. She designed it in 1909 and served as its dean until February 15, 1912, when her heart stopped as she ran to catch a train back to the school after a missions meeting with her students. "To it she gave all she was and all she had," declared Graham Taylor, the seminary's prominent professor of sociology and economics; "she herself was its inspiration and initiative, its principal instructor and only administrator, its home-maker and outside representative."(14) Rather than pursuing a Ph.D. degree or ordination-difficult but possible courses of action for a Congregational woman in 1909-this exceptionally accomplished churchwoman worked to further opportunities for laywomen's service. She hoped to make available to Congregational women of the twentieth century a scope of action, a field of learning, and a means of support similar to what she had enjoyed as a teacher and missionary.
Incorporated as an independent institution, although still able to draw on the instructional resources of the Chicago Theological Seminary, the Congregational Training School for Women received from a wealthy physician a fine old mansion that served as its residence and base of operations. Congregational churches, especially their women's organizations, contributed money, food, furnishings, and other necessities. Twenty young women, along with one or two leaders including the dean, lived together while enrolled in the school, sharing meals, conducting vespers every evening, and receiving edifying visits from denominational officials and missionaries on furlough. One young teacher from Kansas, considering enrollment, wrote to a friend that although it might be wise to attend the less expensive Moody Bible Institute, she wanted to go to CTSW because it seemed "more like a home."(15)
Although eminently proper and quite domestic, the school was hardly a quiet enclave. All students were required to do "practical work" in the city. They worked in settlement houses such as Graham Taylor's Chicago Commons, urban congregations, or charitable agencies struggling to respond to the needs of immigrants. Jane Addams and her associates at Hull House, thoroughly immersed in the city's problems, offered an elective course during the first year. In addition, students were required to exercise regularly to enhance their own health and to learn children's games for later use in teaching. Many women held part-time jobs as secretaries or Sunday school teachers to help meet expenses.
Chicago Theological Seminary contributed office and classroom space, as well as numerous educational, religious, and social opportunities. CTSW students with college degrees could enroll in the seminary's regular courses, and seminary professors also taught special courses for CTSW. The women took active part in the extracurricular life of CTS, including worship and many conferences.
Bible study in English formed the core of the CTSW curriculum. A few "supplementary" courses in the traditional theological disciplines of ethics, church history, and apologetics were required, along with the newer disciplines of economics and psychology. Then came a host of practical courses, often taught by part-time instructors who were practitioners in these skills: teaching, story telling, music, physical education, public speaking, business skills, domestic arts, crafts, nursing, and foreign languages (Italian and Polish, for use among immigrants). During the two-year program about two thirds of a student's courses were required, so that a woman could take time to develop the skills she particularly wished to develop.(16) The city, the women's residential life, and the seminary combined to shape an atmosphere of activism and newness that retained elements of piety and domestic warmth. The initial catalog stated that the school was needed because "changing conditions" necessitated "a new program of work and new activities for the church." Later catalogs justified the "modern" forms of thought and social work being taught, and numerous visiting lecturers at the school, because they kept everyone up-to-date.
It is the aim of the school to foster a type of religious life which expresses itself in a broad human sympathy and efficiency; which is vigorous and wholesome; which has many interests and is open to new points of view and methods so that the women who go from the school may understand something of the world's need, and what are the approved ways today of meeting that need; in short, to nurture an intelligent, consecrated, practical spiritual life in the service of Jesus.(17)
Who attended the school? Students had to be at least twenty-five years old, single, and of high moral and religious character. Once a twice-divorced, thoroughly dishonest woman slipped in, creating quite a pastoral challenge for the compassionate but straight-laced administration. Most of the women were from the Midwest. Many had been teachers, which was seen as good background for church work. They were largely middle-class women, but they seldom had any money and had to work their way through the school. Part-time positions and interest-free loans enabled them to meet the annual expense of $244 a year.(18) Ideally, they were college graduates, but frequently this ideal was not attained. After 1913 a one-year program especially for college graduates became available.
The women at CTSW were eager to do something important with their lives. As a small-town algebra and chemistry teacher wrote, her present career was interesting, but "it just doesn't quite satisfy me for a life work. . . . Maybe I am foolish, and I am probably not fitted for the work, but I have been interested in the Immigration question ever since we studied it in 'Endeavor,' and I wanted to find out if I could not work among those people."(19)
The Congregational Training School's publicity always claimed, apparently with justification, that there were far more jobs available than there were graduates to fill them. "UNABLE TO MEET THE DEMAND OF THE CHURCHES," a recruiting advertisement in the denominational magazine blared; "unlimited opportunities await young women of education and pleasing personality who are interested in Christian Service as a life work, and who are willing to prepare themselves for specialized fields of service."(20)
The possible fields of service were many. Among the first five graduates, one became the minister of a home missions parish in North Dakota, two served as church assistants for religious education in large Midwestern congregations, one worked at a settlement house in Appalachia, and the other joined the staff of the Chicago office of the Congregational Education Society. In the fairly typical class of 1920, there were two church assistants, one director of religious education, one church visitor, and one who stayed on as an administrative secretary at CTSW. That autumn five recent graduates departed for the foreign mission fields, joining four who were already overseas. (Sending graduates overseas had been one of Florence Fensham's dreams, although fewer were sent than she would have hoped, as the missions movement diminished during and after World War I.) Other positions held by graduates were in the YWCA, denominational agencies, weekday schools of religion, city church federations, and girls' work.(21)
Marriage to a minister also counted among CTSW alumnae as a distinctive church career. Virtually all graduates took it for granted that they would resign their paying positions on marriage-a convention followed by most educated, middle-class women in the early twentieth century. Although some alumnae records simply indicate that a woman "married," others are listed as if they had a job, "wife of minister," with the church named. School publicity mentioned "minister's wife" as one of the forms of church service in which graduates were active.(22) One amusing testimony to how well the school prepared women for church work came from a graduate's minister husband. He waxed eloquent about how useful his wife's knowledge of scripture and church life was to him. "My personal appreciation of what the Training School did for Mrs. P., who was then Miss M., is far beyond my power to express," he concluded. It is difficult to know whether to lament the absorption of these trained women into their husbands' careers, or to rejoice that they could un-self-consciously celebrate the contributions of ministers' wives.
The most frequent position taken by CTSW graduates was that of "church assistant." Church assistants could carry any number of duties (educational, secretarial, social) and any number of titles (including "pastor's assistant," which the CTSW women found obnoxious). Sometimes the women were well rewarded -in money, respect, and personal satisfaction- but often they were not. Churches characteristically did not prize female leadership. Moreover, as laity in institutions that associated paid leadership with ordination, church assistants confronted many obstacles.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle was the pastor, a figure one of the graduates called "a stone wall in the shape of a man." Some pastors were overbearing, glad to have another pair of hands around the church, but reluctant to share authority. Other pastors were lazy; "I do not think I can truthfully say they need an assistant here but I wish they had a live minister," one woman reported. Sometimes they were old fogies, like the pastor who blocked an assistant's contributions because he did not understand "modern religious education." When a survey asked ministers what qualities they sought in a church assistant, ministers said they wanted a woman who was "good-looking, refined, attractive in appearance, resourceful, tactful, adaptable, whole-some, sympathetic, healthy, patient," and possessed "initiative" and "strong Christian purpose." One Training School student summed it up: "She should be a combination of all the cardinal virtues plus every minor virtue known to the mind of man.(23) All in all, the survey boded ill for the full professional acceptance of women church assistants.
Another major obstacle was the laity; would church members accept the leadership of these women? Some church assistants clearly thrived in their work. When they expressed disgruntlement about the laity, they did so with humor and love. One woman, ebullient about her work in religious education in Wichita, reported shyly but proudly that "it really scares a person when you see them turning to you to know what to do." Others celebrated successful Camp Fire or Christian Endeavor programs, or joked about how hard it was to delegate work to volunteers when it was easier to do it oneself. Many of these women found their work personally rewarding. But that was not the whole story; as one woman put it, "I was terribly lonely in the work and yet I was supremely happy in it."
"The church people evidently expected her to be largely a church secretary and office girl, and used her as such," reported a sympathetic pastor about a CTSW graduate. Fighting this image was a constant struggle, especially since the school anticipated that a little secretarial work would be included in positions and offered electives in typing, stenography, and filing. At the same time the dean insisted in 1916 that "the work of a Church Assistant is almost never limited to secretarial or clerical work."
Graduates found that congregations did diminish the status and effectiveness of church assistants because of prejudice against women. "Women as Church Assistants just at present are still greatly handicapped unless they are fifty years old and although the time is slowly coming when the church will look at it differently, it isn't here yet," one woman reported in 1918. "It is my opinion that at present as far as the relationship with the Church outside the office is concerned, a good tactful man can do it better, but that is not saying it will always be so-it will not."(24)
Careers of church assistants were also hampered by the absence of avenues for promotion and advancement and by low pay. Salary was an ambivalent issue for Christian women who had been trained to diffidence about their financial needs. One of the most forthright women put it this way:
I am interested in an increase of salary; I feel that I am situated so that it is my duty to look to that side and it helps the cause to demand a reasonable salary. . . . I feel that women assistants ought to be willing to sacrifice in salary for struggling churches but when the pastor is paid a magnificent amount, I feel that the assistant who has had five years of training and also experience ought to be paid an amount that would correspond with the man's salary. But I hope always to be above mere salary.(25)
OTHER OPPORTUNITIES FOR WOMEN
The Congregational Training School for Women is just one institution among many that were built by women, for women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Women's colleges, all-female labor unions, and organizations like the YWCA and the women's International League for Peace and Freedom were major achievements of this era. They not only reflected the fact that women were excluded from male-dominated institutions; they also expressed women's own self-esteem and passion for justice. Within major Protestant denominations, including Congregationalism, women created semi-independent organizations. There, women executives controlled substantial funds raised by laywomen to support missions-usually missions conducted by women on behalf of women and children.(26) For middle-class American women in 1900, training in an all-female school for a predominately female profession was a positive statement of women's vision for themselves and their society.
CTSW was not the only Congregational institution in this period to train laywomen for church professions. Alternative models were provided by the Schauffler College of Religious and Social Work in Cleveland and the Hartford School of Religious Pedagogy.
Schauffler was established in 1886 by a former missionary and his wife as a small training program to prepare Slavic immigrant women to do religious work among their own people. It gradually grew into a two-year training school, not unlike CTSW. It started at a lower academic level and later developed into a small four-year college. In 1954, unaccredited and under-enrolled, the college deeded its resources to the Graduate School of Theology at Oberlin College, which established the Schauffler Division of Christian Education.(27) Still later it became part of Vanderbilt University Divinity School when Oberlin closed its graduate school.
At Hartford it was possible for women to obtain theological education at a higher academic level. In 1889 the trustees of the Hartford Theological Seminary-a three-year graduate institution granting the Bachelor of Divinity degree-voted to admit women to all courses of study. Yet some limitations applied: women could not live in the dormitory or draw on regular financial aid funds. They were expected to have as a goal "religious work other than the pastorate." Few women enrolled in this program, never more than three each year. Larger numbers of women were recruited after a training school, the Bible Normal School (formerly the School for Christian Workers), made a cooperative arrangement with the seminary and moved to its campus in 1902. Rechristened the Hartford School of Religious Pedagogy, it trained a few men and many women, most of whom were not college graduates, for the same sorts of positions CTSW graduates held.(28)
All these schools exemplify the flexibility of Congregational institutions of theological education in the early twentieth century. Less concerned about graduate professional degrees than today's institutions, these schools found ways to serve disadvantaged constituencies and to respond to the needs of their time. Women were not the only beneficiaries of this flexibility. In Chicago, the seminary produced leaders for immigrant communities through foreign institutes. After the 1880s, theological instruction was offered in German, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian. Even instruction for English-speaking undergraduate men was made flexible through a variety of arrangements, first at the seminary and then, from 1915 to 1934, at the Union Theological College. "We are training workers to meet the conditions, not adjusting men to courses of study that have been inherited from the past," declared CTS president Ozora Stearns Davis in 1919.(29) Although this flexibility in theological education fell short of the Congregational ideal of a learned clergy, it disclosed another ideal of Congregationalists in the age of the Social Gospel: pragmatism.
ESTABLISHING PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY
To overcome the obstacles they confronted, women took organizational steps to enhance their status. In 1910, Florence Fensham founded the Congregational Woman's League of Church Assistants; in 1915, with support from denominational headquarters, the organization became a national body. Its object was "the promotion of the interests of the Congregational churches, especially in matters relating to the service rendered by salaried women workers," including their recruitment and placement. In 1915 official Congregational statistics counted 125 such workers, and in 1919 about 300. National Councils passed ringing resolutions about the importance of these workers in 1915 and 1921. However, no nationwide policies to enhance their status were adopted, owing to the denomination's decentralized structure.(30)
The leaders of this new church profession for women-inluding the strong and well-educated women who succeeded Fensham as CTSW dean, Agnes M. Taylor and Margaret M. Taylor-were well aware of the churches' reluctance to treat trained women workers as they deserved. These deans kept up a warm and frank correspondence with CTSW alumnae. They traveled widely in denominational circles in quest of recruits, funds, and recognition. The secondary status of women church workers was evident in denominational policy. Denominational scholarship funds were reserved for Bachelor of Divinity students, although Dean Margaret Taylor unsuccessfully protested this policy in 1920.(31)
Despite the limitations of the role of church assistant, these women honestly believed that it provided the most direct path for women toward greater participation in church leadership. Although ordination was closed to women in almost all denominations, it was possible for Congregational women; Antoinette Brown had blazed this trail in 1853. The ordination of women, however, did not seem to be likely on any large scale.
Biases against women clergy were well known, and few women had followed this path to church service. In 1900 Congregationalism included about forty ordained women in its ministry; in 1919 there were 67 women among 5,695 men. Eighteen women were pastors of "very small" churches, 14 were copastors with their husbands, 14 were religious educators or church assistants, and 21 were employed outside the churches. A 1921 Commission of the National Council reported that "so far as your Commission has knowledge, no scandal or seriously unpleasant incident has grown out of the ordination of women in our denomination." The commission "rejoice[d] in the freedom of our churches in recognizing the prophetic gift in women as well as in men." Even so, this freedom had not led to the entrance of sizable numbers of women into the ministry. The commission thought that this would continue to be the case.(32)
Dean Margaret Taylor agreed in 1926: "It does not seem likely that women would enter the ministry in large numbers even should all theological seminaries remove their restrictions, but they are finding new and interesting use for their talents and energies in the field of religious education." Another leading advocate of women's leadership in the church, Georgia Harkness, a Methodist, concurred in this assessment. These views were also supported by the statistics: in 1926 Congregational women included 74 ministers, 23 licentiates, and 367 church assistants.(33)
A few Training School alumnae were eventually ordained, and the school took pride in their accomplishments. Only one of these has left a record of her difficulties as a woman minister. "The preaching is yet, as has been, so hard for me," Orpha Greep wrote in 1913. "I can hardly describe the feeling I have had in preparing the sermon a good deal of the time. There has been an inner tightening something like the feeling one has when it is hard to get one's breath." This woman left her isolated little parish and became a nurse.(34)
In choosing to de-emphasize ordination and develop a female-identified job as a special path for women into church careers, these women underestimated their denomination's discrimination against women and its bias in favor of the clergy. On the one hand, their strategy represented an accommodation to reality: churches were known to be reluctant to hire women as pastors, and few women were academically qualified for graduate Bachelor of Divinity programs. On the other hand, they were motivated by understandable ideals: their feeling of solidarity with the activist movement of Protestant laywomen, their sense that the times demanded short training programs rather than lengthy academic ones, and their endeavor to create a new professional role.
ABSORPTION OF THE SCHOOL
Professionalism became a strong force in twentieth-century America, both inside and outside the church. In this context, advocates of laywomen in church professions argued for higher educational standards, while ministers increasingly insisted that church assistants needed both collegiate and graduate education. Increasingly, national standards of accreditation for all degree-granting institutions were established. CTSW, which had a policy of preference for education at the college-graduate level, responded to these pressures by devising a Bachelor of Religious Education program in 1922. Soon thereafter it found a way to secure graduate-level training for all its future students.(35)
In February 1926 the board of directors voted the Congregational Training School for Women out of existence, having arranged for "the setting up of a program for the training of women workers of college-graduate grade" at the Chicago Theological Seminary. Both seminary and CTSW leaders were happy about the merger, although CTSW alumnae expressed some misgivings.(36)
Two factors brought the seminary and CTSW together. First, both institutions relocated to Chicago's South Side, where the University of Chicago stood at the hub of an interdenomina-tional complex of graduate theological schools. Second, there was increasing interest at both these institutions and at CTS in religious education, which might be called the theological growth industry of the 1920s. Drawing on the intellectual work of leaders such as John Dewey and George A. Coe, religious education grew into an impressive and exciting field of study, not only for prospective church assistants, but also for ministerial and doctoral students. The Master's Degree in Religious Education became the goal for most of the seminary's new women students.
At first, excitement about the merger moved women's issues to the fore at the seminary. In 1929 the president announced that a search had begun for a woman faculty member. In 1930 Clara E. Powell, who held a University of Chicago Ph.D. in religious education, was hired. In the same year the seminary trustees and alumni resolved that "in view of the co-educational character of the Seminary, it was time to have both men and women on the Board of Directors." Two laywomen were promptly elected. Special statements in the catalog announced the seminary's commitment to "The Education of Women for Christian Service." Women would work as "church assistants, directors of religious education, instructors in week-day religious schools, missionaries, and ministers." Male students celebrated the ways in which the presence of women improved seminary social life. At about the same time, a few women enrolled in the Bachelor of Divinity program. The first two women, since Florence Fensham, graduated with the B.D. degree in 1926.(37)
However, this promising beginning did not prepare a smooth path for women into church careers. Through the next several decades attention to women's issues was at low tide in churches and seminaries, as well as in American society at large. Congregational women who sought ordination encountered obstacles of many kinds, while religious education professionals saw opportunities shrink as the Depression bit into church budgets. Few theological seminaries, including Chicago, consistently had women on their boards or as regular members of their faculties. Although women students were admitted to more and more theological seminaries, there is little evidence that the issues that created the Congregational Training School for Women in 1909 had been completely resolved.
The Congregational Training School for Women, founded during the first wave of American feminism, represented a creative response within its own time to the issue of women's preparation for church leadership. During the second wave of American feminism, the issue is once again being addressed. In this new context it is not likely that CTSW will provide a model for how women's theological education should be structured. It can, however, provide a model of hope, innovation, and mission that is part of the heritage of women in the United Church of Christ.
1. F. M. Sheldon, "What Shall I Do with My Life? A Message on Christian Leadership" (Boston: Congregational Education Society, n.d.), p. 6.
2. The Congregational Training School for Women, Chicago, Register for 1911-1912, p. 6. Hereafter issues of this periodical catalog will be refered to as CTSW Register.
3. General histories of the nineteenth-century deaconess movement are "The Deaconess Movement in Modern Times," in The National Council of the Congregational Churches of the United States, Addresses, Reports, etc. . . . of the Thirteenth Triennial Session (hereafter National Council Minutes; Boston: Office of the Secretary of the National Council, 1907), pp. 292-308; Jackson W. Carroll, Barbara Hargrove, and Adair T. Lummis
10. Minutes of the Executive Cummittee of the Board of Directors, November 2, and 11 and December 7, 1900, January 4, 1901, and January 3, 1902. Manuscript in the Office of the President, Chicago Theological Seminary.
11. Taylor, op. cit.
12. Arthur Cushman McGiffert Jr., No Ivory Tower: The Story of the Chicago Theological Seminary (Chicago: Chicago Theological Seminary, 1965), pp. 129, 130, 241, 313, and catalog numbers of the Chicago Seminary Quarterly.
13. This fact is disputed; indeed, the best manuscript on the history of the Chicago Theological Seminary (a longer version of McGiffert's No Ivory Tower, in the Hammond Library) contains conflicting reports about whether the second woman graduated in 1906 or 1926, V:36-37 and IX:104. My research has led me to conclude that a woman was enrolled soon after Fensham, but that she did not graduate.
14. Taylor, op. cit.
15. CTSW Register (1909-10], pp. 7-9; Florence Ripperton to Rose, March 3, 1912, manuscript in the dean's correspondence, Hammond Library. All other correspondence cited later in this article is in the same collection.
16. CTSW Register.
17. CTSW Register (1911-1912), p. 16.
18. This is the 1909 figure; CTSW Register, 1909-1910, p. 14. Expenses rose as years passed, but the effort to keep costs down was unrelenting, and it appears that financial difficulties did not prevent many women from enrolling. The correspondence of the deans with prospective students shows considerable concern for the students' financial problems. A 1920 study showed that the Training School's budget (which consistently ran a deficit) came from these sources: 7.5% student fees, 8.6% endowment, and 50.9% contributions. Minutes of the CTSW Board of Managers, Hammond Library.
19. Florence Ripperton to Rose, March 3, 1912.
20. The Congregationalist, June 17, 1926.
21. CTSW Register (1924-25), pp. 28-36.
22. Ibid. This is a list of all graduates and the jobs each had held since graduation.
23. The survey results are reported in Taylor, "Standards of Preparation," p. 443. The other quotations are from letters to the deans of CTSW, Hammond Library, CTS.
24. Agnes M. Taylor to Miss Beard, April 1, 1916; Harriet E. Gates to Agnes M. Taylor, December 9, 1918.
25. See Mrs. Henry W. Hunter, "The Work of the Church Assistant," Religious Education 12:1 (February 1917):24-30. The quotation is from Ana M. Truax to Agnes M. Taylor, November 9, 1915.
26. There is much historical literature on these organizations. See, for example, Rosemary Skinner Keller, "Lay Women in the Protestant Tradition," in Women and Religion in America, vol. 1, ed. Rosemary Radford Ruether and Rosemary Skinner Keller (San Fran-cisco: Harper & Row, 1981), and Barbara Brown Zikmund and Sally A. Dries, "Women's Work and Woman's Boards," in Zikmund, Hidden Histories, 1:140-53.
27. Grace L. Schauffler, Fields of the Lord: The Story of Schauffler College (Oberlin, OH: Oberlin College, 1957).
28. Curtis Manning Geer, The Hartford Theological Seminary, 1834- 1934 (Hartford, CT: Case, Lockwood, and Brainard, 1934), pp. 174-75, 195-201; Elwood Street, 'A Living Vision: A Brief Story of The Hartford Seminary Foundation," The Bulletin of the Hartford Seminary Foundation 25 (October 1958): 1-61.
29. McGiffert, op. cit., pp. 169-71; Davis in The Chicago Theological, Seminary Register 9:3 (September 1919]:1.
30. Hunter, op. cit., p. 26; Taylor, "Standards of Preparation," p. 439; National Council, Minutes of the Nineteenth Session (1921), pp. 37-46. In the Presbyterian Church, in contrast, the new office of commissioned church worker was created for similar workers, although its status also left much to be desired by advocates of laywomen in church professions. Elizabeth Howell Verdesi, In But Still Out: Women in the Church (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), offers an interesting analysis of this status, with reference to the power of women and men in the Presbyterian Church.
31. Margaret M. Taylor to F M. Sheldon, September 16, 1920.
32, National Council, Minutes of the Nineteenth Session (1921), pp. 40-41; Brereton and Klein, op. cit., p. 183,
33. Margaret M. Taylor, "The Advance of the Women," The Chicago Theological Seminary Register 17:1 (January 1927):23-24; Georgia Harkness, in Women and Religion in America, vol. 3, ed. Rosemary Radford Ruether and Rosemary Skinner Keller (San Fran-cisco: Harper & Row, 1986), p. 300.
34. Orpha Greep to Rachel R. Rogers, July 28, 1913.
35. Robert W. Lynn et al., Why the Seminary? An Introduction to the Report of the Auburn History Project (privately distributed, 1979), p. 73; Brereton, op. cit., pp. 192-93; CTSW
36. CTSW Register (1925-26), pp. 7-8; CTSW Alumni Association Minutes and Correspondence, June 1928. These records indicate that the alumnae appointed a committee to "prepare a statement to be sent to the Board of Directors and the Faculty of the Seminary of the things essential for women in the curriculum," but this document, if ever written, cannot now be located.
37. Report of the President to the Board, June 5, 1929; Report of the President to the 25th Triennial Convention, June 4, 1930; Resolutions Committee of the 25th Triennial Convention; all typescripts in the Office of the President, Chicago Theological Seminary. The Chicago Theological Seminary Register, Announcements for 1929-30, p. 22. Gregory Viastos, "Student Life," The Chicago Theological Seminary Register 19:2 (March 1929):28.
Dorothy C. Bass is Assistant Professor of Church History at the Chicago Theological Seminary.
Written by Lowell H. Zuck
The evangelical roots of the United Church of Christ represent a unionistpietist liberal approach to Christianity. Among most nineteenthcentury immigrants on the Midwestern frontier, German Evangelicals stood in stark contrast to the doctrinal rigorism that was popular among Missouri Lutherans, Christian Reformed, and, to a lesser extent, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, and Methodist revivalists.(1)
German Evangelicals in Missouri, Illinois, and other Midwestern states traced their roots unofficially to the Prussian Union Church, founded in 1817. On arrival in the United States, in 1840, they organized themselves into a church association (Evangelische Kirchenverein des Westens), making use of German confessions from both Lutheran and Reformed traditions. They also displayed a pietistic ability to pray, sing, form congregations, and train ministers, following the ecumenically open but conservative LutheranReformed tradition. They started a church journal (the Friedensbote)and reshaped a new catechism (Evangelical Catechism). But the most important institution for developing a new German Evangelical consciousness in America was a seminary, begun in 1850 at Marthasville, Missouri, and later moved to Webster Groves and renamed Eden Theological Seminary.(2)
The fourth president of this Evangelical seminary served from 1872 to 1879. His name was Karl Emil Otto (1837—1916).(3) The story of this immigrant clergyman, who was educated at the German university of Halle, illustrates how an immigrant church, loyal to German traditions, was able to maintain faith commitments in the face of rationalist intellectualism. It is a story of the struggle between the latest German critical biblical scholarship and a healthy religious pietism on the American frontier. Although Otto created a controversy involving parochial immigrant concerns, his life reveals the basically liberal characteristics of American German Evangelicals: a group that was unwilling to stay safely within narrow confessional limits, or to be restricted by fashionable theology and traditional institutionalism.
CONCERN FOR ORTHODOXY
In 1845 Philip Schaff, who had come to the German Reformed Seminary at Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and who was also rooted in the same Prussian Union Church as Karl Emil Otto, had been unsuccessfully tried for heresy. He was accused of teaching a view of the Reformation that was too Catholic for his American Reformed audience.(4) The romantic German Mediating theology behind Schaff's teachings was also important to Otto. Karl Emil Otto, however, was more deeply involved with German historical critical scholarship than Schaff had been.
Karl Emil Otto was one of the first biblical scholars using German methods to be tried for heresy. Although he was unfavorably judged by the Evangelical Synod in 1880, the judgment did not permanently alienate Otto from the German Evangelical community. His story shows that German Evangelicals had a greater tolerance for German biblical scholarship than any other nonUnitarian American denomination at the time. The only groups in America that advocated more radical doctrines than Otto's were the Free Religious Association, formed out of Unitarianism in 1867, and the Society for Ethical Culture, begun in 1876 by Felix Adler as a reaction to narrow Judaism.(5)
Among liberal Protestants in the 1870s, conservatism dominated. Only the Congregationalists and Baptists, with their loose form of government, allowed liberal theology access to seminaries. Prof. Crawford H. Toy was forced to resign from the Southern Baptist Seminary at Louisville, Kentucky, in 1879 when his views seemed to impugn the plenary inspiration of scripture. The Alabama Baptist wrote: "The fortunes of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ are not dependent upon German born vagaries."(6) Toy had studied in Germany.
Andover Seminary clung to its Calvinistic creed until the 1890s. In 1891, Prof. Egbert G. Smyth, who had studied in Berlin and Halle in 1863, was able to have the Massachusetts Supreme Court overrule attempts to remove him for heresy from Andover in 1886.(7) Egbert's brother, Newman Smyth, who had also studied in Germany, was denied an Andover appointment in 1881 because of his opposition to eternal punishment.
In 1893 the celebrated Presbyterian heresy trial of Charles A. Briggs (Union Seminary) took place, resulting in his dismissal by the General Assembly.(8) A. C. McGiffert, a Marburg Ph.D. and Union colleague of Briggs, resigned from the Presbyterian ministry in 1900 to become a Congregationalist. H. Preserved Smith of Lane Seminary was dismissed from the Presbyterian ministry in 1892. All three had studied in Germany. Fundamentalism continued its hold over Presbyterians for another quarter century.
In 1904 a Methodist, Borden P Bowne, was examined and acquitted of heresy at Boston University. And in 1906 Prof. Algernon S. Crapsey was deposed by the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York for not being creedally traditional.(9)
In retrospect, it is remarkable that a heresy trial regarding biblical criticism took place in 1880 at a remote German Evangelical Seminary in Missouri. This incident shows the sensitivity of the German Evangelicals to the latest scholarship and their capacity to handle controversy.
Karl Emil Otto was born on January 7, 1837, in Mansfeld, Saxony, at the foot of the Harz Mountains.(10) His father, Karl Friedrich Otto, was headmaster of the school at Mansfeld where Martin Luther received his education. Soon after young Otto was confirmed at age fourteen, his father died. An older brother, who had already become a pastor, took charge of Otto's studies, preparing him for high school. For nearly six years Otto concentrated on ancient languages at the Saxon territorial Pforta school, where scholars spoke Latin in middle and upper classes. With the help of his brother, Otto enrolled in the University of Halle and studied there from 1857 to 1860.
At Halle, Otto studied with the notable Mediating theologians: August Tholuck in systematics, Julius "Sin" Mueller in biblical theology, and Hermann Hupfeld, in philology. Hupfeld's critical and philologically accurate method of studying Near Eastern languages was especially influential in forming young Otto's approach to biblical exegesis.(11) It is interesting to note that Prof. Heinrich Heppe, who prepared the way for the Wilhelm Herrmann—Rudolf Bultmann liberal tradition at the University of Marburg, had also studied (at Marburg) with Professors Mueller and Hupfeld.(12)
After Karl Emil Otto completed theology study and passed his first examination, he spent some years as a private tutor in a pastor's family and taught Latin to gifted students at the famous Francke Orphan's Institute at Halle. With his final examination Otto appeared to have a bright future as a theologian and pastor in Germany.
MISSIONARY TO AMERICA
In September 1864, however, Otto attended the Altenburg Kirchentag assembly. There he heard addresses by two American pastors from the Lutheran Wisconsin Synod and the Evangelical Synod in Missouri. Both spoke of the desperate need for welltrained theologians to minister to German immigrants on the American frontier. On the spot, Otto decided that he would go to America, if he could find a way. Before long he received a fiveyear appointment to the Wisconsin Synod from the Berlin Missionary Society. He was sent to the Wisconsin Synod with the assurance that he could have a permanent position in Germany, if he should decide to return. In February 1865 Otto was ordained to the Evangelical ministry at Magdeburg, Germany.
Karl Emil Otto arrived in Milwaukee on April 29, 1865, where he was kindly received by Pastor Muehlhaeuser of the Wisconsin Synod. He was assigned to two Lutheran and one Reformed rural congregations in Dodge County, Wisconsin. In spite of primitive frontier conditions, Otto endeared himself to his people. He found, however, that the Wisconsin Synod, with its increasingly strenuous Lutheran confessionalism, was in conflict with his commitment to Evangelical unionism and a critical approach to scripture.
In a short time Otto became acquainted with the milder Evangelical Synod. The notable Evangelical traveling preacher Louis von Ragué persuaded him to travel to St. Louis in late 1865 to visit Pastor Louis Nollau, founder of the Evangelical Kirchenverein.(13) Nollau appreciated Otto's abilities and viewpoint and told him of a vacancy at St. Paul's Evangelical Church in Columbia, Illinois (across the river from St. Louis). Resigning from the Wisconsin Synod in 1866, Otto spent the next four years at Columbia, Illinois. He became an Evangelical minister in 1867 and married a relative from Germany, Amelia Otto, in the same year. They had seven children.
SEMINARY PROFESSOR AND PRESIDENT
By 1870 Otto's scholarship and pastoral gifts were well known, and he was called to a professorship at the Marthasville, Missouri, Evangelical Seminary. Otto had barely arrived at Marthasville in July when he learned of the sudden death of the school's fortysevenyearold president, Andreas Irion.(14) When Irion's successor, Johann Bank, resigned in 1873, after little more than a year, because of ill health, Karl Emil Otto, at age thirtyeight, became president of the institution.
Under Otto's leadership a new educational spirit was introduced. Irion had powerfully represented the practical and old orthodox spirit of the mission houses, whereas Otto, less comfortably for the synod, taught the critical theology of the German universities. Irion had been a missioninstitute Pietist, teaching theology as a deepgoing mystic; Otto was a critical theologian. Irion represented Wuerttemberg pietism, combining childlike religious feeling with a speculative spirit; Otto, on the contrary, was a North German, a believing Christian but less pietistic. Through his schooling he had been trained in historicalcritical research, leading to positive results. Otto's strength lay in exegesis. He taught dogmatics, but it was not his main field. His greatest love was Old and, especially, New Testament exegesis.(15)
In 1873 the seminary and denomination started a new journal, the Theologische Zeitschrift. Already in March of that year Otto published the first of three installments on "The Exegesis of Romans 5:12—19." His intention was to acquaint members of the synod with what he was teaching. The articles were well received, and Otto was chosen editor in 1877.
Otto's difficulties did not come from his students. He possessed outstanding teaching abilities that aroused enthusiasm. The students had not previously heard such deepgoing exegesis. Irion had presented the deep thought contents of biblical concepts; but Otto controlled Greek as if it were his basic language. He was able to contribute not only philological enlightenment, but also what his contemporaries called "the nutritious bread of living scriptural thought."(16) Moreover, Otto led his students into developing their own abilities to think and become earnest researchers themselves, thus reaching the highest goal of a teacher.
In 1879 Otto's popularity with students resulted in a student strike against the other seminary professor, K. J. Zimmermann, who appeared inadequate by comparison. As a result, Zimmermann resigned and Otto gave up the presidency but remained as professor. Twentytwo of the twentysix strikers later returned. Louis E. Haeberle became president, showing tact and firmness until his retirement in 1902.
Meanwhile the students began telling their home pastors about the theological viewpoint of their favorite professor. Many pastors were startled. The old beliefs were no longer being taught at the seminary. The leader of the opposition was retired seminary president Johann Bank. Bank and his friends wrote a formal letter to the seminary board demanding that Otto's teachings be investigated. They referred to Otto's 187374 articles and questioned whether his views on sin as the wages of death, original sin, and atonement and justification were biblical.
The board was not convinced. Early in 1880 it passed a resolution of confidence in Otto, asking him to continue teaching. It examined his dogmatics notes regarding the meaning of Christ's death and atonement, the death of humanity, the miracles of Christ, and the sacrifice of Isaac and found no problems.
In two resolutions the board fully supported Otto:
(1) The Seminary Board has convinced itself that the doubts raised about Professor Otto's teaching have no basis in fact, and that therefore his further continuance at the seminary must be desired by the Board.
(2) That Professor Otto shall be requested to forget what has happened and on the basis of strengthened confidence to continue his work with good cheer and courage.(17)
However, when four articles on the temptation story in Genesis 3 appeared in the Theologische Zeitschrift from May to August 1880, it became necessary to consider Otto's case at the fall synodical General Conference. Otto had not hesitated to have the articles published, even while he was being examined by the seminary board. He felt no need to seek the approval of any higher authority than his conscience.
Otto's symbolical method of scripture interpretation created a sensation among Evangelicals. At the September General Conference of the synod, the committee appointed to investigate his work declared that he had deviated from the synodical doctrinal position and demanded that he promise in the future to maintain true doctrine. Otto defended himself with dignity. He affirmed the basic confessions of the church and accepted the unconditional authority of scripture, but he insisted that a teacher be allowed latitude in interpretation. He questioned the competence of the synod to decide such matters.
By a vote of 47 to 9, however, the General Conference declared its lack of confidence in Otto. It also added a "Neological Paragraph" to the synodical Constitution, stating: "We must decidedly repudiate any neological [new] method of teaching and explanation of the scriptures, and insist firmly that in our seminary the Christian doctrine is presented in the manner of the positive believing direction, as it is done in the Evangelical Church of Germany."(18)
Otto had no alternative but to resign his professorship, as well as his membership in the synod. He became pastor of a nonsynodical Evangelical Church in Darmstadt, Illinois, where he served until 1887. By 1885, however, Otto renewed his affiliation with the Evangelical Synod with no malice. Already in 1883 the St. Louis Evangelical publishing house issued Otto's 268page Bibelstudien fuer die gebildete Gemeinde (Exposition of Romans for Educated Congregational Members). It included a twentyninepage appendix exegeting the Genesis 3 temptation passage.(19) In 1887 Mennonites from Kansas invited Otto to teach in their preparatory school at Halstead, Kansas. But after only a year, Otto accepted the pastorate of an Evangelical church at Eyota, Minnesota, serving from 1888 to 1890.
In 1890 Otto accepted a call to become professor of ancient languages and history at Elmhurst College, Illinois. For fourteen years thereafter he prepared students to enter the Marthasville Seminary from Elmhurst. Samuel D. Press, later president of Eden Seminary, noted with pride that his immigrant father, Gottlob Press, had studied under Otto in 1874 and "stood by Otto after his dismissal, remaining loyal to him to the end." In turn, Sam Press studied under Otto at Elmhurst, saying of him:
The only truly academically trained member of the Elmhurst faculty at that time was Prof. Emil Otto, an outstanding scholar, a man of unimpeachable character. . The mainstay of the curriculum at Elmhurst for me were the four years of Latin and the three years of Greek with Prof. Otto. His excellent lectures were too advanced for most of his students.(20)
Otto's teaching at Elmhurst included deepgoing lectures on world history and German literature. In 1898 he published a story for young people about an American lad who was kidnapped in Connecticut during the American Revolution, an unusual theme for a German immigrant theologian!(21) He also published a fictional history from ancient times, The Bride from Damascus, set in the Greek Orthodox Church of A.D. 633.(22) In 1897 he produced a 137page
Germanlanguage history of the life of George Washington, noting both Washington's success as a military commander and leader and his willingness to give up power and go back to civilian life. This may have reflected Otto's own renunciations as a theologian.(23)
Otto retired from teaching in 1904. For the rest of his life he struggled with defective hearing and the illnesses and deaths of his wife and eldest son. He returned to Columbia, Illinois, where he died in 1916 at the age of nearly eighty. Those twelve years as emeritus professor were active years, filled with preaching chores and regular writing for the Theologische Zeitschrift. The announcement of his death in that journal was followed by one of his own articles, "The Meaning of the Old Testament for Christian Preaching," written shortly before his death. The previous issue contained two Otto articles on "American Idealism" and an exegesis of Colossians 1:24.(24)
At the funeral Eden Seminary president William Becker used the text, "He that overcometh shall inherit all things" (Rev. 21:7, King James Version). Otto had overcome what he called his "catastrophe." Carl E. Schneider, Evangelical historian, wrote later: "In calmer moments it became apparent that the action [of the synod's excommunicating Otto] had been too hasty. Otto was vindicated not only by posterity but by many of his contemporaries, and never again was the question of confessional orthodoxy made the issue of serious discussion by any General Conference.(25)
Otto's exegesis approached Paul critically. He believed that a great assignment had been given to proclaim the gospel, "to pave the way for a Christian unity of the faith between those who are influenced and those who are not influenced by the socalled modern view of the world." Paul needed to be brought nearer to the Christian church by a manner of interpretation that would "explain Paul purely out of himself, uninfluenced by the authority of doctrinal tradition."28
Otto discussed the origins of sin and its consequences by examining Paul and the dogmatic traditions. In exegeting Romans, Otto wrote with Protestant fervor:
If we now compare verse 3:22 "Through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe," with 1:17, "Through faith for faith," and combine these, then we have Paul's trilogy: Out of faith (God's faith), through faith (Christ's faith), to faith (the new mankind's faith), and the doxology concerning the depths of the richness, the wisdom, and the knowledge of God (11:33), which doxology refers to the perfection of the work of redemption; then we have essentially a substantiation of our interpretation.27
But Otto's lengthy discussion of the doctrine of the atonement bordered on heresy:
Because God cannot forgive sins without a vicarious death, therefore he himself had to finally furnish the perfect offering, which was to bear vicariously the suffering of punishment for all mankind. That God did by presenting Christ as the atonement offering. . . . One can tell at once by this "orthodox" interpretation, that it is not derived from exegesis, but from dogmatics. One would hardly have found this explanation in these two verses (Rom. 3:2526), if one had not had beforehand this interpretation. And where did one get it? Not from the Bible, but from Scholasticism. . . , The theory of the atonement goes back in the first place to Anselm's attempt to construe the revealed content of the re
vealed truth about faith by the means available to human reason. This background should serve warning not to identify the outcome of this theory immediately with revealed truth itself.(28)
Even more sensational than his work on Paul were Otto's articles on the study of the Genesis temptation story (Genesis 3). He reviewed different types of exegesis (allegorical, literal, dogmatical, and theosophical), showing reasons for rejecting them all. His was a symbolic interpretation: "The tree of life is not actually a fruit tree; the tree of knowledge is not actually a tree; then too no serpent actually appeared. The appearance of the serpent symbolizes the fact that just that made itself felt which is symbolized by this picture." Otto argued that the serpent was a natural being, created by God as every other creature. It was not a creature of Satan. There was no trace that the serpent had its cunning from anywhere else except from God. "The serpent symbolizes the power that resides in nature and entices to evil. This power is not yet morally bad in itself." It is a power that dare not gain influence over humanity, if we do not want to become morally bad.(29) Otto supported a feminist interpretation of the fall: "The fact that the serpent approaches the woman first is generally associated with the greater lack of selfcontrol and the greater temptability of the woman. But actually it rather points to the connection of the sinful fall with the sex relationship only to the extent that the sex discretion occurs earlier with the woman than with the man."(30)
Otto's basic point was that the story of the fall points to sin as grave disobedience to God. The tree, the serpent, and the conversations are merely a shell. Otto was concerned with practical teaching, recognizing two ways to grasp offered truths, either in the form of abstract truth or in the form of a graphic story. He did not believe that they needed to contend against each other as if they were enemies. Those who cannot yet free themselves from the story form to grasp the moral truths should stay with this form so that they will not lose the content of the same. But those who have the duty to impart religious truth to their times and companions should get clear in their minds concerning this truth.(31)
Nor did Otto pit science and faith against each other as enemies:
The Scriptures should not be interpreted according to the demands of the natural sciences, but according to the Scriptures themselves. Exegesis must simply seek to find that which the Scripture passage intends to say. If it should happen that the passage should represent conceptions which are impossible to reconcile with scientific findings, then there will still be time to decide in favor of which side of the respective collision one might choose to stand.(32)
THE EVANGELICAL MIX
The synodical case against Otto rejected his statement that he was not asking for recognition of a "liberal interpretation," but of the "neological" (modern) method of exegeting scripture. Such an argument, however, was in keeping with the confessional stance of the Evangelical Synod. Its 1848 confessional statement affirms the Scriptures as the Word of God and as the sole and infallible rule of faith and life, and accepts the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures as given in the symbolic books of the Lutheran and the Reformed Church, the most important being the Augsburg Confession, Luther's and the Heidelberg Catechism, in so far as they agree. But where they disagree, we adhere strictly to the passages of Holy Scriptures bearing on the subject, and avail ourselves of the liberty of conscience prevailing in the Evangelical Church.(33)
The confessional statement revealed the unionist confessional spirit of the Evangelicals, which allowed choice between Lutheran and Reformed confessions, while at the same time affirming the priority of scripture and appealing to individual conscience on points of disagreement. Although it could be criticized as contradictory, the paragraph nicely combined liberal individualism with conservative scriptural authority. Highly trained scholars leaned toward autonomy of conscience, while ordinary pastors and church members, grounded in conservative pietistic views, favored traditional scriptural authority.
Although Otto followed the confessional tradition of his predecessors, William Binner, Andreas Irion, and Adolph Baltzer, he did so with greater discernment, penetrating to more daring conclusions. Building on his excellent German theological training, Otto affirmed the authority of Holy Scripture without question. However, he also considered himself better qualified than many others to distinguish between favored interpretations of texts and their actual meanings. He insisted that the meaning "which according to my best knowledge is the meaning of Scripture constitutes for me the norm for my teaching."(34)
The censure of Karl Emil Otto at the 1880 synodical conference centered on what constitutes Evangelical freedom. Maintaining that he espoused scientific, theological truth, Otto urged that the synod could accept his position without fear of drifting from doctrinal moorings. Indeed, the contrast between an orthodox and a more liberal position, which he admitted he held, was wholesome for the church. On the basis of the confessional paragraph, he demanded recognition and equal rights for both.
At the time the irenic spirit of the Evangelicals was overcome by fear of the dangers of "neology." When the vote went against Otto, he was dismissed from the synod. More orthodox Evangelicals tried to prevent any other professors with his views from becoming seminary professors. Yet Otto was not repudiated as a person, or as a teacher, although he was never invited back to teach at the seminary.
"Americanization" was a crucial issue for nonEnglishspeaking believers, and the wave of the future for Evangelicals was on the side of Americanization. As early as 1874, when Otto was president at Marthasville, he had proposed that students who completed their work with honors at "Eden" should be sent to an Englishspeaking college or theological seminary for further work.(35) Conservatives responded that it would be far better for them to attend German universities. Yet Otto's flexibility on language issues was consistent with his critical and forwardlooking theological views.
As the years went by, it was Otto's approach to scriptural authority, learning, individual conscience, and willingness to allow missionarylike accommodation to American life that prevailed in the Evangelical Synod. By the time of Otto's death in 1916, onetime student Samuel D. Press said of Otto that "not only his theology was Christocentric, but also his life."
Press expressed the prevailing Evangelical spirit when he went on to say:
Professor Otto holds a distinctive place in our Synod. Through Otto's intellectual talents, God presented our Church with one of his richest gifts. . . Otto was an untiring searcher for truth.... Completely unpartisan, Otto had the courage to present his theological positions freely and openly, without concern for personal consequences, . . . What a tragedy that our Church robbed itself of the services of such an outstanding theological servant! Nevertheless, this noble person continued to serve the Church faithfully until the end of his life.(36)
The littleknown heresy trial of Karl Emil Otto before the Evangelical Synod in 1880 presents a unique example of theological leadership and the struggle for denominational identity on the American scene. The small German Evangelical denomination made an initial mistake but went on to recover its identity and its ability to grow amid struggle. Karl Emil Otto and the Evangelical Synod show how sound biblical criticism and flexible churchly pietism learned to live together.
1. For Evangelical Synod history, see Carl E. Schneider, The German Church on the American Frontier (St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1939), and David Dunn, ed., A History of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (Philadelphia: The Christian Education Press, 1961).
2. Carl E. Schneider, History of the Theological Seminary of the Evangelical Church (St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1925), and Walter A. Brueggemann, Ethos and Ecumenism, An Ecumenical Blend: A History of Eden Theological Seminary, 19251975 (St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1975).
3. For Otto, see Schneider, German Church, p. 368, and Dunn, op. cit., pp. 22329.
4. For Schaff, James Hastings Nichols, Romanticism in American Theology: Nevin and Schaff at Mercersburg (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), and The Mercersburg Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), and John B. Payne, "Philip Schaff: Christian Scholar, Historian and Ecumenist," Historical Intelligencer 2 (1982):1723.
5. Winthrop S. Hudson, Religion in America (2d ed.; New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1981), p. 286, and William R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), pp. 3140.
6. Kenneth K. Bailey, Southern White Protestantism in the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), p. 12, and Pope A. Duncan, "Crawford Howell Toy: Heresy at Louisville," American Religious Heretics: Formal and Informal Trials, ed. George H. Shriver (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1966), pp. 5688.
7. Egbert C. Smyth, Progressive Orthodoxy (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1885); Newman Smyth, Dorner on the Future State (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1883). See Daniel Day Williams, The Andover Liberals (New York: Octagon Books, 1970).
8. On Briggs, see Lefferts A. Loetscher, The Broadening Church: A Study of Theological Issues in the Presbyterian Church Since 1869 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1958), ch. 4, and H. Shelton Smith, Robert C. Handy, and Lefferts A. Loetscher, American Christianity, 18201960 (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1963), pp. 27579.
9. Noted in Hudson, op. cit., p. 280. The Disciples of Christ expelled their first modernist minister, Robert C. Cave, in 1889. See Lester G. McAllister and William E. Tucker, Journey into Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1975), pp. 36364.
10. E. Otto obituary, Evangelical Herald (August 17, 1916), pp. 45, for a brief summary of his life.
11. For the influence of German Mediating theology on American theology and philosophy, see Bruce Kuklick, Churchmen and Philosophers: From Jonathan Edwards to John Dewey (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985), pp. 12627; Ragnar Holte, Die Vermittlungstheologie (Uppsala: Almquist & Wiksells, 1965).
12. For Heppe, see Lowell H. Zuck, "Heinrich Heppe: A Melanchthonian Liberal in the NineteenthCentury German Reformed Church," Church History 51(1982):41933.
13. Sketches of Ragué and Nollau in Lowell H. Zuck, NewChurch Starts: American Backgrounds of the United Church of Christ (St. Louis: United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, 1982), pp. 1214.
14. For Andreas Irion, see John W. Flucke, Evangelical Pioneers (St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1931), pp. 12740, and Schneider, German Church, pp. 31418, 41617.
15. Walter Merzdorf translated Otto's 1873 Dogmatics (1967) in 149 typewritten pages from student notes. Copy in Eden Archives, Webster Groves, MO.
16. H. Kamphausen, Ceschichte des Religioesen Lebens in der Deutschen Evangelischen Synode von NordAmerika (St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1924), p. 160.
17. Quoted in ibid., p. 165.
18. Protokoll der GeneralConferenz (St. Louis, September 1880), p. 21.
19. Walter Merzdorf translated Otto's Romans in 196465. Copy available in Eden Archives, typewritten, 414 pages.
20. From Samuel D. Press, typewritten Autobiographical Reflections, in Eden Archives. See William G. Chrystal, "Samuel D. Press: Teacher of the Niebuhrs," Church History 53 (1984):50421.
21. Der Gestohlene Knabe: Eine Geschichte aus der Revolutionszeit (St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1898).
22. Die Braut von Damaskus (St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1895).
23. Das Leben George Washingtons (St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1897).
24. Magazin fuer Evang. Theologie und Kirche 18 (1916):32129, 329 39; 25163, 28797.
25. Carl E. Schneider, The Place of the Evangelical Synod in American Protestantism (St. Louis: Eden Publishing House, 1933), p. 25.
26. Otto, Romans, Merzdorf MSS, p. 4.
27. Ibid., pp. 100101.
28. Ibid., pp. 11415.
29. Ibid., pp. 395, 39798.
30. Ibid., p. 402.
31. Ibid., p. 414.
32. Ibid., p. 411.
33. Schneider, German Church, p. 409.
34. Quoted in Schneider, Place of the Evangelical Synod, p. 25.
36. Samuel D. Press, Otto obituary, The Keryx, October 1916, pp. 2627.
Lowell H. Zuck is Professor of Church History at Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.
Written by Curtis Beach
It is often said that the United Church of Christ was the first union of two American denominations with quite different histories and backgroundsthe English roots of the Congregational Christian Churches mixing with the German traditions of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Actually, a similar merger, on a much smaller scale, took place in 1925, when the Evangelical Protestant Church of North America joined the National Council of Congregational Churches.
The Evangelical Protestants were an indigenous American denomination, originally Germanspeaking. In 1925 there were twentyseven churches, mostly in the Ohio River valley. Dedicated to religious liberty, Evangelical Protestants stood for freedom of thought, an open mind, and respect for those whose beliefs were different.
The first German Evangelical Protestant church was founded in Pittsburgh in 1782. At that time Pittsburgh was only a hamlet on the frontier.(1) Twentyfive years earlier no village was there at all, only Fort Duquesne, a French military outpost located at the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers came together to form the Ohio River.
In 1758, during the French and Indian War, Fort Duquesne had been captured by a British colonial militia and renamed Fort Pitt, in honor of William Pitt (senior), the leader of the British government. Soon thereafter log cabins began to appear outside the military compound, built by people who wished to trade with the soldiers or the Indians. Pittsburgh was also the gateway to the West, populated by fur trappers and pioneers. In 1782 the village consisted of about thirtyfive houses, most made of logs, and probably numbered less than 250 souls. Many of them were Germans. In fact, one third of the inhabitants of Pennsylvania in the 1780s spoke German.
In Pittsburgh, German settlers established the first church in the town during the American Revolution.(2) Its initial membership roll listed fortytwo men. (After the German custom of that time, women were not voting members.) This early German church was completely independent, not connected with any synod or denomination. Its roster included both Lutherans and German Reformed members, as well as persons who belonged to no particular group. From the beginning it was a church that cherished religious freedom, welcomed diversity of opinion, and respected the right of individual conviction.
This attitude of tolerance was remarkable in 1782. In that period, churches in Germany were severely divided over theology. In New England, Congregational parishes were being torn apart by controversies: unitarianism and trinitarianism, liberalism and orthodoxy. Yet, in the wilderness of western Pennsylvania, a church developed that encouraged private thought, was cordial to diverse points of view, and honored the rights of personal conscience.
In 1782 the German church had organized and found a place to meet, a log cabin that it rented, but it had no minister. So the congregation sent a letter to the German Reformed Synod in eastern Pennsylvania, saying, in effect, "Please send us a preacher."
The man who was sent was a most unusual person named Johann Wilhelm Weber. From his diary we have knowledge of his life and of the infant church.(3) He was born in Germany in 1735 and came to America (Pennsylvania) with his young wife in 1764, at the age of twentynine. For several years he taught school, and then he decided to enter the ministry. He was examined and ordained by the German Reformed Synod. Although he served a parish near Philadelphia for a time, he was compelled to leave because the congregation felt that he was "too political." He was an ardent supporter of the War for Independence. When the synod received the request from Pittsburgh for a preacher, Weber responded. He says in his diary; "In May 1782 I was sent by the synod in Reading to western Pennsylvania to visit the congregation there and given a permit to be their pastor if they should call me." It took him a month to make the 400mile trip on horseback, crossing the Allegheny Mountains. He preached in the Pittsburgh church and in other Germanspeaking villages in the area. As a result he received a joint call to serve the Pittsburgh congregation and three German churches near Greensburg, thirty miles away. All this for a total annual salary of "116 pounds in money, 100 sheaves of wheat, free lodging, and firewood." Weber accepted and went back to get his family, planning to return the next summer.
In June 1783 Johann Wilhelm Weber crossed the mountains in a wagon with his wife and six children. The four parishes provided them with an old house, in which, he wrote, "my family almost perished from the cold during the winter." The next summer he bought a tract of land near Greensburg, built a more adequate dwelling, and added farming to his pastoral duties. When his wife died in childbirth, he soon remarried, and his second wife bore him twelve more children. There were twenty mouths to feed at the family table.
For eleven years Weber served four parishes, riding on his horse at least eighty miles a week. Pittsburgh was thirty miles from his home and his other churches. Travel was not easy on poor roads, through dense woods, and over swollen rivers. He had to be armed with a gun, a knife, and a hatchet, in case of attack by the Indians. He was "a strongly built man, blessed with a constitution of iron." He needed to be, to keep up such an arduous schedule.
In 1787 John Penn Sr., and John Penn Jr., the grandson and greatgrandson of William Penn, gave the Pittsburgh congregation a plot of land on Smithfield Street. It was large enough for a meetinghouse, a parsonage, and a cemetery. The parishioners did not build on this land immediately because it was so far out of town. Today it is in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, surrounded by skyscrapers. Over the years five church buildings have been erected on the site.(4)
Planning and raising money for the first meetinghouse began in 1791, and the building was finished in 1793. It was a simple rectangular wooden structure, with no decoration and no steeple, only a chimney; it seated a hundred persons.
A year later, in 1794, Weber resigned from the Pittsburgh church, probably feeling that once the meetinghouse was completed, he could reduce his travel. He was fiftynine years old and continued to serve the three parishes near Greensburg until his death, at the age of eightyone.
After the resignation of Weber, the Pittsburgh church deteriorated. There was discord between the Lutherans and other members. For several years there were two separate church bodies, Lutheran and nonLutheran, holding separate services in the same building. Eventually, however, the breach was healed, and in 1812 the two groups reunited. They reaffirmed the principle on which the church had been foundedas a fellowship in which all varieties of Christian thought were welcomed and the rights of individual belief respected.
At the 1812 meeting the name Deutsche Evangelische Protestantische Kirche (German Evangelical Protestant Church) was officially adopted. The word evangelical is derived from the Greek word evangelion (gospel). Evangelische was the term commonly used in Germany to designate nonCatholic churches. The word Protestant was used in Britain and the United States to express the same thing. By using both these terms the Pittsburgh Germans tried to make the character of their church clear to everyone, no matter what language they spoke.
The church again petitioned the German Reformed Synod in eastern Pennsylvania to send a minister. In 1813 a young man named Jakob Schnee moved to Pittsburgh with his family, and the congregation engaged him as its pastor for $200 a year. "Under his active and energetic leadership, the scattered congregation quickly reassembled, and by the year 1814 the number of members had grown to about 100." This did not count women, so the membership was probably twice that number, plus the children.
During the years since the first German meetinghouse was built, Pittsburgh had grown from a small village to an industrial town. By 1793 a constant stream of homesteaders passed through Pittsburgh on their way to find a new life in the Ohio River settlements of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. They stopped in Pittsburgh to buy boats, farm equipment, clothing, and supplies. Shipbuilding became a major industry. The town had iron and brass foundries, a textile mill, glass works, tool and nail manufacturing, and factories making all sorts of household items, such as soap and candles. In 1816, when Pittsburgh incorporated as a city, it had a population of 6,000. It had eight churches: one German, two Presbyterian, one Methodist, one Episcopal, one Catholic, and two smaller sects.
As the German church grew to about 200 members, it needed a larger and more dignified edifice. So, in 1815, under Schnee's leadership, the original building was torn down and a new structure of brick was constructed on the same site. It seated about 200, with a gallery holding 20. Three years later Schnee resigned and moved back East, leaving the church greatly strengthened.
Pittsburgh continued to grow. The city lay between two rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela. Soon settlements were begun on the farther side of the rivers. Across the "Ally" grew the town of Allegheny and across the "Mon" was an industrial area called Birmingham. The original Pennsylvania turnpike, completed in 1820, reduced the 400mile journey from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to less than two weeks. Because of the availability of coal and iron, Pittsburgh became a city of iron foundries. In 1830 its population was 12,500, and the town of Allegheny had nearly 3,000. There were churches of many kinds, but only one German church: the Evangelical Protestant Church on Smithfield Street.
As the city grew the church grew also. In 1826 a young German Reformed minister named David Kammerer came to town. He was intending to go as a missionary to frontier settlements farther west. When he preached in the German church, however, he was so well liked that the congregation asked him to become their pastor. Kammerer was twentyfive years old, a man with a kind friendly manner, boundless energy, and great vision. Under him a Sunday school was started, modeled on those in the Englishspeaking churches and using lay teachers and graded classes, rather than only offering confirmation instruction by the minister. He also organized a daily elementary school for the children, conducted in German by a trained teacher. It was 1828, seven years before Pittsburgh had public schools. Before long it became evident that the church building was not big enough for all these activities and a growing congregation. In 1831 the members began making plans for a new structure.
The same year a dissident group of the church members of Lutheran background withdrew and started their own church, the First Lutheran Church of Pittsburgh. Although this was a momentary loss in numbers to the Evangelical Protestant congregation, it was also a blessing. It relieved the tension that had always existed between the Lutheran and nonLutheran members and permitted the church to develop its liberal traditions freely.
As the church celebrated its fiftieth birthday, in 1832, it had about 300 worshipers. It was strong and healthy, ready to give leadership in the development of other German Evangelical Protestant churches.
When the Pittsburgh church was planning for its new building, it realized that many of its members lived across the river in the town of Allegheny. So it decided to start a new congregation there, contributing members and money to the project. A man named Voegtly donated land. A new meetinghouse in Allegheny, known as the Voegtly Church, and a new (third) building for the Pittsburgh church were completed in 1834.(5)
As Pittsburgh grew, more and more German people came to the area. Other German Evangelical Protestant churches were established in the city and in the mill towns around it. Members of the Pittsburgh church helped to organize a congregation in industrial Birmingham, across the Monongahela River, in 1846. A church was begun in McKeesport, farther upstream, in the same year. A few miles up the Allegheny River, in Etna, a church was founded in 1849 and another one, in nearby Tarentum in 1873. Additional Pittsburgh churches were started: West End in 1864, Manchester in 1865, Baum's (Bloomfield) and Mount Washington in 1873, Homestead in 1890, Spring Hill in 1895, and Duquesne Heights in 1900. Farther down the Ohio River, churches were established in Beaver Falls in 1888 and Saxonburg in 1895. There was also a church, St. John's, in Wheeling, West Virginia (date unknown).(6) With all the new Evangelical Protestant churches in and around Pittsburgh, the original church on Smithfield Street needed a more specific name. It decided to call itself "Smithfield Church," as it still does today.
Evangelical Protestant churches were not limited to the Pittsburgh area. The highway of midAmerica was the Ohio River and from Pittsburgh it flowed westward to the Mississippi and south to the sea. From colonial times boats sailed down it, bearing pioneers to the virgin wilderness on its shores. Many settlements had grown up along the Ohio River, and one of the largest of these was Cincinnati. Founded in 1788, Cincinnati was for many years a struggling village. With the coming of steamships, however, the town grew rapidly, and by 1830 it was bigger than Pittsburgh. Cincinnati was a thriving trading and manufacturing metropolis, proudly calling itself "the Queen City of the West."
Many of the inhabitants of Cincinnati were Germans. Like Pittsburgh, it was a center of German life and culture. As people from the Evangelical Protestant churches of the Pittsburgh area moved to Cincinnati, they found new neighbors in Ohio who favored a free approach to religion. Out of these relationships new Evangelical Protestant churches were born.
The first German Evangelical Protestant church established in Cincinnati was St. Peter's, founded in 1832. Thirtyfour men signed its roll as charter members. Its first meetinghouse was a small unused church building that it purchased for $350. Two years later, when that part of the city was threatened by floods from the river, the congregation moved the structure, section by section, to higher ground. In 1845 another Evangelical Protestant church, St. Paul's, was founded. Many years later these two congregations united to form the present Cincinnati church of St. Peter and St. Paul.(7)
Between 1845 and 1860 German immigration to the Cincinnati area was especially heavy. Many Evangelical Protestant churches were started: St. John's, across the river in Newport, Kentucky, in 1857; St. John's on Neeb Road in 1850; St. Mark's in 1864; and St. John's of Mount Auburn in 1866. The church in Bridgetown, adjacent to the city, began in 1870, and St. Paul's in Barnesburg (Mount Healthy) in 1874. Across the river in Kentucky, St. John's in Johns Hill was gathered in 1876 and St. John's in West Covington, in 1892.
The Ohio River did not stop in Cincinnati. It flowed on to the Mississippi and carried German settlers to other towns. The United Evangelical Protestant Church in Madison, Indiana, was founded in 1842; St. Peter's in Osgood, Indiana, in 1850; and the Independent Evangelical Protestant Church in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1856.(8)
What were the characteristics of these churches? First, and most important, was their freedom of thought. As a matter of principle they had no creed. They allowed members to fashion their faith for themselves, based on their own thinking and experience. Some parishes adopted a statement like this one, found in the first constitution of St. John's on Neeb Road, Cincinnati (1850): "We join together to know the will of God as taught in the Holy Scriptures, allowing freedom of conscience and freedom of interpretation in points of doctrinal difference. We unite for the purpose of serving God and our fellow men [and women].(9)
A second characteristic of these churches was their insistence on independencethe autonomy of each congregation. This resulted from their memories of life in Europe, where churches were too often dominated by the state. Evangelical Protestant congregations refused to join in any synod, fearing that it would open the door to "outside control." This desire for independence prevented the development of any denominational structure for a long time.
A third characteristic of these churches was the authority of the laity. It was the congregation, not the pastor, who made the decisions. When the churches had troubles, as they often did, they had no synod or denominational officers to appeal to for help. They had to solve their problems themselves. "Many times, when there were difficulties, the church continued to develop and grow because the congregation made the right decisions and kept it alive. The minister always played an important role, but the final responsibility for the working out of problems rested on the lay members. This was a source of strength.(10)
Yet Evangelical Protestant ministers were outstanding clergymen. They left an important legacy.
One early pastor was Gustav Wilhelm Eisenlohr. Born in Germany in 1811, the son of a village pastor, he was educated at the universities of Heidelberg and Halle and then worked as an assistant in his father's parish. Later he became the minister of a church and the principal of a grammar school in Baden. He took part in the political revolution of 1848 and, to avoid being sent to prison, fled to America. For a year he served a church in New Richmond, Ohio, and then moved to Texas, where he held a pastorate in New Braunfels, a largely German community. While there he began contributing to a German religious periodical, Protestantische Zeitblaetter (Protestant Pages of the Times), published in Cincinnati. His articles so impressed the members of St. Paul's Evangelical Protestant Church in Cincinnati that in 1857 they invited him to become their pastor, without seeing or hearing him. For twentytwo years he served St. Paul's and became a leader in the Evangelical Protestant Ministers' Association. He retired in 1879 and returned to Texas, where he died in 1881.
A leading writer in the Evangelical Protestant fellowship was Gustav Schmidt. He was born in Germany in 1853 and studied at the universities of Berlin and Bonn. He came to Pennsylvania and was ordained to the ministry by the Pittsburgh Association of Evangelical Protestant Ministers in 1884. He served the church in McKeesport for fortytwo years. When the Evangelical Protestant journal Kirchenbote (Church Messenger) was established in 1885, Schmidt became editor. For years he wrote articles on social issues, especially on the evils found in growing industries in the cities: long working hours, low wages, unhealthy conditions, child labor, the exploitation of women, and the accumulation of vast fortunes by the industrial "barons." He was a strong voice in the social gospel movement.(11)
Another distinguished minister was Friedrich Ruoff. Born in 1850 in Wuerttemberg, Germany, he graduated from the University of Tuebingen in 1870. He served in the Prussian army during the FrancoPrussian War. In 1873 he came to Amerlca to serve in St. John's Church of Mount Auburn, Cincinnati. Six years later he was called to the "mother" church in Pittsburgh (Smithfield). Ruoff was deeply concerned about people and helped countless German immigrants find jobs in the steel mills and other industries. He worked to establish two Evangelical Protestant social agencies in the Pittsburgh area: an orphanage in 1888 and a home for the aged in 1891. During his pastorate the Smithfield Church erected its fourth building. Ruoff was an outstanding preacher, admired not only by his parishioners, but also by the whole city. At his funeral in 1904, Smithfield Street, one of the main business arteries of the city, was closed to traffic to accommodate the hundreds of mourners who came to stand in silent tribute to him.(12)
For many years there was no denominational structure among the Evangelical Protestant churches, only the ministerial associations in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Gradually, however, people came to believe that some kind of federation was needed. Finally, in 1885, the pastors of both areas, fourteen from Pittsburgh and thirteen from Cincinnati, met at Smithfield Church in Pittsburgh to set up an organization. They called it the German Evangelical Protestant Church of North America, even though it was not a church, just a fellowship of ministers. It had a central committee consisting of officers and three trustees. They started a denominational journal, Kirchenbote (Church Messengerj, later renamed Kirchenzeitung (Church Gazette), and a children's paper, Christliche Jugenfreund (Christian Friend of Youth). They published a yearbook of articles and reports, Volkskalender (People's Almanac), as well as Sunday school materials and hymnals for children and adults.(13)
Increasingly, however, they felt the need for an organization that included laypersons. In 1911 a meeting was held at St. Paul's Church in Cincinnati, and another in 1912 at the Mount Washington church in Pittsburgh. Plans were made for congregational representation, and the body was enlarged to include delegates from the parishes. It still bore the name Evangelical Protestant Church of North America; the word German was dropped.
In 1917 the organization adopted a Declaration of Principles, expressing the convictions that had governed Evangelical Protestant churches from their beginning:
Our Church is called Evangelical because it accepts as the foundation and rule of faith and life the Gospel of Jesus Christ. .
Our Church is called Protestant because it protests against any compulsion in matters of faith and conscience. . . . We expect our members to form their own convictions, based upon personal experience and deliberation. Differing opinions need not lead to discord as long as the spirit of true freedom and Christian love of neighbor prevails. .
We look up to the God of omnipotence, justice and love, who is our Father. We recognize in Jesus our highest ideal and divine Master, We believe in the blessedness of loving service, in the power of prayer, in the victory of truth, and in life eternal.(14)
MERGER WITH THE CONGREGATIONALISTS
During the early decades of the twentieth century there were many social changes affecting the Germanspeaking churches in this country. The influx of immigrants from Germany, on which the Evangelical Protestant churches depended for growth, practically ceased. Churches could no longer obtain ministers from Europe. As the younger generation preferred to speak English, parishes became bilingual and eventually gave up the use of German altogether. Ultimately the churches were becoming American and losing touch with their GermanAmerican roots. The fact that the denomination had no theological seminary made it difficult to find ministers for Evangelical Protestant churches. And, as a small group of parishes, with no "home" or "foreign" mission boards, the churches felt unable to play an effective part in the wider work of the church.(15)
The answer to these problems pointed toward a union with some larger denomination, one that shared Evangelical Protestant principles of local autonomy and personal freedom of thought. Carl August Voss, minister of the "mother" church, Smithfield, in Pittsburgh, believed that they should consider the Congregationalists.
Voss was born in 1876 in Wheeling, West Virginia, and grew up in Cincinnati, where his father, Eduard Voss, was pastor of St. Paul's Evangelical Protestant Church (18791910). He went to Elmhurst College and Meadville Theological Seminary and did further study at Lane Theological Seminary and the University of Cincinnati. Ordained to the ministry in 1896, he served Immanuel Church in Cincinnati (an independent congregation) for nine years. In 1905 he was called to Smithfield Church in Pittsburgh, where he served for the next thirtyeight years. During his pastorate the church erected its fifth (present) building. Voss also served as the first president of the Evangelical Protestant Church of North America after its reorganization as a representative body, holding office from 1913 to 1920.(16)
As Voss and others considered the future of the denomination, they looked to the Congregationalists. Congregationalism had developed strong regional and national organizations, while preserving the autonomy of the local churches.
In 1922 Voss began informal conversations with the Congregational officers in New York. A year later the Evangelical Protestant Church asked Voss to chair a committee, enter into negotiations, and draw up a plan for union. Any vote to join the Congregationalists had to be made by the Evangelical Protestant Church as a body, as well as by each individual congregation. Finally, on October 20, 1925, the Evangelical Protestant Church of North America became part of the National Council of Congregational Churches at a meeting in Washington, D.C.(17)
In his address to the National Council on that occasion Voss said:
While your institutions found their birthplace on a different soil from ours, we realize that it is the same spirit of tolerance, freedom, loyalty and devotion, so dear to our hearts, that prevails in your circles. The fact that our churches have always been congregational in their polity has made it doubly easy for us to affiliate with your body. Your history and ours reveal that, while independence is a great treasure, it is not to be confused with irresponsibility, and that only by organization, fellowship and interrelationship can this independence be safeguarded.(18)
The Evangelical Protestant Church joined the Congregational fellowship as a separate, nongeographical conference, functioning like the Calvin (Hungarian) Synod in the United Church of Christ. It had two district associations: one in the Pittsburgh area, with fourteen churches, and one centered in Cincinnati, with thirteen churches in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri. This status as a separate conference was only temporary. In 1935 the Pittsburgh Evangelical Protestant Association dissolved itself, and most of its churches became part of the Congregational Conference of Pennsylvania. Eventually they all did. The one Evangelical Protestant church in Missouri, the Independent Church in St. Louis, joined the Congregational Conference in that state. A separate Evangelical Protestant Conference, embracing only the churches in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, continued to exist for a few years. But on May 17, 1947, at a meeting in St. John's Church in Newport, Kentucky, it voted to dissolve and become part of the Congregational Christian Conference of Ohio.(19)
After the United Church of Christ was formed, many of the formerly Evangelical Protestant churches joined it. The first of them to bear the new name was in Cincinnati. As mentioned earlier, St. Peter's and St. Paul's, the two oldest Evangelical Protestant churches in that city, combined in 1948 to become St. Peter and St. Paul United Church of Christ. This was nine years before the national merger. In the early 1980s the church had about 650 members.(20)
The largest UCC church that was originally Evangelical Protestant is St. John's UCC in Newport, Kentucky, across the river from Cincinnati. In the 1980s it has more than 1,300 members.
The oldest Evangelical Protestant congregation, Smithfield Church in Pittsburgh, still meets on the site of its first meetinghouse in 1794. When it joined the Congregational fellowship in 1925, it had more than 1,000 members. Membership has declined as people have moved from the city to the suburbs. In the late 1960s a small Methodist church federated with it, and the combined congregation, now called Smithfield United Church, had about 500 members in the mid1980s. Its present building on Smithfield Street, erected in 1926, is the fifth church to stand on that spot. Unusual stainedglass windows, depicting historical events in the life of the city and the church, include one scene showing the first Evangelical Protestant pastor, Johann Wilhelm Weber, riding through the forest on his horse.
The Evangelical Protestant Church no longer exists as a distinctive movement. As one who grew up in it has said, "It was a noble effort on the part of many men and women to achieve freedom of mind and spirit, inspired by the Christian faith."(21) Its legacy has not been lost. The formerly Evangelical Protestant churches play an important role in the life of their communities and in the wider Christian fellowship. The United Church of Christ is a tapestry weaving together many strands and different religious traditions. The Evangelical Protestant heritage is a significant part of that tapestry.(22)
1. Early Pittsburgh history is found in Stefan Lorant, Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964).
2. A history of the German Evangelical Protestant Church in Pittsburgh (Smithfield) was written by Pastor Friedrich Ruoff in 1882. The German text and an English translation are in the archives of Smithfield United Church, Pittsburgh, PA.
3. Quotations from Weber's journal are found in Ruoff (see n. 2).
4. The Penns also gave land to the First Presbyterian Church and Trinity Episcopal Church, now Trinity Cathedral.
5. The Voegtly Church did not become part of the Evangelical Protestant Church of North America. It joined the Reformed Synod (later the Evangelical and Reformed Church). It no longer exists.
6. The names (locations) and dates of these churches, except for St. John's in Wheeling, are listed as the Evangelical Protestant Conference in the Congregational Year Book, 1926, 1927, 1928 and 1929. Information on St. John's, Wheeling, was obtained from Carl Hermann Voss, whose grandfather, Eduard Voss, was its pastor. The church did not join the Congregational fellowship and probably no longer exists.
7. Information on the founding of St. Peter and St. Paul is taken from a brochure published by the church.
8. Congregational Year Book, 192629.
9. From a brochure published by the church.
10. I am indebted to Hermine Munter of Smithfield United Church, Pittsburgh. The quotation is taken from a letter from her.
11. Sketches of Eisenlohr and Schmidt are drawn from Charles William Hanko, The Evangelical Protestant Movement (Brooklyn, NY: Educators Publishing Co., 1955), pp. 3031.
12. Ibid., pp. 3233, plus information given by Ruoff's daughterinlaw, Cecile Ruoff of
Smithfield United Church, Pittsburgh.
13. Hanko, op. cit., pp. 5657. Copies of the publications mentioned are in the archives of the Congregational Library, Boston.
14. Catechism of the Religion of Jesus Christ, with Supplement (Cincinnati: The Evangelical Protestant Church of North America, nd.), pp. 8485. In the archives of Smithfield United Church, Pittsburgh.
15. This summary of the problems of Evangelical Protestant churches is based on an address given by Carl August Voss published in Volkskalender, the yearbook of the Evangelical Protestant Conference, 1926, pp. 5764.
16. Who's Who in America, 1944; and from Carl Hermann Voss, the son of Carl August Voss.
17. Information on the merger is found in Hanko, op. cit., pp. 7779; from conversations with Carl Hermann Voss; and from the Congregational Year Book, 1926, p. 118.
18. Voss, address in Volkskalender, 1926, pp. 5764.
19. Statistics on the Evangelical Protestant Conference are found in the Congregational Year Book, 1926 to 1947, and in the minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Protestant Conference, May 1618, 1947. Evangelical Protestant churches that joined the Congregational fellowship in 192527 were as follows: Pittsburgh: Smithfield, Birmingham, West End, Duquesne Heights, Spring Hill, Manchester, Mt. Washington, Baum's (Bloomfield), Homestead; Pittsburgh vicinity: McKeesport, Etna, Tarentum, Beaver Falls, Saxonburg; Cincinnati: St. Peter's, St. Paul's, St. John's on Neeb Road, St. Mark's, St. John's of Mt. Auburn; Cincinnati vicinity: Bridgetown, Barnesburg (Mt. Healthy); Kentucky: Newport, St. John's; Johns Hill, St. John's; West Covington, St. John's; Indiana: Madison, United; Osgood, St. Peter's; Missouri: St. Louis, Independent. Later two new churches were founded and joined the Evangelical Protestant Conference: St. John's in Harrison, Ohio (1943), and St. Peter's in Brooksville, Indiana (1945).
20. Information on St. Peter and St. Paul UCC is found in a brochure published by the church.
21. From a letter from Carl Hermann Voss.
22. I am indebted to Harold F. Worthley of the Congregational Library in Boston for his help; to the ministers who have answered letters and sent information about their churches; and especially to Carl Hermann Voss, Hermine Munter, and Cecile Ruoff, who shared their knowledge of the Evangelical Protestant movement and read the manuscript of this chapter, offering suggestions for its improvement.
Curtis Beach is a retired UCC minister living in Maine. From 1959 to 1975 he served as pastor of the Smithfield Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the oldest and largest church in the Evangelical Protestant tradition.
Written by Elizabeth C. Nordbeck
The pioneers of New England's Christian Connexion, asserted the Rev. Austin Craig before a ministerial gathering in 1850, certainly "did not purpose the formation of a new sect." Nevertheless, he admitted, "moral affinities presently consociated them," while misunderstanding and opposition from other religious groups gradually pushed them toward a more theologically and structurally defined position.(1)
Some Christians [Hereafter this chapter will follow the Christian Connexion's own most common usage: the word Christian, upper case, will refer to the Connexion itself; "christian," lower case, will refer to the generic body of believers.] had begun to call their movement a denomination as early as the mid1820s. As a whole, however, the group adamantly rejected such labels, advocating instead a broad and fundamental christian inclusivity and eschewing all "party names." Austin Craig's address, delivered on the eve of a historic convention at Marion, Ohio, effectively united the three distinct regional movements that "carried the name of Christ only," and was thus especially notable for its attempt to summarize the several "principles" generally held among them. Resolutely biblical, privatistic, antidogmatic, and revivalistic, most of the Christians - especially in New England - had steadfastly resisted attempts to systematize or codify what they believed or how they ordered themselves. On both pragmatic and theological grounds they insisted on a believer's right to private judgment and on the concomitant necessity for tolerance and cooperation among believers whose private judgments might differ.
Even in 1850, after fully half a century of growth, the Christians were difficult to define precisely. By far the least wellknown of the United Church of Christ's four constituent traditions - the denominational textbook devotes barely three of fiftyeight pages of history to its origins(2) - the story of the Christian Connexion is undeservedly "hidden," Indeed, at a time when matters of justice, spirituality, creeds and confessionalism, biblical faithfulness, and women's rights continue to be at the forefront of the United Church of Christ's common life, the Christian radical witness in these areas, along with a warm and heartfelt piety, provides a usable tradition.
Why has this movement of both vitality and innovation drifted into obscurity over time? At least two factors are responsible. In the first place the Christians were not one movement, but three. Springing up almost simultaneously among New England Baptists, Virginia Methodists, and Kentucky Presbyterians at the turn of the century, Christian "converts" were theologically and regionally diverse. Despite important common understandings that led to cooperation - notably their insistence on "taking the name of Christ alone" and on the New Testament as a sufficient "creed" - the three groups differed in leadership, in their primary concerns and emphases, and on the process and speed with which their organizational structures came into being. Origins of the New England group are further complicated by the separate conversions to Christian principles of cofounders Abner Jones of Vermont and Elias Smith of New Hampshire - two men whose
theologies and personal styles were distinct and not infrequently disharmonious. Moreover, regionally diverse publications, educational institutions, and record-keeping procedures have all contributed to a scattering of materials, making historical recovery difficult.
More important, though, the Christians' vehement anticreedalism, uncompromising New Testament faith, and revivalistic style made them something of an anomaly even at the height of their strength and influence. Convinced that trinitarianism was a "doctrine of man," nowhere to be found in the scriptures, many Christians happily named themselves "unitarians"; William Ellery Channing himself looked on them "with singular pleasure because they 'stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.'" The Christian churches, Channing wrote approvingly, "embrace a greater variety of opinions than can be found in any other. . . . Your denomination is practical proof that christians interpreting the scriptures for themselves may live in peace, and may join great fervor with great liberality of opinion."(3) Unlike Channing and his Unitarian colleagues, however, virtually all the Christians energetically promoted a fervent, "experimental" piety that found its source and expression not in theological abstractions or the academy, but in freestyle worship and personal experience of the living God. The Christians were colleagues and frequent collaborators with groups like New England's Free Will Baptists. They gladly supported "seasons of refreshment" and revival in many denominations. Assailed from the religious left as too emotional and from the right as too unorthodox, Christians clung determinedly to a kind of "middle way" that attempted to hold head and heart, unity and diversity in tension.
The balancing act cost them dearly. Not only were their "principles" often and widely misunderstood, but also more than a few of their numbers eventually defected to groups as theologically different as the Unitarians and the Millerite Adventists. Even within the loyal Christian fold, diversity was held in tenuous check by a common commitment to christian unity and "civility" and a common mistrust of uniformity. The net result, wrote denominational historian Milo T. Morrill in 1912, was a movement that was frustratingly hard for an outsider to comprehend:
Readers will still press for categorical answers about Scriptural doctrines and theological dogmas. They will be answered perhaps that Scriptural doctrine should be carefully differentiated from theological doctrine; that Biblical language should be discriminated from philosophical formulae. . . . To elucidate the matter still further, suppose a minister of the Christians were asked to declare his views relative to the Trinity. He might answer in one of four ways. He might say, I know nothing about the Trinity; such a word does not appear in my Bible, but is a human invention. Or he might say, I neither affirm nor deny that upon which Scripture does not speak. Or he might say again, I believe in the Biblical Trinity but not in the theological. Or yet again, he might declare assent to the doctrine as commonly understood and might become a controversialist, handling metaphysical "essence" or "substance" or "threeinone" speculative ideas incapable of conclusive proof, but capable of endless argument.(4)
With the exception of Morrill's history, no major work has been done on Christian origins in the past century. Nevertheless, in part because of their schismatic relationships with American Methodism and Presbyterianism, adequate material on both the Virginia and the Kentucky Christian movements is available. It is the New England group that remains virtually unchronicled. That movement - one that "kindled with new intelligence the countenances of the uneducated"(5) in rural New England - also produced the first religious periodical in America.
NEW ENGLAND BEGINNINGS
In the wake of the American Revolution the religious contours of New England underwent rapid and radical change. The hold of Puritan Calvinism, embodied in the Congregational or "Standing Order" churches, was more relaxed in New England's northern and western hill country. Even in these regions, however, Congregationalism was solidly established, subsidized by public taxation and supported by a network of Harvard and Yaletrained pastors. During the Great Awakening, roughly from the late 1720s to the late 1740s, Congregational churches suffered numerical losses to Calvinistic (or "particular") Baptists. However, the changes precipitated by revolution - political, economic, and social, as well as religious - broke the grip of the Standing Order and pushed the region toward pluralism. From the 1770s on, Shakers, Free Will Baptists, and Universalists, in addition to larger groups like Methodists and Baptists, energetically challenged Congregational hegemony. By 1815 Shakers, Free Will Baptists, and Universalists constituted one quarter of New England's rural churches.(6)
Although there is no scholarly consensus on the origins of the lateeighteenthcentury sectarian impulse in America, it clear that the postrevolutionary ethos promoted new religious options that were experiential (or "enthusiastic"), anti authoritarian, innovative, and populist. Out of this ferment New England's Christian Connexion emerged. The Connexion was a "sect" that disavowed sectarianism, advocating instead the emancipation of the common person from creeds, catechisms, "hireling ministers," and denominations. Two men are credited with its founding.
Abner Jones, youngest of five children of strict Baptist parents, emigrated from Massachusetts with his family to Bridgewater, Vermont, in 1780. The next year, at the age of nine, Abner had his first religious experience, the result of a neighborhood hunting accident that touched off a local revival. "I was fully convinced that I must be born again or damned," Abner recalled, and shortly thereafter he was converted. Despite this early episode, Abner's adolescent years were ones of doubt, spiritual turmoil, and career experimentation. A decade after his conversion he "reconsecrated" himself to God and was baptized. Although at this time he began to entertain thoughts of preaching, Jones remained unclear about what he should preach and undertook the study of medicine instead. A close reading of scripture convinced him that his spiritual confusion was the result of embracing "many things without proper examination"; therefore he resolved to preach and practice nothing that could not be found in the Bible.
Before long Jones began to question not only the discipline and practice of his inherited faith, but also many familiar Calvinist doctrines. His mind was "brought out of a dark narrow prison, into the sunshine of a free gospel offered to everyone." It now seemed clear that the gospel proclaimed few of the traditional doctrines that he had once accepted unquestioningly: the Trinity, Christ's expiatory atonement, eternal punishment for sins, the doctrine of election. Jones discarded them all as spiritually binding and pernicious.
Around 1797 Jones and his new wife settled in Lyndon, Vermont, where he took up the practice of medicine and put his religious calling aside. But soon a "reformation" in an adjacent town moved him to a public confession of his backsliding ways; and in 1801 he preached his first sermon. Thereafter "doors opened . .. on every hand." The same year Jones took a still more radical step: he and a dozen residents of Lyndon covenanted together to form a church, "rejecting all party and sectional names, and leaving each other free to cherish such speculate views of theology as the scriptures might plainly seem to them to teach." This was the first Christian church formally gathered in New England. In 1802, with three Free Will Baptist clergymen officiating, Abner Jones was ordained. During the next twelve months he began an active ministry, founding two more Christian churches at Hanover and Piermont, New Hampshire. Until his death in 1841 Jones exerted prodigious energy in support of the new movement, often preaching thirty to forty times a month in his travels across New England.(7)
A second founder, Elias Smith, was undoubtedly the most outspoken, theologically peripatetic, ideologically doctrinaire, and generally cantankerous of the Christians' early leaders. Smith was born three years before Abner Jones, in Lyme, Connecticut. Like Jones, he was the son of pious Calvinist parents - his father a Baptist and his mother a Congregationalist. Smith recalled a childhood filled with intense religious experiences. When Smith's family moved to Woodstock, Vermont, in 1782, he followed reluctantly, preferring less harsh and isolated circumstances. However, his schooling from a Baptist preacher and a conversion experience in the woods drew him "almost unconsciously" toward ministry. At twentyone he joined the Baptist church; the next year he preached his first sermon; and thereafter he began a public ministry that eventually took him to Virginia.
Smith's view of ministry was iconoclastic from the start. He disliked the traditional black broadcloth of the clergy, was uncomfortable with the title "reverend," and objected to the use of notes in preaching. The doctrines of election and the Trinity were serious stumbling blocks for him. After his ordination in 1792 he got married and took a pastorate in Salisbury, New Hampshire. Yet he remained restless and uncomfortable in a settled position. His relationship with parishioners was as troubled as his theology. A brief lapse - the first of several during his lifetime - into the "heresy" of Universalism in 1801 was followed by a move to the comparatively sophisticated seacoast town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There, Smith crystallized his views on church and state. For the first time he ventured to say aloud that "the name CHRISTIAN was enough for the followers of Christ, without the addition of the word baptist, methodist, &c." In 1803 he and twentytwo others in Portsmouth covenanted "to bear the name of CHRISTIANS, leaving all unscriptural names behind." Inside of a year the new church had 150 members.
In June of 1803 Smith met Abner Jones, "the first free man I have ever seen." Before he came to Portsmouth, Smith wrote: "I considered myself alone in the world." Jones was instrumental in persuading Smith to abandon the last vestiges of his inherited Calvinism, as well as the "cumbersome" organizational structures of his church. Together both men began to preach - not without controversyto receptive audiences in the Piscataqua area of New Hampshire and as far south as Boston. By 1804 Smith had become bold to denounce as "abominable in the sight of God" matters such as "calvinism, arminianism, freewillism, universalism, reverend, parsons, chaplains, doctors of divinity, clergy, bands, surplices, notes, creeds, covenants, platforms To this litany of unscriptural things he soon added the necessity of a college education for ministry, missionary societies, and church councils for ordination and discipline.(8)
Smith's and Jones' active itineracy earned the new movement converts and enemies. Strong at first in Massachusetts, Christian sentiments spread rapidly northward into the Maine and New Hampshire seacoast areas and more slowly into Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.(9) However, the publication of the Herald of Gospel Liberty in 1808 brought the Christian Connexion into a decade of solid growth. The Herald, conceived and published by Elias Smith at Portsmouth and later Portland, Maine, was significant as "the first religious newspaper in the world" and as a vehicle for Smith's own strident republican sentiments. More important, however, it provided a forum for news and theological discussion among Christians across the country as they began to define their movement and establish its boundaries. Through the mutual encouragement found in its pages, churches were planted in isolated areas of the north. By 1810 forty Christian churches had been gathered across New England, served by twenty preachers or "elders" who dutifully reported their gospel labors in the biweekly tabloid.
Growth of the movement in this early period was part of a larger "Second Great Awakening" that affected frontier and settled America after the turn of the century. In New England localized revivals swept like ripples over the rural landscape between 1800 and 1815, revitalizing old congregations and engendering new ones. To the Christians, these "quickenings" clearly represented "a glorious outpouring of the spirit of God in New England... perhaps beyond what has been known for many years, and a visible sign that their own cause was one whose time had come.(10) Every edition of the Herald brought new reports of "general reformations," many of them following an almost predictable pattern of events. An 1812 revival in Westerly, Rhode Island, was typical:
At first but few attended; but after a few evenings the Schoolhouse was crowded in every part, and at last the windows were raised that people around the house might hear. In a short time they were obliged to meet in the Meetinghouse, and frequently seven or eight hundred would attend an evening meeting. At some of the meetings a general sobbing has been heard through different parts of the Meetinghouse; while an awful solemnity appeared through the whole. At certain times while the preachers and brethren were engaged in prayer, a great part of the assembly would be on their knees, and many like Peter's hearers were saying in bitterness of soul,"What shall we do?" ... When there is preaching, the people are very attentive to hear the word; after preaching, it is common for a very large number to speak one by one in exhortation some not more than 12 or 14 years old.(11)
Many other religious groups shared the revivalistic zeal of the Christians, but few shared their ecumenical interests. As early as 1812 they were involved in serious union discussions with the Free Will Baptists of Maine and New Hampshire. Periodically they promoted local interdenominational meetings at which "all party distinctions, of names and other things" were temporarily laid aside.(12) Correspondence between northern and southern Christians began as early as 1808 in the pages of the Herald. And in 1811 Elias Smith was in Virginia representing the New England fellowship at a meeting "in order to attend to the important question so often asked, - 'Can the Christian Brethren in the South be united with the Christian Brethren in the North?'"(13)
The elimination of "party distinctions" and the fostering of an irenic spirit of cooperation among religious groups were elusive goals. Christians encountered bitter opposition throughout New England, fueled by their own fervent evangelizing and Elias Smith's scathing attacks on "sectarian bondage' and "hireling" clergy "too lazy to work." Where the Christians did promote unity among "the sects" it was often in an ironic reversal of their own intent. For example, when Frederick Plummer, one of New England's earliest itinerant Christians, arrived in Chelsea, Vermont, in 1811, the "combined Sectarian parties" banded together to oppose him.(14) The next year, after calling a series of meetings to support orthodoxy, religious groups in Bristol, Rhode Island "declared themselves a Christian union of all denominations excepting the poor 'Christians!'" who were formally requested to desist.(15)
Christian itinerants and settled pastors were often subjected to harassment. Elias Smith was hounded by opponents from the beginning of his ministry in Portsmouth: irate mobs broke windows in the church, dumped vials of asafetida in the alley nearby, disrupted baptisms, and even attempted to haul the preacher bodily from his pulpit. Although few other Christian leaders suffered outright violence, many at one time or another endured verbal attacks and defamation of character. A letter from Frederick Plummer, for example, describes typical missionary trials during his labors in Woodstock, Vermont. The work of God has been great, he wrote to the Herald in 1812, but "the opposition has been great" as well: "Every false and base report, that bigotry, envy and malice could invent, have been circulated to injure my feelings and character."
This widespread antagonism was not simply a response to the Christians' revivalism, biblicism, and anticreedalism - all of which had earlier characterized the Great Awakening of the 1700s. Rather, it was what one modern commentator calls their relentless "zeal to dismantle mediating elites within the church"(16) that set Christians at odds with the Congregational Standing Order and with Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian leadership. "Venture to be as independent in things of religion," Elias Smith declared repeatedly, "as [in] those [things] which respect the government in which you live." Smith and his colleagues called for an ecclesiastical revolution that was fully as radical as America's political one had been. They insisted on "gospelliberty" that demolished traditional distinctions between laity and clergy, elevated individual conscience over the authority and decisions of groups or councils, and rejected the recondite theological abstractions of the academy in favor of a believer's own interpretive insights.
WOMEN IN MINISTRY
The Christian ethos of equality and individualism offered grounds for innovations that in the early 1800s were uncommon, except among radical separatist and sectarian groups. Christians supported women's public ministries long before revivalist Charles Finney brought the issue into general debate; and nearly a dozen "female laborers" were in their graves before Congregationalist Antoinette Brown was ordained.
Exactly when women began preaching among New England Christians is unclear. Historian Milo Morrill indicates that as early as 1812, "women preachers were working and highly esteemed in the movement at large, and that same year Christian women were "exhorting" at religious meetings in Vermont.(17) From the beginning the Christians' egalitarian thrust and inclusive worship practices encouraged women inclined toward public profession. The Herald of Gospel Liberty, October 1816, described a revival in Deerfield, New Hampshire. The writer noted what a difference there was between "an assembly of men improperly called Divines, who meet to make compendiums of Divinity" and a meeting of Christians, "where a large number of free brethren and sisters meet, to preach, sing, pray, exhort, and edify each other; where all serve by love, without one even pretending to have dominion over the faith of another."(18) This egalitarianism was not limited to the spiritual arena. In a printed address on marriage that is remarkable for its time, an anonymous clergyman in 1814 advised altarbound couples to "yield ... to one anotherBe ye equally yoked, is the command of God; but neither seek basely to throw undue weight on the other's shoulders."(19)
The first woman to preach actively among Christians in New England was probably Nancy Gove Cram, a native of Weare, New Hampshire. Converted early to the tenets of Benjamin Randel's Free Will Baptists,(20) she was soon attracted to the Christian movement, embracing its ideas and regularly engaging in mutual work and fellowship among Christian elders. Whether or not she remained a Free Will Baptist is unclear; both groups claim her in their histories. Nancy Gove
Cram's preaching career was short - just four years, from 1812 until her death in 1816. But during that time she undertook a remarkable ministry, preaching "in barns, groves, and orchards" to huge crowds in Vermont and New York; establishing several churches; and by repute converting no fewer than seven ministerstobe, including two other preaching women, Mary (Stevens) Curry and Abigail Roberts.(21) At her death, Elder Joseph Badger of Barnstead, New Hampshire, wrote to Elias Smith that Nancy Cram's "Faithful labours ... will be held in long remembrance. I have heard Saints," he added, "and even sinners, mention her name with weeping."(22)
Another Free Will Baptist - Clarissa H. Danforth of Vermontwas most influential in promoting early female leadership among Christians in New England. Like Nancy Gove Cram, Danforth was an itinerant, preaching with success in the Piscataqua area and later in Rhode Island between 1816 and 1822. The Christian Herald of September 1818 reported that Danforth "had made a serious impression, on the minds of multitudes" in towns along the New Hampshire seacoast, and apparently she itinerated there with good response for more than half a year.(23) Danforth was followed by other pioneer women: Hannah Hubbard, who labored and probably cooperated with her in New Hampshire; Sarah Thornton, who worked in Connecticut during the 1820s; Rachel (Hosmer] Thompson, who served as an evangelist in New Hampshire and Vermont during the same period; and Nancy Towle, a Free Will Baptist whose mission field among the Christians was Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Hannah (Peavy) Cogswell (wife and sister of Christian elders) traveled extensively with her husband, Frederick, in New Hampshire and outside New England during the 1830s. The Cogswells were renowned as a revivalproducing team: "Their names are generally signed together, and Elder Cogswell, in most of his letters, uses the pronoun 'we' while speaking of the meetings held."(24)
Among the Christians these preaching women were neither rejected, marginated, tolerated as anomalies, nor relegated to circumscribed ministries among other women. They were considered equals and supported wholly in their ministries by both men and women of the Connexion, at least in the first three decades of the movement. Christian periodicals of the day are replete with material, both practical and exegetical, indicating unswerving support of female ministries. As early as 1817, for example, the Herald of Gospel Liberty noted that "the New Testament does not confine public speaking wholly to men, though they are generally mentioned." Both male and female might appropriately speak to an assembly, the writer added, provided neither is tedious or tiresome.(25) The next year, in the wake of a revival begun in Portsmouth and vicinity by Clarissa Danforth, commentator Elias Smith anticipated the arguments of others later in the century and spoke from the logic of simple efficacy: "When preachers, whether male or female, are followed with such signs as these, and cause the wicked to turn from the error of their ways, we hesitate not to pronounce them the servants of the most high God, who shew the way of life and salvation."(26) Women's preaching is frequently described in correspondence with adjectives like "free," "satisfying," "useful," "remarkably blessed," and "powerful"; and those few women in the field habitually spoke at public meetings right alongside the brethren.
Of course Christian apologists did engage in some interpretive contortions to support their unusual position. With reasoning that did not follow typical patterns of argumentation on the subject, an anonymous contributor to the Christian Herald in 1818 carefully showed that women had preached, traveled, and taught along with Paul in the early church. But what was to be done with those perennially troublesome passages from 1 Corinthians and 2 Timothy? The answer lay in a clever distinction. "But where is it that Paul considers it to be a shame for a woman to speak, teach, and usurp authority over the man? I answer, 'in the church,' not in meetings of public worship; and in no other way can Paul's declarations be reconciled."(27) By thus narrowing the meaning of "church" to encompass little more than the gathered body in its formal, organized sense, Christians could handily exclude women from the tasks of ordering and administrating and leave them free to accomplish the more important tasks of evangelizing, preaching, and teaching.
It is sometimes argued that it was precisely this fine distinction that kept preaching women - or "female labourers in the church," as they were usually designated - from formal ordination until a decade and a half after Congregationalist Antoinette Brown's ordination in 1853. Christians were willing to grant their females license to "prepare the soil" for the churches but not to hold structural power in them. Such an argument, however, misunderstands the Christians' own early and radical mistrust of church structure itself - a mistrust that was especially pervasive in New England, where the background of Christian converts from Baptist and Congregational origins was one of uncompromising independency. Christians considered themselves a movement or a "connexion" and not a church or denomination. Denying accusations of sectarianism, they created structures warily and gradually, and then only out of a growing need for permanence, order, and effective communication. Ordained Christian elders were notoriously casual about the sacraments, sometimes leaving it to the discretion of an individual convert whether he or she would choose to be baptized. Christian laypersons spoke publicly, interpreting the word and participating fully in decision making. It was scripture - the word preached with passion and taken to heart - that was the source of power and the center of faith. The exclusion of women from administrative positions in "the church," therefore, was a relatively minor, formal sort of limitation. In this way Christians were able to support women's public ministries and preaching and Paul's prohibitions concerning women in the churches. Ironically, their progressive stance did not lead them until much later to question the meaning of a gospel that declares spiritual equality and radical individual liberty but keeps some of its most powerful exponents from performing certain minimally important duties. Only with the opening of the frontier west of Pennsylvania, not in New England, did Christian women achieve full ministerial status. Unencumbered by old proprieties and recalcitrant social structures, women finally ministered with freedom and license that remained largely impossible in the old northeast until the turn of the century.
Innovation, a freewheeling approach to structure and discipline, and apparent harmony in both worship and practice characterized much of the first two decades of the Christian Connexion in New England. Growth was rapid, if sporadic: in 1814 fortynine men (fortyfour of them ordained) presided over as many churches in the region; seven years later the number of preachers and churches had reached nearly eighty. In New York, under leadership that was drawn heavily from the ranks of New Englandborn converts, growth was remarkable: by 1820 fifty preachers, including three women, were itinerating or serving churches; fully one third of these were native New Englanders.(28) Close cooperation and communication existed between New England and New York well into the latter part of the century. Preachers routinely itinerated successfully throughout the entire territory.
From the beginning, however, the Connexion had problems. Elder Uriah Smith, during a swing through New Hampshire in 1813, reported with consternation that there were churches calling themselves "Churches of Christ" that had neither deacons nor records. "I think our travelling elders are deficient in not doing these things in the first naming of a company the church of Christ," he wrote. He promised to appoint officers wherever he baptized five or more persons.(29) Two years later the Herald noted similar difficulties in an article entitled "Churches Out of Order." By 1816 the paper suggested that there was need to consider the subject of proper ordination procedures because of disciplinary problems and irregular practices in western New Hampshire and Vermont,(30)
Two "scandals" shook the young movement. In 1816 the volatile Elias Smith lapsed into Universalism, this time for an extended sojourn of seven years. Although he later recanted, many of Smith's colleagues never forgave him. With his defection the Christians lost not only their most brilliant and visible spokesperson, but also their credibility with a public already predisposed to criticism. The Herald of Gospel Liberty was sold to Robert Foster, a layman from Portsmouth, who carried on publication in May 1818 under the new name Christian Herald. Although Foster continued the paper as an organ of "religious intelligence," he was no controversialist. Smith's grand purpose had been "to shew the liberty which belongs to men, as it respects their duty to God, and each other." But Foster's was significantly less ambitious: to promote "the cause of the Redeemer" and to "give an impartial statement of the spread of experimental religion."(31) The new Herald continued through a bewildering series of shifts in name and management until well into the twentieth century. It never again equaled the vision and power of the original publication.
Along with Elias Smith's heresy, controversy erupted in Connecticut over the alleged "sundry atrocious acts" of Elder Douglas Farnum, a charismatic and popular but eccentric itinerant from Vermont. Convicted of several chargesamong them "naming obscene things in public" and "telling some if they wanted or would go to heaven with him to follow in creeping on the floor from room to room"Farnum was formally disfellowshiped by a General Conference at Hampton, Connecticut, in 1819.(32) His guilt or innocence remained a subject of lively debate for years.
This departure of two influential leaders under questionable circumstances was embarrassing to the Christians. It gave credence to detractors' claims that the movement was both emotionally excessive and theologically unsound. To counter such opposition, and because of a growing need to safeguard young and isolated churches, by 1820 the Christians began to construct a rudimentary denomination out of their formerly loose fellowship.
In New England a tradition of congregational autonomy, shared by Baptists, Free Will Baptists, and Congregationalists, had long been coupled with systems of fraternal advisement and support among churches. As early as 1809 irregular local "elders' conferences" and "general meetings" were organized by Christians in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Similar meetings were held in every New England state by 1820. These gatherings initially brought laypersons and ministers together for devotions, discussion, and mutual support. It was not long before they took on a more formal cast, dealing with matters of discipline, admonishment, and order. In 1816 a "General Conference" was called at Windham, Connecticut, with representation from Pennsylvania, New York, and all New England states except Rhode Island. A similar gathering, held at Portsmouth in 1819, recommended "a union of the several churches throughout the connexion in the United States" and advised that a United States Conference of Christians be established. One year later, albeit with limited participation from outside the northeast, the conference was formalized at Windham. Expressing dismay at the "impositions and havoc" wrought by interlopers "whose characters have been stained with immoral conduct, entering in among us under the name Christian," the delegates adopted recommendations minimally to regularize ministerial standards, church membership and financial practices, and record keeping. Their ultimate values, however, were uncompromising: "Be assured," they wrote to their absent colleagues, "that we do not mean to take away or abridge your liberties in the gospel."(33) Statistics collected at the Windham meeting were printed in the first Christian Almanac and Register, which continued to be published irregularly into the 1850s. Although its data were sometimes only minimally accurate, the Register was an important symbol of the movement's growing denominational consciousness and interregional solidarity.
MINISTRY AND THEOLOGY
The year 1820 marks a watershed for the Christian Connexion. After 1820 Christians confronted a dilemma as they attempted to articulate their principles and regulate their practices without wholly abandoning the "antisectarianism" that, paradoxically, united them. Two areas in particularministry and theologyfelt the force of debate and change.
Massachusettsborn John Rand, a convert from Baptist beliefs, was the first person ordained among New England Christians. His consecration in 1806, presided over by elders Smith, Jones, and Joseph Boody, set a precedent. It was understood that individuals raised by recognition of their gifts could be ordained in the presence of three elders, a conveniently simple procedure in a movement that was rural and itinerant. The few elders and the demands of effective evangelism, coupled with the Christians' deep antipathy toward "hireling" clergy, whom Elias Smith believed lived high off the public coffers and worked precious little for the Lord, prohibited anything like a settled ministry. By 1819 state support of clergy had all but ceased, the sharp tongue of Elias Smith was silent, and the needs of the young movement were rapidly changing. Christians began rethinking their earlier attitudes.
Furthermore, men like Douglas Farnum alerted leaders to the need for minimal standards of membership and office. Organizing regular local conferences was one "special remedy" specifically aimed at expunging "those who say, they are apostles, but are not."(34) Other measures were taken: in Maine, for example, unordained persons wishing to preach were first to be recognized by their own churches and then approved by conference.(35) Increasingly, ordinations took place with a "respectable body of Christians" present, as well as the requisite three elders.
It was not discipline, however, but the plight of young churches"planted and left by evangelizing preachers, which are now perishing through famine of the word"that was most problematic.(36) During the 1820s and 1830s Christians further defined the nature of ministry. Evangelist and pastor were separate offices, the one for planting churches, the other to "take care of them after they are planted." The latter office, wrote two ministers from the field in 1826, "has been sadly neglected by us as a people."(37) By 1836 cofounder Abner Jones modified the equation of "settled pastorate" with "hireling." A hireling, he wrote, is simply one who agrees to preach for a stipulated time and a set salary. Admitting that he himself had served under such stipulations for a year, he emphasized the need for mutual support and liberty, without potentially burdensome contracts that were unequal in their demands on pastor and people. Ministers should not be hirelings, but they should have a living. The way was cleared for Christians to assume, without guilt, the regular care of specific churches.(38)
Theologically, Christians experienced great change in the period after 1820. The "theologizing" process was even more protracted and more complex than the process of rethinking ministry. From the beginning, Christians had shunned the heady intricacies of "speculative theology," insisting on the sufficiency of the word itself and the combined power of the human heart and mind to grasp gospel truth. Elias Smith had articulated three foundational principles: no head over the church but Christ, no confession of faith but the New Testament, no name but Christian. The people veered little from these in more than half a century. Standards for church membership were based on action, not assent. Whereas proper christian life was essential, uniformity of belief was neither anticipated nor desired, since "genuine religion can breathe freely only in an atmosphere of freedom." To each individual believer, not just to an educated elite, the Bible offered up its full truth.
In one sense, little theological change occurred between 1820 and the final decades of the century. Christians remained wedded to the Bible as the center of their beliefs, adamantly rejecting anything that smacked of creedalism, including written summaries of their principles. They continued to insist on the precedence of piety over professional training. But the fact that theological issueslike the Trinity, a future state of rewards and punishments, and the Second Comingwere public issues represented an important step toward denominational consciousness. In the pages of the movement's several periodicals, in pamphlets, at conferences, in publications of the Christian General Book Association, established in 1834 "that the connection may assume a character," (39) Christians pursued theological debate with energy and sophistication worthy of the most effete Harvardtrained Congregationalists. Like the firstcentury churches they sought to emulate, Christians discovered the need for clearer selfdefinition, while defectors and detractors carried off members and spread misinformation about the fellowship with impunity.(40)
On October 2, 1850, delegates from eleven states and Canada met at Marion, Ohio, for the largest General Convention held to date. Historian Morrill reckons it a milestone meeting for the denomination, expressive of a "new thrill of organic life . . . a new spirit and conviction dominating the people's thought."(41) New Englanders and southern Christians built on the groundwork for unity established a decade earlier, when extensive correspondence and debate had issued finally in a formal union between Christian conferences of the two regions. The Christian Palladium(42) of December 1841 announced the consummation, expressing its wish that the union might "serve as a living and convincing example to the divided sects, that Christians can be one in spirit and work, though a difference of sentiment may exist among them." (43) Not all Christians accepted these developments with equal joy, but the prevailing sentiment in New England was one of approval. In an environment where many religious groups had long vied for acceptance within a limited population, the inevitability of the Christians' sectarianism continued to be discussed. "The Christians are, and must be, a sect," one writer asserted. "It cannot and should not be avoided... . As a member of that connexion, I should prove recreant to honesty and consistency if I did not use the means and influence in my power to advance her denominational interest in preference to all others."(44)
At midcentury, after fifty years of common life as a "connexion," Christians began to recognize what their primitive forebears had discovered: in the living church, form and freedom, spirit and structure are not (and cannot be) mutually exclusive if a movement is to survive its founding generation. The gradual "institutionalization" of their Connexion, however, did not shake the Christians' firm conviction that the true church is broad and open, its doors wide enough for the admission of all christians "as christians simply." The center of the church is a person and not a proposition; therefore, no one formulation of the church can ever be absolutized as "true"; no simple intellectual assent to creeds or confessions can make an "obedient christian" out of one whose life is not an imitation of Christ. As "Christian principles" gradually became "denominational beliefs," they remained broad enough to invite other christians into mutual fellowship and cooperation, including the Congregational churches in 1931. A wellknown New England pastor and educator, Elder Jasper Hazen, summarized the story well in a fitting verbal legacy for the United Church of Christ:
To be an able disputant, on minor points, a powerful master, or an elegant dancer, may fix the gaze and command the approbation of an admiring and wondering crowd; but neither do much good to the souls or bodies of men. Then let us leave the arena of the theological gladiator, and say to our brethren in Christ, and to the world, "Our great objects are the unity of Christians and the conversion of the world. We labor for both objects, because of their high importance; and for one of them again, that by its accomplishment we may secure the other." "That they may all be onethat the world may believe that thou host sent me."(45)
1. Austin Craig, "Ourselves: Our Principles; Our Present Controversy; Our Immediate Duties" (Feltville, NJ, 1850). Craig, a prominent Christian pastor, biblical scholar, and educator in the mid1800s, is today best known for the United Church of Christ conference center on Cape Cod that bears his name.
2. Louis H. Gunnemann, The Shaping of the United Church of Christ: An Essay in the History of American Christianity (New York: United Church Press, 1977), pp. 16163.
3. "Doctor Channing's Letter," The Christian Palladium, February 14, 1837, pp. 30511.
4. Milo True Morrill, A History of the Christian Denomination in America, 17941911 AD. (Dayton: Christian Publishing Association, 1912), pp. 18485.
5. "Channing's Letter," p. 306.
6. Stephen A. Marini, Radical Sects of Revolutionary New England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982). This is an excellent source and the only major study of its type.
7. All material on Jones is from A. D. Jones, Memoir of Elder Abner Jones (Boston: William Crosby & Co., 1842).
8. Elias Smith, The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Sufferings of Elias Smith (Portsmouth, 1816); The Christian's Magazine, June 1, 1805, pp. 1112.
9. No church statistics exist before the publication of the Herald of Gospel Liberty (hereafter HGL). This assessment is based on the earliest published list of agents for the paper, representing 26 townseight each in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire and one each in Rhode Island and Vermont. HGL, September 15, 1808, p. 8.
10. HGL, August 17, 1810, p. 206.
11. HGL, December 11, 1812, pp. 44748.
12. HGL, April 10, 1812, p. 380; August 17, 1810, p. 206.
13. HGL, October 25, 1811, p. 331.
14. HGL, December 20, 1811, pp. 49.
15. HGL, October 15, 1812, pp. 43031.
16. Nathan O. Hatch, "The Christian Movement and the Demand for a Theology of the People," Journal of American History, December 1980, pp. 54567.
17. HGL, October 30, 1812, p. 434.
18. HGL, October 1816, pp. 6566.
19. HGL, April 29, 1814, p. 599.
20. The Free Will Baptists were perhaps the first group in New England to support women in traditionally male roles. As early as 1787 Abigail Amerzeen appears to have been in a position of authority at the church in New Castle, New Hampshire, and in 1791 Mary Savage of Woolwich, Maine, became the first in the denomination to "take the position of a gospel laborer." The Centennial Record of Freewill Baptists, 17801880 (Dover, NH, 1881), pp. 4547.
21. J. E Burnett, Early Women of the Christian Church Heroines All (Dayton: Christian Publishing Association, nd.), pp. 913; the Rev. E. W. Humphreys, Memoirs of Deceased Christian Ministers; or, Brief Sketches of the Lives and Labors of 975 Ministers, Who Died Between 1793 and 1880 (Dayton: Christian Publishing Association, 1880), pp. 9697.
22. HGL, August 1817, p. 224.
23. Christian Herald, July 1818, p. 47; ibid., September 1818, p. 70.
24. Humphreys, op. cit., pp. 92, 267.
25. HGL, February 1817, pp. 13233.
26. Christian Herald, September 1818, p. 70.
27. Christian Herald, November 1818, pp. 8689.
28. HGL, March 4, 1814, p. 575; Christian Herald, April 13, 1821, pp. 15758. Anne Rixford (sic), Sara Hidges (sic), and Abigail Roberts are listed as "Unordained Preachers in the East Conference" of New York in the latter periodical.
29. HGL, February 19, 1813, p. 467.
30. HGL, July 17, 1815, p. 61; ibid., December 1816, pp. 7377. See also Christian Herald, January 1819, p. 95.
31. HGL, September 1, 1808, p. 1; Christian Herald, May 1818, p. 1.
32. Christian Herald, March 1819; pp. 12627.
33. Christian Herald, November 1819, pp. 7273; December 8, 1820, pp. 7988.
34. Christian Herald, August 1820, p. 12.
35. Ibid., p. 15.
36. Christian Herald, March 1820, p. 135.
37. Gospel Luminary, June 1826, pp. 12532.
38. Christian Palladium, October 1, 1836, pp. 16164.
39. Minutes of the Convention of 1834, reprinted in The Christians' Annual 1899 (Dayton: Christian Publishing Association), p. 5.
40. If confusion existed over the antitrinitarianism of some Christians, especially in New York state, it was the Adventism of William Miller in the late 1830s and early 1840s that was most troublesome to New Englanders. Miller, a deistturnedBaptist from Massachusetts, was convinced that the second advent was to take place on October 22, 1844; gathering thousands of followers throughout the northeast, he found the Christians, with their open pulpits and wideranging theologies, to be easy converts. Morrill estimates that "several thousand communicants" were eventually lost to the Millerites, with the most significant losses in Vermont. History of the Christian Denomination, pp. 17576.
41. Ibid., p. 189.
42. The Palladium, published out of Union Mills, New York, was one of many religious journals sponsored by the Christians. For a complete account of the movement's voluminous output of print, see J. Pressley Barrett, ed., The Centennial of Religious Journalism (Dayton: Christian Publishing Association, 1908).
43. Christian Palladium, December 15, 1841, p. 251.
44. Quoted in Craig, op. cit., pp. 89.
45. Christian Palladium, August 2, 1843, p. 50.
Elizabeth C. Nordbeck is Associate Professor of Church History at Lancaster Theological Seminary, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.