The Evangelical and Reformed Church

A blend of autonomy and authority, the Evangelical and Reformed Church retained a Calvinist doctrine of the church as “the reality of a kingdom of grace,” and the importance of order and discipline in its witness to the reign of God in the world. The Heidelberg Catechism still at its heart, the new church would embody -a synthesis of Calvin’s inward sense of God’s “calling” and Luther’s experiential approach to faith. George W. Richards, ecumenist first president, had expressed the insights of all Reformation streams by saying, “Without the Christlike spirit, no constitution will ever be effective; with the spirit, one will need only a minimum of law for the administration of the affairs of the fellowship of men and women.” In such a spirit the union proceeded without a constitution until one was adopted in 1938, implemented in 1940.

The second president, Louis W. Goebel, a trusted Christian statesman and exponent of the church’s freedom in Christ, guided the organization and ecumenical relationships of the 655,000-member Evangelical and Reformed Church for 15 years. Its membership was mainly in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. James E. Wagner, true to the Reformed tradition, yet responsive to the rapid changes of an era, as third president, led the church into a further fulfillment of its unitive intention.

Meanwhile, the practical act of consolidating Reformed and Evangelical programs, boards, organizations, and publications and coordinating the multiple institutions went forward. The church addressed worldwide suffering during World War II with the War Emergency Relief Commission. The Hymnal (1941) and Book of Worship (1942) were published. Reformed missions in Japan, China, and Iraq were united under the Evangelical and Reformed Church Board of International Missions. New missions were undertaken through cooperative efforts in Ecuador, Ghana, and western Africa. The Messenger became the church publication. Christian education resources soon followed. Organizations united. The Woman’s Missionary Society united with the Evangelical Women’s Union to become the Women’s Guild.

A 1937 study group of St. Louis Evangelical and Reformed and Congregational Christian clergy, led by Samuel J. Press, president of Eden, and Truman Douglass, pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church, had revealed among the participants a sense of “family.” Dr. Press acted on the discovery with a June 1938 telegram to the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches, “What about a rapprochement between our communions looking forward to union?” The affirmative response of Douglas Horton, minister and executive secretary of the General Council, was followed by four years of private conversations before a public proposal in 1942 would be endorsed by the General Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches. After ten drafts of a Basis of Union were prepared between 1943 and 1949, a special General Synod was called in 1949 to approve the Interpretations of the Basis. Approval (249-41) was followed by successful ratification by the 34 synods, by vote of 33-1. A uniting General Synod for the United Church, first set for June 26, 1950, was postponed for seven more years. Under Congregational Christian Church autonomy, some local churches brought a legal injunction, challenging the right of the General Council to participate in a union of the whole church with another. President Richards made clear the Evangelical and Reformed Church’s commitment to total unity and wholeness.