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Who We Are > Our History > Origins

Origins of the United Church of Christ

The United Church of Christ came into being in 1957 with the union of two Protestant denominations: the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches. Each of these was, in turn, the result of a union of two earlier denominations.

The Congregational Churches were organized when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation (1620) and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1629) acknowledged their essential unity in the Cambridge Platform of 1648. The Reformed Church in the United States traced its beginnings to congregations of German settlers in Pennsylvania founded from 1725 on. Later its ranks were swelled by Reformed folk from Switzerland and other countries.

The Christian Churches sprang up in the late 1700s and early 1800s in reaction to the theological and organizational rigidity of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches of the time.

The Evangelical Synod of North America traced its beginnings to an association of German Evangelical pastors in Missouri. This association, founded in 1840, reflected the 1817 union of Lutheran and Reformed churches in Germany.

Through the years, members of other groups such as Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Volga Germans, Armenians, Hungarians and Hispanic Americans have joined with the four earlier groups. thus the United Church of Christ celebrates and continues a wide variety of traditions in its common life.

Characteristics

The characteristics of the United Church of Christ can be summarized in part by the key words in the names of the four denominations that formed our union:  Christian, Reformed, Congregational, Evangelical.
  • CHRISTIAN - By our very name, the United Church of Christ, we declare ourself to be part of the body of Christ -- the Christian church. we continue the witness of the early disciples to the reality and power of the crucified and risen Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.
  • REFORMED - All four denominations arose from the tradition of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers: We confess the authority of one God. We affirm the primacy of the Scriptures, the doctrine of justification by faith, the priesthood of all believers, and the principle of Christian freedom. We celebrate two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion.
  • CONGREGATIONAL - The basic unit of the United Church of Christ is the congregation. Members of each congregation covenant with one another and with God as revealed in Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. these congregations, in turn, exist in covenantal relationships with one another to form larger structures for more effective work. Our covenanting emphasizes trustful relationships rather than legal agreements.
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  • EVANGELICAL - The primary task of the church is the proclamation of the gospel, or evangel -- the good news of God's love revealed with power in Jesus Christ. We proclaim this gospel by word and deed to individual persons and to society. This proclamation is the heart of the liturgia -- the work of the people. We gather each Sunday for the worship of God, and through each week, we engage in the service of humankind.

Information from United Church of Christ: Who We Are, What We Believe
Copyright 1980, 1991, 1993, 1998 United Church Press

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