Evangelical and Reformed Church
The Evangelical and Reformed Church was an American Protestant
Christiandenomination formed in 1934 by the merger of the Reformed Church in the United States with the Evangelical Synod of North America. In 1957, it merged with the majority of the Congregational Christian Churchesto form the United Church of Christ.
Both of these bodies had originated in the
Reformationin Europe; almost all their churches in America were established by immigrants from Germanyand Switzerland. The Reformed Church in the U.S., long known as the "German Reformed Church," organized its first synod in 1747 and adopted a constitution in 1793. The Evangelical Synod of North America (not to be confused with the Evangelical Church, which merged in 1946 with the United Brethren in Christto form the Evangelical United Brethren Church, another chiefly German-Americandenomination) was founded in 1840 at Gravois Settlement, Mo., by a union of Reformed and LutheranChristians similar to that instituted in Prussiain the early 19th century. In its early years it was known as the "German Evangelical Church Association of the West." Later, in the 1910s, a small group of immigrant Hungarian Reformed congregations joined the RCUS as a separate judicatory, the MagyarSynod. In 1934 the Reformed Church and the Evangelical Synod of North America united to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church. In 1946, with cooperation of three other denominations, it formed the United Andean Indian Mission, an agency that sent missionaries to Ecuador.
The Evangelical and Reformed Church was generally
presbyterianin organization, although it allowed for a greater deal of local congregational decision-making than more typical Reformed bodies such as Presbyterianismor the Reformed Church in America(Dutch) did. The church organized into some 30 or so regional synods, culminating in a national General Synod that met annually. These synods were a combination of the old Reformed classis(or presbytery)-based system of church courts and the Evangelicals' regional pastors' conferences.
The church used several creeds: the Reformed
Heidelberg Catechism, Martin Luther’s catechisms, and the early Lutheran Augsburg Confession; Evangelical and Reformed leaders allowed great latitude in interpretation. In the main, Evangelical and Reformed congregations emphasized piety and service rather than legalistic soteriologyor orthodox dogma. Styles of worship ranged from revivalism (especially in Ohioand North Carolina) to a Lutheran-like liturgicism (the "Mercersburg Movement," found primarily in central Pennsylvaniaparishes). Generally speaking, the theological outlook of most ministers was largely accepting of liberal trends in Protestant doctrine and higher Biblical criticism, although some pockets of conservative revivalistic Pietismand confessionalist Calvinismcould be found.
Reformed Church in the U.S.
The Reformed tradition centered in the state of
Pennsylvania, particularly the eastern and central counties of that state, and extended westward toward Ohioand Indianaand southward toward Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolinain the first generation of immigration. Early Reformed adherents settled alongside Lutheran, Brethren, and sometimes Anabaptist/ Mennoniteneighbors; some Reformed congregations in Pennsylvania formed union churches with Lutherans, sharing the same building but operating as separate entities, although they frequently shared Sunday Schools and occasionally ministers.
Up until the mid-19th century, the Reformed churches ministered to German immigrants with a broadly Calvinist theology and plain liturgy. However, revivals, inspired by Anglo-Saxon Protestant churches during the
Great Awakeningsof the late 18th and early 19th centuries, influenced the development of the Reformed churches, especially in frontier regions. Some of the more radical practitioners of revivalism and/or pietism defected to Brethren bodies; still others formed the Churches of God, General Conference, a conservative, doctrinally Arminiangroup.
A backlash set in, however, against revivals in the form of the "
Mercersburg Theology" movement. Named for the Pennsylvania town where the Reformed seminary was located in the mid-19th century, scholarly and ministerial advocates of this position sought to reclaim an older, European sense of the church as a holy society that understood itself as organically related to Christ. This implied a recovery of early Protestant liturgies and a renewed emphasis upon the rite of Holy Communion, somewhat akin to the Tractarianor Anglo-Catholicmovement in Anglicanismbut within a Reformation vein. Some leaders, however, saw this platform as an attempt to impose heretical Catholic practice and understandings in a Protestant setting. This group, centered in southeastern Pennsylvania in close proximity to a large Catholic population in Philadelphiaand thus motivated by Anti-Catholicism, objected strenuously to the Mercersburg reforms, going so far as to establish a separate seminary; the school is now known as Ursinus College. After temporarily causing the Ohio Synod to withdraw from the church, tensions mounted until compromises were worked out, and parishes of either low or high persuasion were allowed to practice their preferences peacefully.
A later group, settling in the late 19th century, took root in
Wisconsinand spread westward across the Great Plainsregion; this group spoke German for several generations after the " Pennsylvania Dutch" had thoroughly Americanized themselves, theologically as well as linguistically. These immigrants did not participate in the Mercersburg/Ursinus struggle mentioned above; their theological persuasion was decidedly confessionalist, holding to a fairly strict intrepretation of the Heidelberg Catechism. So strong were the convictions of some that a few churches in that group, most of which were in South Dakota, defected immediately prior to the 1934 merger, influenced by such strict confessionalism, a belief in biblical inerrancy, and a fear of losing their Reformed roots; that group retained the name Reformed Church in the United Statesfor itself.
This schism aside, by the time of the merger talks, the RCUS had mostly joined the American Protestant mainline, sending missionaries overseas and operating health and welfare institutions (i.e., hospitals, orphanges, nursing homes) throughout much of the U.S. Further, the Reformed did some work among Native Americans in Wisconsin. The RCUS' constituency composed slightly over half of the membership of the new denomination in 1934.
Evangelical Synod of North America
As for the Evangelical tradition, its epicenter was (and is to this day, in the United Church of Christ) the city of St. Louis, with a particularly heavy concentration of parishes within a 75-mile radius, in
Missouriand Illinois. Elsewhere, Evangelicals tended to settle in large cities of the Midwest, such as Cincinnati, Louisville, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Rural Evangelical strongholds included southwestern Indiana, southern Michiganand Iowa. In the Southern U.S., the ESNA was found primarily in central Texasand New Orleans. These concentrations of German settlement also witnessed a large influx of more confessionally-oriented Lutherans, who formed the current-day Lutheran Church-Missouri Synodin opposition to the syncretismthey believed the Evangelicals represented.
Although their faith was chiefly the product of a forced union by the government in
Prussia, the Evangelicals by conviction wished to minimize the centuries-old points of contention between Lutheran and Reformed doctrine and practice. This attitude of moderation was enabled in large measure by the rise of pietism, which stressed a more emotional, less rationalistic approach to the teachings of the Bible, thus disinclining scholars and pastors toward technicalities or polemics. Many Evangelical parishes were founded by pastors trained in interdenominational missionary societies such as the one in Basel, Switzerlandin the early 19th century; they immigrated to the U.S. to assist settlers fleeing Prussian militarism.
Even to a greater degree than the Reformed, the Evangelicals became most noted among American Protestants for their establishment and staunch support of hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the elderly. Probably most similar in ethos (among English-speaking Protestant groups) to the
Methodists, pastors emphasized pietistpreaching and catechizing young people for the rite of confirmation, a rite still cherished highly to this day by congregations deriving from ESNA roots. Reflecting a later generation of immigration, the German language persisted for several generations in most congregations before such services were gradually phased out in the era between the World Wars, due in part to anti-German sentiment among some Americans.
In terms of governance, the Evangelicals most resembled American Lutheranism of the time, with high regard for the pastor's authority, but essentially congregational in structure, with a lay council handling temporal matters such as property and benevolences.
As with most Protestant denominations, the Evangelical and Reformed church maintained educational institutions and foreign missions. Affiliated educational institutions included the
Lancaster Theological Seminary, Franklin and Marshall College, and Ursinus Collegein Pennsylvania, Elmhurst Collegein Illinois, Eden Theological Seminaryin Missouri, and Heidelberg Collegein Ohio. An Evangelical and Reformed seminary, Mission House, previously located in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, joined with the school of theology of South Dakota's Yankton College(a Congregational Christian institution) to form the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Citiesin the early 1960s; the school set up operations in New Brighton, Minnesota, outside St. Paul.
Congregational Christian Merger/United Church of Christ
In 1957, the Evangelical and Reformed Church joined with the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches to form the UCC. The Rev. James Wagner was the last president of the denomination; upon the union on
June 25of that year, he became, along with former Congregational Christian general minister Fred Hoskins, a co-president of the UCC, a position he and Hoskins held until 1961, when the UCC constitution was ratified by the Evangelical and Reformed synods and the requisite percentage of CC congregations.
Famous Evangelical and Reformed members (including UCC congregations of Evangelical and Reformed heritage)
John Dillinger--raised in an Indianapoliscongregation
John Williamson Nevin
Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben
Theodore Rooseveltattended Washington D.C.'s Grace Reformed Church, an E&R congregation. Roosevelt originally belonged to the Reformed Church in America, a Dutch-American group. Since there were no RCA congregations in Washington, he chose Grace Reformed as perhaps the church most similar liturgically and theologically in Washington to Dutch Calvinism.
"A History of the Evangelical and Reformed Church," David Dunn, et al.; Lowell H. Zuck, foreword. New York: Pilgrim Press, 1990.
"The Shaping of the United Church of Christ: An Essay in the History of American Christianity," Louis H. Gunnemann; Charles Shelby Rooks, ed. Cleveland: United Church Press, 1999.
"The Columbia Encyclopedia," Sixth Edition. 2001–2005.
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