While the independent Congregationalists had been struggling in New England to recover and maintain biblical faithful ness, a stream of German and German-Swiss settlers-farmers laborers, trade and craftpersons, many "redemptioners" who had sold their future time and services to pay for passage, flowed into Pennsylvania and the Middle Atlantic region. Refugees from the waste of European wars, their concerns were pragmatic. They did not bring pastors with them. People of Reformed biblical faith, at first sustained only by family worship at home, they were informed by the Bible and the Heidelberg Catechism.
Strong relationships developed between Lutheran and Reformed congregations; many union churches shared buildings. At first, there were no buildings and laymen often led worship. In 1710, a Dutch Reformed minister, Paul Van Vlecq, assisted a German congregation gathered at Skippack, Pennsylvania. At nearby White Marsh, Van Vlecq established a congregation in the house of elder William Dewees, who held the congregation together until the church was reestablished in 1725.
Another layman, tailor Conrad Templeman, conducted services in Lancaster county, ministering to seven congregations during the 1720s. Schoolmaster John Philip Boehm had maintained a ministry for five years without compensation. Responsible for the regular organization of 12 German Reformed congregations in Pennsylvania, although not regularly ordained, he reluctantly was persuaded to celebrate the sacraments for the first time on October 15, 1725, at Falkner Swamp, with 40 members present. Boehm -- orderly, well educated, devout -- spent the ensuing years traveling the country on horseback, 25,000 miles in all, preparing Reformed Church constitutions.
Meanwhile, the Heidelberg-educated and regularly ordained pastor George Michael Weiss arrived from Germany in 1727 to minister to the Philadelphia church founded by Boehm. He carried the Word and the Lord's Supper to communities surrounding Philadelphia. Weiss' strong objections to Boehm's irregular ministry caused Boehm to seek and receive ordination by the Dutch Reformed Church by 1729. Funds for American churches were still coming from Europe, and Weiss went abroad to Holland in pursuit of support for his congregations. Successful, he returned in 1731 to minister among German Reformed people in New York. Before 1746, when Michael Schlatter, a Swiss-born and Dutch-educated young pastor from Heidelberg, arrived in America, congregations of German settlers were scattered throughout Pennsylvania and New York. German immigrants had followed natural routes along rivers and mountain valleys, and Reformed congregations had emerged in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. The spiritual and financial health of these 40 congregations were watched over by the Dutch Reformed Church in Holland, assisted by the German Reformed center at Heidelberg, Germany.
Support came from the Classis ("association") of Amsterdam that sent Michael Schlatter to America to "organize the ministers and congregations into a Coetus (synod)." Schlatter did this within a year of his arrival in Pennsylvania. With the cooperation of Boehm, Weiss, John Bartholomew Rieger, and 28 elders, the Coetus of the Reformed Ministerium of the Congregations in Pennsylvania came to life on September 24, 1747 and the Coetus adopted in 1748 the Kirchen-Ordnung that Boehm had prepared in 1725. The Kirchen-Ordnung placed discipline and care of the local church in the hands of a consistory of elders, deacons, and the minister, elected by the congregation. Members were charged with "fraternal correction and mutual edification." The minister was to preach "the pure doctrine of the Reformed Church according to the Word of God and to administer the holy seals of the Covenant ... : always to adhere to the Heidelberg Catechism ... to hold catechetical instruction ... [and] give special attention to church discipline, together with those who have oversight of the congregation."
In light of the multiplicity of German sects, such as Moravians, Mennonites and Dunkards, who competed for the attention and allegiance of German immigrants, the authority of the Coetus, organized according to the same structure and discipline as the local church, was welcome. The German Reformed Churches felt protected from "unscrupulous proselytizers. They achieved a mutual identity and respect, and established authority for faith and practice. Among pastor and people, shared responsibility was carried out within a community faith, under the Lordship of Christ. The leadership of Micha Schlatter and his colleagues prepared the congregations to endure the upheaval of the American Revolution and to maintain their identity in the ethnic and religious pluralism that characterized William Penn's colony.
Many German Reformed settlers served in the Revolutionary armies, 20 percent of Reformed pastors as chaplains, though Continental Congress Chaplain John Joachim Zu1 was labeled a Tory for his anti-war stand. During the Brit siege of Philadelphia in 1777, farmers wrapped the Liberty Bell and the bells of Christ Church in potato sacks and hauled them to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where pastor Abraham Blumer hid them under the floor of Zion Reformed Church for safekeeping. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a Reformed layman, disciplined Washington's troops during the bitter Valley Forge winter.
The Coetus strengthened the churches and prepared t] for self-government in the early years of the United States 1793, European ties were broken. A Reformed Church Constitution was adopted, a Synodal Ordnung; an official name taken, The Synod of the German Reformed Church in United States of America, and a hymnbook committee appointed. There were in that year, 178 German-speaking congregations and 15,000 communicant members.
Revival theology was antithetical to the German Reformed tradition. However, pietistic influences within the German Reformed Church responded to the warm-hearted moral virtue of the revival. On the frontier, people found its emphasis on the individual compatible with their needs. The newly independent German Reformed Church, short of pastors and threatened by a revivalist gospel, established a seminary in 1825, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, that moved in 1829 to York, in 1837 to Mercersburg and finally to Lancaster in 1871, where it became Lancaster Theological Seminary. Franklin College (1787) of Lancaster, jointly supported by the Lutherans and the Reformed, in 1853 merged with German Reformed Marshall College to form Franklin and Marshall College.
As ministers arrived in America from the pietist centers in Europe, pietistic rather than confessional patterns appeared in Reformed congregations, and the guiding light of the catechism was dimmed. Missionary zeal abounded. People were highly susceptible to the leadership of charismatic frontier preachers. Church leaders were concerned that young and old be instructed in Reformed Christian doctrine. In 1806, the first German Reformed Sunday schools appeared. In the midst of it all, and in reaction to revivalist sectarianism, a controversial movement at the seminary at Mercersburg set off a re-examination of the doctrines of Christ and of the church -- not just in the German Reformed Church, but among all American Protestants.
First, however, there would be years of ferment when the Synod would endure turmoil and defection that would test and eventually strengthen its essential stability. Pietist minister Philip William Otterbein, a Reformed Church pastor, later founded the United Brethren Church, today a part of the United Methodist Church. Harrisburg's pastor, John Winebrenner, locked out of his church by the consistory, met with his followers in private homes to form a new denomination, The Churches of God.
As the Reformed Church grew, continuing use of the German language became an issue. Although German congregations were divided between the use of German or English, the Synod itself conducted meetings and issued minutes in German until 1825. By 1824, the Ohio Synod separated from the parent synod in order to ordain its own ministers and in 1850 organized Heidelberg College and Seminary in Tiffin.
The controversial Mercersburg movement would shake the church. With the arrival at the Mercersburg seminary of John W. Nevin and Swiss-German professor of historical and exegetical theology, Philip Schaff, Mercersburg became a center of concern that the revivalism of the Awakening was inauthentic. Schaff was the most outstanding church historian in 19thcentury America and the primary mediator of German theology to America.
The Mercersburg movement, counter to the sectarian trend of the time, called for a "true revival" centered in the life of the church, guided by the catechetical system, and in particular, the Heidelberg Catechism. The movement's leaders called for a recognition of the church as one, catholic, and holy. They acknowledged the error to which the church in all ages had been subject, urged an end to sectarianism and pretensions to the one true church and called for cessation of anti-Catholicism which had been pervasive for some time. Schaff's charitable attitude was seen by some in the Philadelphia Classis, the "Old Reformed" and loyal to Zwingli's Reformation, as heresy. Nevin, Schaff, and their followers sought to go back to the creeds and to make the mystical presence of Christ, mediated by word and sacrament, the essence of the church. Reverence for the creeds, catechism, and liturgy, they believed, would unify the church and combat sectarianism. In liturgy, the Mercersburg people favored an altar as the center for worship with formal litanies, chants, prayers and clerical garb, while "Old Reformed" pastors preferred a central pulpit, free prayer and informal worship.
The "Old Reformed" were caught up in the American revival and clung to their German sectarian identities. Schaff maintained that Reformed theology's contribution to the New World lay in the supremacy of the scriptures, absolute sovereignty of divine grace, and radical moral reform on the basis of both. A former member of The Evangelical Church of The Prussian Union, Schaff later cultivated warm relationships with Evangelicals in the West.
The Mercersburg Review, the movement's chief literary medium, which began publication at Marshall College in 1848, was greatly responsible for effecting changed attitudes. Its challenge would call other denominations to self-examination as well. It was the German Reformed Church's initial contribution to the movement toward unity and ecumenism that would take shape in the next century.
The low church "Old Reformed" minority in the East, after a long struggle against a revised liturgy, called a convention in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, in 1867 to prevent its use. In January 1868, the Reformed Church Quarterly began and in 1870, Ursinus College opened its doors, supported by the "Old Reformed."
Congregations determined the politics and social organization of communities. Only church members could vote at town meetings, and until 1630, one could become a church member only by the minister's endorsement. Most colonists were not church members. The majority of immigrants came for social, political, and economic reasons, not to found a more perfect Christian society. Nevertheless, Puritanism was dominant. Biblical injunctions were specific guides for spiritual life and church organization; biblical law was common law. Puritans undertook a holy mission to demonstrate the "right way" to order church and society.
John Cotton (1584-1652), considered the leading Puritan pastor in England, joined the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633. His True Constitution of a Particular Visible Church, describing Congregational life and polity (organization and government), was read widely in England and influenced John Owen, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, to embrace Congregationalism. As a result of reading Cotton's work, five members of the Presbyterian Westminster Assembly, "the Dissenting Brethren," would sign, in 1643, what was to become the manifesto of all Congregationalism, An Apologeticall Narration. Thus, through Cotton's writing, New England affected the growth of Congregationalism in England. Quite the opposite of the vigorous and variable Puritans of England, many of the American Puritans become intolerant of alien ideas.
In 1634, Anne Hutchinson, daughter of a nonconformist minister from north of London, arrived. Described by critics as a "woman of haughty and fierce carriage ... of voluble tongue," she would influence Congregational practice and theological thought, such that the rigidly righteous shell of Massachusetts Puritanism, already damaged by Roger Williams (soon banished to Rhode Island), would be irreparably cracked. Opposing a doctrine of the elect, she held that anyone might receive the truth by direct revelation from God, and that the Bible was not its sole source. These ideas were greatly feared by the church because they easily could lead to irresponsible excesses. This "woman of ready wit and bold spirit," wife of gentle William Hutchinson, the mother of fifteen children, interrupted preachers with whom she disagreed. She gathered women regularly in her own home, where she preached to as many as 50 people at a time, often including men.
Hutchinson's criticism of Puritan sermons stirred up a frenzy of concern in Massachusetts Bay Colony. John Cotton, sent to stop her, merely warned her; but by that time, men of stature had taken her side, and the town of Boston was divided. John Winthrop believed that if Anne Hutchinson could not be reformed, she must be exiled.
Winthrop called a Synod of the Bay Colony churches in 1637, that once and for all "the breeder and nourisher of all these distempers, one Mistress Hutchinson," be silenced. She was charged with joining a seditious faction, holding conspiracies in her house, seducing honest people from their work and families and, worst of all, breaking the fifth commandment. Hutchinson exclaimed that Winthrop was neither her father nor her mother, to which Winthrop replied that "father and mother" meant anyone in authority. In the spring, John Cotton betrayed her trust by banishing her from the Colony. Mary Dyer was a friend who walked beside her through it all. She was later hanged for her Quaker faith on Boston Common. Anne Hutchinson settled with her children and husband in the Rhode Island Colony of Roger Williams, where laws were passed to ensure jury trials, to end class discrimination, and to extend universal suffrage and religious tolerance. This democracy was short lived, for Rhode Island was soon annexed to the Bay Colony.
The colonists displaced Native Americans and invaded their ancestral territories. At first, because of their nature and because land was abundant, many Indians received the newcomers with charity and shared with them land and survival skills. Later, the proprietary aggression of some settlers kindled fear in the hearts of Indians.
The colonists brought not only their religion, government, and social patterns, but also diseases against which Indians had little or no immunity. During the 17th century, New England Indians were plagued by a smallpox epidemic. There followed further decimation of their numbers in wars and skirmishes for possession of land. Distressed by wanton disregard for human beings, convinced that their mission was peacefully to carry the good news of Christ to their Indian neighbors, there were others like John Eliot, who was ordained as a pastor so that he might pastor and teach Indians. His concern for Indian neighbors was not only for their conversion to Christianity, but to raise their standard of living to a level enjoyed by the settlers. For 30 years, Job Nesutan, a Massachusetts Indian, was employed by Eliot as a language tutor and chief assistant in the ministry to Indians. With his help, the Bible was translated into the Indian language and Indians were taught to read.
By 1646, John Eliot drew increasingly large congregations each time he spoke. Churches in the colony were encouraged to support Eliot's work and Oliver Cromwell urged Parliament to help the movement financially. The "Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England" was the result. A sum of £5,000 was sent to the colonies, much of this given to John Eliot for his work. Many Indian converts returned to the practices of their indigenous faiths, but others were filled with Christian missionary zeal and prepared the way for Eliot with the New England tribes. The chiefs and councils tried to discourage the spread of the gospel, and his aides used underhanded tactics to retain "converts." As a result, Eliot's work suffered. Finally, the Massachusetts General Court passed a law prohibiting the use of threats or force to ensure Indians' conversion to Christianity, but at the same time, required all Indians living within the colony to refrain from worshiping "false gods" and from conducting native religious services. Roger Williams became the advocate of Indian freedom to worship as they saw fit.
Thomas Mayhew and his clergyman son, Thomas, Jr., were instrumental in leading the eastern Cape Cod Indians to Christianity. By 1652, Mayhew had opened a school for Indian children.
Christian theology induced ferment and continued to challenge the essentially closed social patterns and purposes of the Puritans. There were blacks in Boston as soon as there were whites, and slavery was legal in New England until after the Revolutionary War. A certain number of blacks were admitted to membership in the churches when they were able to meet all the conditions for full communion, tests which did not include skin color, wealth, or social status. While slavery in New England had been dying out in the years prior to the Revolution, blacks felt keenly the reservations to their acceptance in the churches by the Puritans, who treated them as slaves outside the church, while within, members were called upon to regard one another as equal under the covenant of grace and united by God to one another. Under such ambivalence, many blacks withdrew from the churches in the late 18th century to form their own congregations for separate worship.
By 1789, the Boston selectmen allowed blacks to use a school for public worship on Sunday afternoons. Eventually, the black congregation built its own church, called the African Church, on the back slope of Beacon Hill and worshiped there from 1806 until mid-century when it became a center for abolitionist meetings for blacks and whites. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth were among the speakers at the church.
Religious exclusion was not confined to blacks or Catholics; Presbyterians had felt unwelcome as well. The Westminster Confession of 1646, the design for Presbyterian church government and an expression of Reformed faith and doctrine, was revised for church polity and discipline at the Cambridge Synod of 1648. Called the Cambridge Platform, it enabled a reconciliation between Presbyterians and Congregationalists and was highly venerated into the 19th century.
The Platform interpreted the church catholic as all those who are elected and called to salvation. A "militant visible church on earth" was understood to exist in particular congregations as "a company of saints by calling, united into one body, by a holy covenant for the public worship of God and the mutual edification of one another." Christ was head of the church; the congregation, independent of outside interference, had the right to choose its own officials. The office of the civil magistrate was subject to recognition by the church. Churches were to preserve communion with one another in mutual covenant with Christ. Such covenants stabilized churches establishing themselves under disparate leadership.
A remarkable succession of educated clergy provided strong leadership. Despite the circumstances that cast him in the role of villain in the excommunication and banishment of Anne Hutchinson, no Puritan teacher was more respected in England and in America than the gentle intellectual, John Cotton, minister of First Church, Boston. His colleague from days in England was the plainspoken master of rhythmic rhetoric and the effective metaphor, Thomas Hooker (1586-1647). Hooker, committed to democracy and constitutional free government, was minister across the Charles River at Newtowne (Cambridge).
Concerned for human rights, Hooker became disenchanted with the elitism of the Boston hierarchy. He led over 100 followers to migrate on foot to Hartford in 1636. There, buoyed by his Christian conviction and liberating ideas of democracy, he established a colony. Conservative puritan minister, John Davenport, founder of the New Haven Colony, was so offended by Hooker's willingness to secularize, even to a limited extent, civil government, that he went to Boston when New Haven was gathered into the Connecticut Colony.
All these men were well educated, had high standards for church membership, and were clergy of the English establishment. Except for Cotton, their Reformed covenant theology had been nurtured on the continent. Hooker, who had been with the dissenters in Holland, diverged from the orthodox Puritan view that voting rights should be conferred only with church membership. He saw no justice in disenfranchising nine-tenths of the population, a proportion that included women, children, servants and apprentices, the unchurched who had migrated from England as non-land owners, as well as the sons of "the elect" who could not pretend to such a claim.
Under Hooker's leadership, the Connecticut Colony gave up the religious qualification for the franchise. New requirements were still restrictive. They gave the town meeting vote to "admitted inhabitants," "men" who could prove capable of "an honest conversation" and could swear that they were not "a Jew, a Quaker or an Atheist," and to "free men who were Trinitarians, land owners and of godly deportment." Nevertheless, Hooker is regarded by many as the father of democracy in America, for many of his ideas were embodied in the United States Constitution.
Later, Massachusetts adopted the controversial Half-Way Covenant of 1662, permitting children to be baptized whose grandparents had been members of the church, but whose parents were not. Males baptized under the Covenant could vote at town meeting when they came of age, but were not admitted to the Lord's Supper or allowed to vote for a pastor. Full church membership came with confession of faith. Its requirement to sit in judgment upon a person's Christian credentials would go to the extreme of the witchcraft delusion in Salem Village b) 1692.
Later, Cotton Mather (1663-1728), John Cotton's grandson sought to bring some authority to bear upon the waywardness of Congregational independence. He proposed that minister in association with one another examine and license candidate for the ministry, and that a consociation of ministers and lay men have judicatory standing over the churches. A minister unpopular among his peers, Mather's proposal was at first unacceptable. In 1705-6, Massachusetts finally adopted his plan for the examination of ministers. Connecticut issued the Saybrook Platform in 1708, making both of Mather's proposals binding colonywide. The establishment in 1701 of Yale College assured high educational standards for ministers and leaders alike.
Until the Saybrook Platform of 1708, upheld by the Connecticut General Court, imposed upon the independent, voluntary fellowship of the churches an obligation of "consociation," the Congregationalists drifted toward spiritual decline and anomaly. The consociation provided mutual aid and outside assistance in handling disputes. A penalty was provided for churches or pastors refusing consociation, a "sentence of non-communion," with less intent to control than to provide orderly procedures and mutual support. The new shape would enable Congregationalism as a denomination in the centuries to come, to maintain its integrity in the face of the American Revolution, religious revivals, the scandal of slavery, the challenge of cultural pluralism, and a call to mission that would carry the faith westward and world-wide.
The morality of Pietism, and the warm heart of England's Wesleyan revival that gave birth to the Methodist Church, helped to energize the American Great Awakening. Itinerant preachers of various denominations swept across religious America during the mid-18th century, winning Christian converts and planting hundreds of new churches. While the Coetus of Pennsylvania was giving nurture and support to a continuing influx of German settlers, over 150 new Congregational churches were formed from 1740 to 1760.
Yale-educated Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) of Northampton, Massachusetts, Congregational minister of keen philosophical intellect, believed that the Awakening was breathing new life into the churches. It replaced a view of the church as a group of people who covenanted together to lead a Christian life, with one that insisted upon individual conversion as the accepted way to the kingdom of God. Emotions ran high, and the spiritual climates, that had in many communities fallen into despair, were transformed.
In 1750, Edwards was dismissed from the Northampton church. He tangled with the congregation on issues of church discipline and tact. For example, he read the names of both the convicted and merely indicted ("bad book controversy") aloud in church as a single list. The final issue surrounded a difference in his interpretation of the Half-Way Covenant (he rejected it as too lax a standard of church membership) from that of his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, whose associate Edwards had first been at Northampton. Edwards was convinced that admission to communion should include the requirement of a conversion experience. Although a strict Calvinist, Jonathan Edwards had become a "New Light" revivalist puritan sympathizer. He disagreed with the narrow conservatism of the "Old Light" ministers such as Increase Mather and his son, Cotton, and stood firmly against liberal "Arminians," whose moral righteousness he saw as dangerously smug. Nevertheless, he believed that turning to God required a decision, a disavowal of selfishness and the adoption of the life of "disinterested benevolence." Edwards was joined in his position by a large group of New England clergy who supported the Awakening and opposed the more staid, rational, liberal movement in eastern Massachusetts. A group of moderates stood between both extremes. The Boston advocates of free will against Calvinism opposed the revivals, and the path they took would lead in the next century to the Unitarian separation from Congregationalism.
Jonathan Edwards, foremost of American philosophers, was responsible for a far broader synthesis of science, philosophy, and religion in Congregational and Presbyterian theology and practice than had been present in "Old Light Puritanism. He integrated with Reformed theology the worldview of Isaac Newton, John Locke's emphasis upon human experience, and Augustine's spiritual enlightenment, as well as Plato's idealism and the Neo-Platonic idea of emanation from the Divine Intellect to the soul. His ideas would cohere in his followers to give life to a "New England Theology." They would check the anti-intellectual tendencies of the revivalists and the decline of religious vitality during the Revolutionary period. They would give a theological framework to the recovery of intellectual leadership and a new morality in post-Revolutionary America. Edwards' writings inspired and informed the missionary movement of the 19th century as America expanded westward and looked once again to the lands across the sea. His influence rivaled Hooker's in developing the separation of church and state.
No one liked the Westphalian settlement, but the lines were drawn, the Reformation over. Germany lay devastated, plundered by lawless armies, much of its population decimated. Commerce and industry had disappeared; moral, intellectual, and spiritual life had stagnated. Religion was dispirited and leaderless. A time for mystics and poets, much of German hymnody comes from this early 17th century.
Out of such sensitivities, a new Protestant movement, Pietism, arose. Pietism became the heart of a number of Lutheran-Reformed unions. In 1817, the Evangelical Church of the Prussian Union, by order of Frederick William III (1797-1840) of Prussia, united the Lutheran and Reformed Churches of his kingdom, giving birth to the ancestral church of the Evangelical Synod of North America, a grandparent of the United Church of Christ. The Evangelical Church of the Prussian Union became a model in other German kingdoms for Lutheran and Reformed unions. In 1981, the United Church of Christ recovered these roots when a Kirchengemeinschaft (church communion) with representative leaders of that church from the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany acknowledged with joyous celebration full communion with the United Church of Christ at the 13th General Synod.
The pathetic human condition in war-torn 17th century Germany awakened Pietism, a theology of the heart, balanced by moral stringencies for self-discipline. The Pietist movement was initiated by Philip Jacob Spener (1635-1705), a Lutheran pastor sensitive to the needs of his congregation demoralized by war. Drunkenness and immorality were rife, church services sterile. Spener inspired a moral and spiritual reformation, emphasizing personal warmth, Christian experience of everyday living, and the building up of Christian virtues. His "little churches" within the church successfully taught self-discipline, including abstinence from card playing, dancing, the theatre. Similar proscriptions found their ways into Puritan churches of the British Isles.
Despite charges of heresy, Pietism held fast, and the University of Halle became its chief center. The warm heart and social concern of Pietism at Halle inspired the commission of missionaries to India, and at least one, a Lutheran, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, to Germans in the American colonies.
Although the churches had been protected by the Treaties of Westphalia, they were isolated from one another in a divided Germany. Neither peace treaties nor the warming of hearts to social concern could erase the ravages of war. The population of Germany had been reduced from 16 million to six million. For lack of manpower, a third of German land still lay fallow between 1648 and 1680. Peasants existed on linseed and oilcakes or bread of bran and moss.
The 17th century was marked by greedy rulers bent on a lifestyle of opulent ease and aggressive attacks on neighboring states. German princes coined money and levied taxes on impoverished people to support it all. In small bands, thousands of German Reformed people, free in their faith in God, quietly slipped away in 1709, to find a haven in London. From there, most sought a permanent home among the American colonists in the New World. Having endured such pain and hardship, many found great promise in the ideal of brotherly love and joined William Penn's Pennsylvania Colony. Others, many of them indentured servants, went to New York, Virginia, and the colonies of North and South Carolina.
Reformation ferment crossed the English Channel within 15 years of its outbreak in Europe. In 1534, King Henry VIII (1491-1547) of England, for personal reasons, broke with the Church of Rome and established the Church of England, with himself as its secular head. He appointed an Archbishop of Canterbury as its spiritual leader. England moved beyond permanent Catholic control, although much of the Catholic liturgy and governance by bishops was adopted into the tradition of the Anglican Church (Episcopal, in America). Nevertheless, Lutheran and Reformed theology invaded Anglicanism during the short reign of Henry's son, Edward VI (1547-53), through Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer.
Catholic Mary Tudor (1553-58) on becoming Queen of England, persecuted those who refused to abandon Protestantism and burned Anglican bishops, including Cranmer. Over 800 dissenters fled to the Continent and came under the tutelage of more radical reformers, especially John Calvin. Mary's half sister, Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) succeeded Mary and reestablished a more inclusive and tolerant Anglican Church. She warily welcomed from Europe the dissenters, who had become steeped in Reformed theology.
On their return, they joined others who felt that Elizabeth's reformation had not gone far enough. They sought to purify the church. The Puritans, so named in 1563, criticized Anglican liturgy, ceremonies, and lack of discipline, especially of the clergy. Their thrust toward independent thought and church autonomy laid the foundations for Congregationalism. Nevertheless, they remained members of the Church of England.
The Puritans held to Reformed belief in the sovereignty of God, the authority of scripture as the revelation of God's will, and the necessity to bend to the will of God. The Puritans regarded human rituals and institutions as idolatrous impositions upon the word of God. They wanted to rid the church of old remnants of papism. Puritan zeal in spreading their belief about God's confrontation with humanity conflicted sharply with the established church. Nevertheless, the Puritans thought of themselves as members of the church, not founders of new churches.
Elizabeth had no heir, and James I ruled England next (160325) and commissioned a new translation of the Bible, known as the King James Version. James's Church of England did not satisfy the Puritans. Yet, they could not agree among themselves about their differences with the church. They were called variously, Dissenters, Independents, Non-Conformists or Separatists. By this time, many Puritans were unwilling to wait for Parliament to institute ecclesiastical reform and separated themselves from the Church of England. Among them were groups that later were called Quakers, Baptists, and Congregationalists.
A civil war during the reign of Charles I (1625-49) was led by English and Scottish Puritans who beheaded the king and, under Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector, seized English government (1649-60). For 11 years, Puritan radicals ruled England with excessive zeal and the monarchy was restored in 1660. The "Congregational Way" probably was born in 1567 when a group of Separatists, calling themselves "The Privye Church," worshiped in London's Plumbers' Hall. They were persecuted severely and their leader killed. Clandestine meetings of Congregationalists continued for simple worship in fields and unexpected rooms, dangerously subject to surveillance by spies for the government, who brought persecution upon the worshipers.
Robert Browne, an Anglican priest, was the first conspicuous advocate of Congregationalism in England. By gathering, in 1581, a congregation in Norwich, Brown expressed his conviction that the only true church was a local body of believers who experienced together the Christian life, united to Christ and to one another by a voluntary covenant. Christ, not the king or queen, was the head of such a church; the people were its governors, and would elect a pastor, teacher, elders, and deacons, according to the authority of the New Testament. Furthermore, each autonomous church owed communal helpfulness to every other church. Browne was imprisoned 32 times and fled to the Netherlands. Browne retained his beliefs but did not remain a Congregationalist; he returned from exile in Holland to pastor a small Anglican parish in England.
Among the early Separatists were John Smyth, founder of the Baptist Church, and John Robinson (1573-1625). The lives of both men became entangled with that of William Brewster, who became a leader of the Plymouth Colony in America. Brewster lent his home at Scrooby Manor as a Separatist meeting place. Richard Clyfton became pastor and John Robinson, teacher. Brewster was ruling elder. In 1607 the Separatist Church was discovered and its members imprisoned, placed under surveillance, or forced to flee. They went first to Amsterdam and then to Leyden, Holland.
Concerned in Leyden that their children were losing touch with English language and culture, and beset by economic problems and threats of war, 102 of the Holland exiles became the Pilgrims who, under John Carver and William Brewster, migrated to the New World, arriving aboard the Mayflower in 1620. As the company left, John Robinson, beloved pastor and teacher who stayed with a majority in Holland, warned the adventurers not to stick fast where Luther and Calvin left them, for he was confident "the Lord has more truth and light yet to break forth out of his Holy Word." Arriving at Plymouth, their leaders realized that the Pilgrims' survival in an unknown, primitive wilderness rested on their remaining loyally together. The Pilgrims drew up and signed the Association and Agreement, the Mayflower Compact, thereby forming of the small colony a "Civil Body Politic" for laws and regulations.
In 1630, John Cotton, a brilliant young minister of Boston, Lincolnshire, England, preached a farewell sermon to John Winthrop and his Puritan followers. Cotton reassured them of their clear call from God to follow Congregational principles, but insisted that they need not separate themselves from the Anglican Church. These Puritan emigrants set sail for Massachusetts Bay. At about the same time, a covenanting Puritan colony arrived in America from England under John Endecott to establish its church in Salem, across Massachusetts Bay, north of Boston. They sent a letter to the Separatist Church at Plymouth to ask for guidance. Commissioned delegates from Plymouth extended to the Salem Church "the right hand of fellowship" and so added fellowship in Christ to English Congregationalism's freedom in Christ.
Concerned that there be educated leaders, the Massachusetts Bay Colony voted in 1636 to give £400 to establish a college in Newtowne (Cambridge). Colonist John Harvard contributed his library and two years later left the institution half his fortune. The college was, and is, called by his name.
What is the United Church of Christ Archives?
What the UCC Archives Does:
- Collects, preserves, and provides access to the records of the UCC from around the time of the creating Union in 1957 onward.
- Acts as the office of records management for the national setting of the denomination.
- Provides guidance for how to manage current and historical records to all settings of the denomination.
What is in the UCC Archives:
The records, photographs, resources, and objects from around the time of the creating Union in 1957 onward.
A selection of a few of the vast resources include:
- Records from the national offices
- UCC Yearbooks
- General Synod Minutes
- Executive Council Minutes
- Resources developed by national offices
- Documentation about the formation of the UCC
- Records of projects and innitiatives
- Collections from national UCC organizations, committees, councils and groups
- Council for Health and Human Services
- UCC Historical Council
- Personal papers of people involved in the work of the national setting of the denomination
- Rev. Arthur Clyde's collection of hymnals
- Rev. Harold Wilke's papers documenting his work in the UCC
- Conference publications and newsletters
- Written histories of local churches, associations, conferences, and other UCC-related ministries
All documents are searchable by keyword, and are complete to present.
Partnerships with other Historical Organizations:
The UCC Archives works closely with other archives that hold the records of the denominations that united to form the UCC. Please visit the Historical Council page to find more information about those institutions.
Witness for Justice (WFJ) is a weekly editorial opinion column for public distribution which identifies timely or urgent justice issues. WFJ is a theologically based perspective founded on historic commitment to justice and peace of the United Church of Christ.
There were harbingers of the Reformation before the 15th century. In England, John Wyclif translated the Bible into English in 1382 so that all people could have access to it. John Hus encountered Wyclifs translation and writings when returning Oxford students brought them to the University of Prague from which he was graduated in 1394. After furthering the cause of biblical access and authority and opposing the Catholic sale of indulgences, Hus was burned in 1415. He claimed that Christ, not the Pope, was the head of the church; the New Testament, not the church, was the final authority; the Christian life was to be lived in poverty, not opulence.
In 1517, the German monk, university teacher, and preacher, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses of protest against certain doctrines and practices (such as the sale of indulgences) of the Roman Church to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral. His subsequent teaching, preaching, and 'writing spread Lutheran reform throughout northern Europe.
Almost simultaneously, Reformation winds blew to France and Switzerland. In Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) and in Geneva, John Calvin (1509-64) took up the banner of reform. Their powerful ministries impressed leaders from Europe and Britain seeking a better way. From these churches of Switzerland, the German Reformed movement and the English Congregationalists would breathe deeply.
The Reformed churches differed from the Lutheran churches in avoiding the "Catholic use" of imagery and instrumental music. They differed in their interpretation of the Lord's Supper; rather than being the body and blood of Christ, Reformed faith held that the bread and wine were "seals" or remembrances of Christ's spiritual presence.
Luther and Zwingli had other differences besides their interpretations of the elements of Communion. Zwingli was more of a humanist and Luther considered his political activism dangerously radical and theologically unsound. French refugee John Calvin arrived in Geneva, crossroads for exiles and expatriots, in 1536. He rapidly became more influential than Zwingli, second only to Luther. He wrote a popular, systematic presentation of Christian doctrine and life, The Institutes (1536, final edition in 1559). Most important of Calvin's Institutes was obedience to God's will as defined in the scriptures. Salvation, he wrote, came by faith in God's grace, mediated through word and sacrament by the power of the Holy Spirit. Good works were consequences of union with Christ in faith, not the means of salvation. Calvin considered the law an indispensable guide and spur to the Christian life; prayer provided nourishment for faith. He argued that faith was a divine gift resulting from God's unconditional decree of election.
Further, Christian life was maintained by the institutions of the church, the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism, and discipline. Calvin followed the biblical model in providing pastoral care and church discipline through pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons.
The Reformed faith eventually reached the German Palatinate around Heidelberg. Elector Frederick III (1515-76) was forced to mediate between his own warring Zwinglian and Lutheran chaplains; he dismissed them both. Sympathetic to Calvinism, Frederick entrusted the writing of a new confession to two young protégés of Calvin and Melancthon, Casper Olevianus (1536-87) and Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83). The result was the remarkable Heidelberg Catechism, adopted in 1563, that unified the German Reformed Church and became a treasured resource for instructing the young, for preaching, and for theological teaching.
There also was wider social unrest in Europe. From 1618 to 1648, the Thirty Years War ravaged the continent. Before the fighting ceased, most of Germany, and especially the Palatinate where the Reformed Church had been influential, was reduced to a wilderness. Churches were closed; many pastors and people starved or were massacred. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 divided the spoils. The Roman, Lutheran, and Reformed churches were allowed to reclaim territories that had been theirs in 1624. Calvinist Reformed churches, for a time unrecognized, were honored along with Lutheran churches.
Protestantism in Germany had lost all its eastern territory.
When two thirds of Hungary was regained for Catholicism, Hungarian Reformed Church Christians suffered intolerance. Their descendants immigrated to America and in 1890 began the first Hungarian Reformed Church in Cleveland. As the Magyar Synod, Hungarian churches united with the Reformed Church in the United States in 1921. Forty Hungarian congregations continue in the United Church of Christ as the Calvin Synod.
Excerpted from "A History of the United Church of Christ" by Margaret Rowland Post
All Christians are related in faith to Judaism and are faith descendants of the first apostles of Jesus who roamed the world with the good news of God's love. Within five centuries, Christianity dominated the Roman Empire. Until A.D. 1054 when the church split, it remained essentially one. At that point, the Eastern Orthodox Church established its center at Constantinople (Istanbul), the Roman Catholic Church at Rome.
During the 16th century, when Christians found the church corrupt and hopelessly involved in economic and political interests, leaders arose to bring about reform from within. The unintended by-product of their efforts at reform was schism in the Roman Church. Their differences over the authority and practices of Rome became irreconcilable.
Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin held that the Bible, not the Pope, was sufficient authority as the word of God. Paramount was the message of Paul that persons are justified by the grace of God through faith alone. Such faith did not lead to rank individualism or moral indifference, but to good works out of love for God.
Protestantism spread throughout Europe. Lutheran churches were planted in Germany and throughout Scandinavia; the Reformed churches, originating in Switzerland, spread into Germany, France, Transylvania, Hungary, Holland, England, and Scotland. The United Church of Christ traces its roots back to those movements to proclaim the good news based on biblical truths led by the Spirit of God. It presently binds in covenant nearly 6,500 congregations with approximately 1,800,000 members. One of the youngest American denominations, its background also makes it one of the oldest in Protestantism.
The United Church of Christ, a united and uniting church, was born on June 25, 1957 out of a combination of four groups. Two of these were the Congregational Churches of the English Reformation with Puritan New England roots in America, and the Christian Church with American frontier beginnings. These two denominations were concerned for freedom of religious expression and local autonomy and united on June 17, 1931 to become the Congregational Christian Churches.
The other two denominations were the Evangelical Synod of North America, a 19th-century German-American church of the frontier Mississippi Valley, and the Reformed Church in the United States, initially composed of early 18th-century churches in Pennsylvania and neighboring colonies, unified in a Coetus in 1793 to become a Synod. The parent churches were of German and Swiss heritage, conscientious carriers of the Reformed and Lutheran traditions of the Reformation, and united to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church on June 26, 1934.
The Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches shared a strong commitment under Christ to the freedom of religious expression. They combined strong European ties, early colonial roots, and the vitality of the American frontier church. Their union forced accommodation between congregational and presbyterial forms of church government. Both denominations found their authority in the Bible and were more concerned with what unites Christians than with what divides them. In their marriage, a church that valued the free congregational tradition was strengthened by one that remained faithful to the liturgical tradition of Reformed church worship and to catechetical teaching. A tradition that maintained important aspects of European Protestantism was broadened by one that, in mutual covenant with Christ, embraced diversity and freedom.
A Short Course in the History of the United Church of Christ tells our story beginning with our origins in the small community who followed Jesus 20 centuries ago and continuing to the present. Learn about the Reformation—a protest movement against the abuse of authority by church leaders; the rediscovery by Luther and Calvin of the Bible's teaching that salvation is not earned, but is a gift; the epic journey of the Pilgrims from England to the shores of North America; the waves of emigration by German and Hungarian Protestants seeking spiritual and political freedom; the beginning of the first Christian anti-slavery movement in history; the 20th-century movement to reunite the divided branches of Christ's church, and, as a result of that movement, the union of several traditions of Protestant Christianity into the United Church of Christ in 1957.
We invite you to use the Short Course for your personal study or as a resource for confirmation and new-member classes in your congregation. On every page, you'll find links to related resources on this website, links to other resources on the Internet, and ideas about books for further study. Also recommended: Hidden Histories of the United Church of Christ.
Full Version in PDF
The Early Church
Our Reformation Roots
German Evangelical Movement
Reformation in England
German Reformed Church
Education and Mission
The Christian Churches
German Evangelical Synod
An Ecumenical Age
Evangelical and Reformed
The UCC Comes of Age
The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons became a common practice in the Western church in about the fourth century. At first, usages varied considerably but by the 12th century Pope Innocent III systematized the use of five colors: Violet, White, Black, Red and Green. The Lutheran and Anglican churches that emerged from the Reformation retained the traditional colors but they disappeared entirely (along with most other ritual) from the worship of the Reformed churches. During the 20th century, the ecumenical Liturgical Movement prompted the rediscovery of ancient Christian ritual—including the traditional colors of the Western church. To these have been added Blue and Gold—colors that were used in some Western rites before the 12th century.
Briefly, the colors express emotions and ideas that are associated with each of the seasons of the liturgical year. Violet is the ancient royal color and therefore a symbol of the sovereignty of Christ. Violet is also associated with repentance from sin. White and Gold symbolize the brightness of day. Black is the traditional color of mourning in some cultures. Red evokes the color of blood, and therefore is the color of martyrs and of Christ's death on the Cross. Red also symbolizes fire, and therefore is the color of the Holy Spirit. Green is the color of growth. Blue is the color of the sky and in some rites honors Mary.
Congregations in the United Church of Christ have the freedom to use any combination of colors (or no particular colors) as seems best to them. The use of traditional colors, however, connects us to the wider Body of Christ and provides worship planners with visual aids that mark the transition from one season to another. Colors can be used in altar and pulpit decorations, vestments, banners and tapestries.
Advent is a season of spiritual preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ (Christmas) and looks forward to the future reign of Christ. Eschatological expectation rather than personal penitence is the central theme of the season. Advent is a preparation for rather than a celebration of Christmas, so Advent hymns should be sung instead of Christmas carols. The first Sunday of Advent is not the beginning of the Christmas season. The Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve and continues for the next "twelve days of Christmas."
Purple is normally Advent's liturgical color, associated both with the sovereignty of Christ and with penitence. Deep Blue is also sometimes used to distinguish the season from Lent. As the color of the night sky, Blue symbolizes Christ who in one ancient Advent song is called the "Dayspring" or source of day. As the color associated with Mary, Blue also reminds us that during Advent the church waits with Mary for the birth of Jesus.
Christmas and Christmas Season
The Lectionary readings for Christmas and the following twelve days (culminating in the feast of the Epiphany) invite the church to reflect on the Incarnation (or embodiment) of God as a human being: "The Word became a human being and lived among us, and we have seen his glory...." (John 1:14). In Christ, God enters human history and identifies fully with the human condition.
The traditional colors of the season are White or Gold, symbolizing joy in the light of day.
Season after Epiphany
The season following Epiphany continues the theme established on Epiphany Day: the spread of the Good News of Christ from its source in the Jewish community to all nations on earth. The Lectionary therefore explores the mission of the church in the world. The theme of this season (along with the sequence of readings from the Gospel) continues in the season after Pentecost, so both seasons together can be called the "Time of the Church." The traditional liturgical color for both seasons, Green, is the color of growth.
The traditions of Lent are derived from the season's origin as a time when the church prepared candidates, or "catechumens," for their baptism into the Body of Christ. It eventually became a season of preparation not only for catechumens but also for the whole congregation. Self-examination, study, fasting, prayer and works of love are disciplines historically associated with Lent. Conversion—literally, the "turning around" or reorientation of our lives towards God—is the theme of Lent. Both as individuals and as a community, we look inward and reflect on our readiness to follow Jesus in his journey towards the cross. The forty days of Lent correspond to the forty-day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and the forty-year journey of Israel from slavery to a new community.
On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on the foreheads of the congregation as a symbol that we have come from dust and one day will return to dust. It is one of many Lenten and Easter customs that remind us of our historical connection with Jewish tradition. With this sobering reminder of life's fragility, we begin a spiritual quest that continues until the Easter Vigil, when new members of the church are often baptised and the entire congregation joins in a reaffirmation of baptismal vows. Most of this time of preparation is symbolized by the color Violet, though the season is bracketed by the mourning Black of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. As an alternative to Violet, some churches have begun to use brown, beige or gray (the colors of rough unbleached cloth like burlap) to reflect the season's mood of penitence and simplicity. The somber colors are a reminder of the unbleached "sackcloth" worn by mourners and penitents in the Jewish tradition.
During Holy Week, the congregation follows the footsteps of Jesus from his entry into Jerusalem (Palm/Passion Sunday) through the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday) to his death on the Cross (Good Friday). Red, the color of blood and therefore of martyrs, is the traditional color for Palm/Passion Sunday and the next three days of Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday, White or Gold symbolizes the church's rejoicing in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. But at the end of the Maundy Thursday celebration, the mood changes abruptly: all decorations are removed and the Holy Table is stripped bare. The church becomes as empty as a tomb. On Good Friday, either Black or Red is customary—although the use of no color at all is also appropriate. The Red of Holy Week is sometimes a deeper red than the brighter scarlet color associated with Pentecost.
Easter and Pentecost
Instead of finding a sealed tomb, the women who had come at dawn on Sunday are surprised by an angel who announces astonishing news: "Jesus has been raised from the dead" (Matt. 28:7). The heavenly messenger invites the mourners to see the empty tomb and then go and tell the disciples that the Crucified One is alive!
The season from Easter to Pentecost is also called the Great Fifty Days, a tradition inspired by the Jewish season of fifty days between Passover and Shavuot—the feast celebrating the giving of the Torah to Moses.
The liturgical color for this season is celebratory White or Gold. When the season ends on Pentecost Sunday, White is replaced with Red. This color reminds the congregation of fire—the symbol of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit overpowered the barriers of culture and race. The first Sunday after Pentecost celebrates the Trinity, and the color again is White or Gold.
Season after Pentecost
This longest season of the liturgical year is a continuation of the "Time of the Church" that began on the Sunday after Epiphany. It explores the mission of the church and uses the color of Green, symbolizing growth. During this season, the Lectionary offers two options for readings from Hebrew Scripture: the first, topical option selects readings thematically related to the Epistle or Gospel texts. The second, sequential option reads through an entire book of Hebrew Scripture in sequence.
Other Holy Days and observances
Pentecostal Red is also the traditional color for Reformation Day on October 31. White or Gold is the color for All Saints Day on November 1 and is also an alternative to Green on the last Sunday after Pentecost—the feast of the Reign of Christ.
During other observances, the tradition is to use Red on commemorations of martyrs and other saints. As the color of the Holy Spirit, it is appropriate for ordinations. The colors of Christmas, White or Gold, are also customary on other feast days that celebrate the Incarnation or Resurrection of Christ (Holy Name, Baptism, Presentation, Annunciation, Visitation, Ascension and Transfiguration). Black for centuries was the traditional color for funerals, but in the past fifty years many liturgical churches have preferred to use White or Gold—the colors of Easter and therefore of Resurrection hope.