Evangelical and Reformed Church
Evangelical and Reformed Church
EVANGELICAL AND REFORMED CHURCH
Organized by German Calvinists and Lutherans, it united with the Congregational Christian Church in 1957 to form the united church of christ (see calvinism; lutheranism). As a separate denomination it existed for only 23 years. When formed in 1934 through the union of two churches, the Evangelical Synod of North America and the Reformed Church in the U.S., the combined membership totaled about 620,000.
Immigrants from the Palatinate region of Germany brought their Reformed beliefs with them when they came to the American colonies (see reformed churches). Driven from their homeland because of the devastation of the Thirty Years' War and the campaigns of Louis XIV, many of the settlers accepted the hospitality of William penn. Few ministers accompanied the immigrants; schoolteachers and devout laymen conducted worship services. A teacher, John Philip boehm, concluded the first communion service according to the Reformed order on Oct. 15, 1725, at Falkner Swamp, a tiny settlement 40 miles north of Philadelphia. This date is usually taken as the beginning of the Reformed Church in the U.S. Later the Reformed Church of Holland took an interest in these German Reformed colonists and sent Michael schlatter to organize Reformed congregations in 1746 (see netherlands reformed church). He formed a coetus or synod the next year, which remained under Dutch supervision until 1793. When the church achieved its complete independence in that same year it reorganized as the Synod of the German Reformed Church. It expanded into Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and elsewhere and dropped "German" from its official name in 1869. Philip William otterbein withdrew from its fellowship to form the united brethren in Christ, and John Winebrenner, to found the General Eldership of the churches of christ.
The other denomination in the 1934 merger was established by German immigrants who came to America and settled in the Middle West a century after those who organized the Reformed Church. They sympathized with the union of Lutheran and Reformed traditions that had been ordered by King Frederick of Prussia in 1817. Foreign mission societies in Basel, Switzerland, and Barmen, Germany, sent help and missionaries to these evangelicals in the Mississippi Valley. Rev. Louis Nollau and five others formed a ministerial association in 1840 to which congregations were admitted in 1849. In 1866 this loose federation assumed a synodical character and took the name German Evangelical Synod of the West, later changed to the Evangelical Synod of North America.
The Evangelical Synod and the Reformed Church in the U.S. both drew their memberships from the German American community, followed the augsburg confession and Luther's and the heidelberg catechisms, developed a liberal theology, and were governed according to a modified presbyterian polity. In 1929 a plan of union was accepted for the United Brethren in Christ, Reformed Church, and Evangelical Synod but eventually only the latter two bodies merged. This union took place on June 26, 1934, at Cleveland, Ohio.
At the time of the merger the two churches had congregations in 38 states but were especially strong in Pennsylvania and the Middle West. They supported an extensive social welfare program that included ten hospitals, ten children's homes, 18 homes for the aged, and institutions for epileptics. They sponsored three seminaries and eight colleges. In 1934 the Reformed Church reported 345,000 members and the Evangelical Synod 273,000.
The Constitution of the Evangelical and Reformed Church reaffirmed the confessions, catechisms, and creeds of the former churches but added: "Wherever these doctrinal standards differ, ministers, members and congregations, in accordance with the liberty of conscience inherent in the gospel, are allowed to adhere to the interpretation of one of these confessions. However, in each case, the final norm is the word of God."
The church observed the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper; the latter was celebrated four times a year and was understood as a memorial service. Several prominent theologians, including Paul tillich and Reinhold niebuhr, were ordained ministers of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The local church was governed by elected representatives. An equal number of laymen and clergy attended the annual synod and the general synod, which met every three years. The church was administratively divided into 34 synods. In 1957, it became a part of the united church of christ.
[w. j. whalen/eds.]