National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

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Established in 1950 and headquartered in New York City, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCCC-USA) is a federation of 36 mainline Protestant, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox churches. Its preamble reads, "The NCCC-USA is a cooperative agency of Christian communions seeking to fulfill the mission to which God calls them. The member communions, responding to the Gospel revealed in the Scriptures, confess Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, as Saviour and Lord. Relying on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the Council works to bring churches into a life-giving fellowship, an independent witness, study and action to the glory of God and in service to all creation."

The NCCC-USA was formed by uniting into one body 12 interdenominational agencies that had hitherto been carrying on cooperative programs among the churches: the Federal Council of Churches (1908), the Foreign Missions Conference of North America (1803 and 1911); the Home Missions Council of North America (1908); the International Council of Religious Education (1922), actually an outgrowth of a national Sunday School Convention (1832); the Missionary Education Movement of the U.S. and Canada (1902); the National Protestant Council on Higher Education (1911); the United Council of Church Women (1940); the United Stewardship Council (1920); Church World Service (1946); Interseminary Committee (1880); the Protestant Film Commission (1947); and the Protestant Radio Commission (1947).

Historical Development. The American counterpart of the world ecumenical movement had two phases: the formation of new churches through organic merger and the cooperative federation of many denominations for the sake of greater efficiency. Since 1900 the principal denominational cooperatives have been the Federal Council of Churches, organized in 1908, and the National Council of Churches, which succeeded the Federal Council in 1950. Among the contributing factors that helped to shape the National Council was the growing interest in social studies, which showed that American denominationalism was often less doctrinal than cultural and ethnic. Its divisiveness, therefore, could be resolved at least partially by active collaboration in the externals of church life without infringing on the creedal autonomy of the different churches.

When the Federal Council was formed in 1908, its 28 member churches included baptists, methodists, and presbyterians, but the number was only a fraction of the total Protestant population. Its basis of union was modeled on the principles of American democracy. According to its constitution, the Federal Council was to express the fellowship and catholic unity of the Protestant denominations, with a view to bringing them into united service for Christ and the world. Although the largest, the Federal Council was only one of several like agencies that sought to bridge the denominational differences in American Protestantism. They had all been founded to make their work more effective, but this was not enough. As the agencies evolved their programs, they found they had overlapping responsibilities in various areas. Closer cooperative action was needed. Further study and negotiation were finally terminated in 1941 at an historic Atlantic City, N.J., conference that recommended "creation of a single cooperative agency to succeed all of the existing national councils." This met with enthusiastic acceptance, and after nine years of planning, the National Council of Churches was established in Cleveland, Ohio, Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, 1950. Delegates of 29 Protestant and Orthodox bodies joined forces to express their common faith and witness of cooperation with one another.

The preamble of the constitution they adopted stated, "In the providence of God, the time has come when it seems fitting more fully to manifest oneness in Jesus Christ as Divine Lord and Savior, by the creation of an inclusive cooperative agency of the Christian Churches in the United States of America."

Eleven purposes were specified in the 1950 constitution, of which the most important is to continue and extend the functions of the original merging societies, along with the student volunteer movement and the United Student Christian Council that joined after 1950. Each of the other ten aims was directed to the more general scope of the Christian religion:

  1. To manifest more fully the oneness of the Church of Christ according to the Scriptures and to further the efforts of the member churches in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the end that all men may believe in Him
  2. To encourage the study and use of the Bible
  3. To carry on programs for and with the churches by which the life of the Church may be renewed and the mission of the Church may be fulfilled
  4. To foster and encourage cooperation, fellowship, and mutual counsel among the churches for the purposes set forth in this Constitution
  5. To assist the churches in self-examination of their life and witness in accordance with their understanding of the will of God and of the Lordship of Jesus Christ as Divine Head of the Church
  6. To further works of Christian love and service throughout the nation and the world
  7. To study and to speak and act on conditions and issues in the nation and the world which involve moral, ethical, and spiritual principles inherent in the Christian Gospel
  8. To encourage cooperation among local churches and to further the development of councils and other organizations in agreement with the Preamble of this Constitution, and to maintain cooperative relationships with such bodies
  9. To establish and maintain consultative and cooperative relationships with the World Council of Churches; other international, regional, and national ecumenical organizations; and agencies related to the churches in the United States
  10. To establish specific objectives and to carry forward programs and activities for achieving the purposes herein stated

One passage in the certificate of incorporation reveals the Council's concern not to infringe on the freedom of its constituency. "It shall have no authority or administrative control," the document reads, "over the communions or churches which become its members or its affiliated or co-operating bodies. It shall have no authority to prescribe a common creed, or form of church government, or form of worship, or to limit the autonomy of such communions or churches."

At the beginning of the 21st century, the NCCCUSA comprises 36 member churches from the Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox traditions:

African Methodist Episcopal Church
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
Alliance of Baptists
American Baptist Churches in the USA
The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Church of the Brethren
The Coptic Orthodox Church in North America
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends United Meeting
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Hungarian Reformed Church in America
International Council of Community Churches
Korean Presbyterian Church in America
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Mar Thoma Church
Moravian Church in America Northern Province and Southern Province
National Baptist Convention of America
National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America
Orthodox Church in America
Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox
Church in the USA
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
Polish National Catholic Church of America
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Reformed Church in America
Serbian Orthodox Church in the U.S.A. and Canada
The Swedenborgian Church
Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America
United Church of Christ
The United Methodist Church

The NCCC-USA is actively involved in the scholarly research of the Bible. It sponsored the Revised Standard Version and its successor, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Through the Church World Service (CWS), it carries out relief work in more than 80 countries. Its Washington, D.C. office deals with public policy issues, testifying on the moral, ethical, and other theological implications of proposed legislative enactments and other policy decisions. The NCCC-USA is also actively involved in many ecumenical and interreligious organizations at the local, national and international levels.

Since Vatican Council II there has been a steadily increasing cooperation between the NCCC-USA and the Roman Catholic Church. A Joint Working Committee, made up of designated representatives of the NCCC-USA and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, meets at regular intervals for exchange of information as to plans and projects and for the furthering of mutual understanding. There are Roman Catholic participants in several of the Council's program units, including full membership in the Commission on Faith and Order.

Bibliography: Triennial Reports, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (New York 19661969, 19691972). s. mcc. cavert, Church Cooperation and Unity in America: A Historical Review, 19001970 (New York 1970). "Report on Possible Roman Catholic Membership in the National Council of Churches" (U.S. Catholic Conference 1972).

[j. a. hardon/

s. mcc. cavert/

d. j. bowman/eds.]

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National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

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National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.