- Reformed Church in the United States
Infobox Christian denomination
name = Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS)
main_classification = Protestant
orientation = Orthodox Reformed
founded_date = 1725
founded_place = United States
separated_from = Founded by German immigrants
separations = 1933-34 majority merged with the
Evangelical Synod of North Americato form the Evangelical and Reformed Church(now part of the United Church of Christ)
congregations = 48
members = 4,113
footnotes = Source: Abstract of the Minutes of the 260th RCUS Synod, 2006The Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) is an American denomination of Christian churches standing in the Protestant tradition. It affirms the great principles of the Reformation: Sola scriptura (Scripture alone), Solo Christo (Christ alone), Sola gratia (Grace alone), Sola fide (Faith alone), and Soli Deo gloria (Glory to God alone). It is committed to historic biblical orthodoxy, confessional Reformed theology, presbyterial church government, and God-centered worship.
While presently it is a small
Protestant Christiandenomination its theological and ecclesiastical roots are in the German Reformed tradition. The RCUS was organized when German settlers in 18th-century America, who originally affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church(now the Reformed Church in America), formed their own synodby the end of the century. The 19th century saw controversy as the German Reformed Churchdebated issues such as revivalismand especially the Mercersburg Theologyof John Nevin and Philip Schaff.
18th and 19th Centuries
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.
20th Century: Struggle and Reformation
The twentieth century saw the RCUS increasingly move toward
ecumenismand higher criticismof the Bible. Some who were more conservative in their theology united to form the Eureka Classisof the RCUS to continue classical Reformed worship and polity. The RCUS merged with the Evangelical Synod of North Americain 1934 to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The Eureka classis, however, abjured that move and decided to continue its existence as the "continuing" Reformed Church in the United States. The classis principally objected to the ESNA's admixture of Lutheranteachings with Calvinist practices; most of its churches and members descended from late 19th-century immigration from parts of Germanywhere Reformed confessionalism had taken hold. By contrast, most RCUS churches, classes, and synods farther east had significantly assimiliated into generalized American Protestantism, with decidedly ecumenical leanings.
The Evangelical and Reformed Church later merged with the
Congregational Christian Churches(itself a merger of Congregational and Restorationist churches) in 1957 to become the United Church of Christ, a body noted for its strongly liberal doctrine and moral stances.
The self-described remnant of the RCUS has in recent years become an active member of the
International Conference of Reformed Churchesand the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council. Through these organizations, it has ecclesiastical relations with churches such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Churchand the United Reformed Churches in North America.
Government and Doctrine
The present RCUS is a conservative, Calvinist denomination. It is
presbyterianin government, with local congregations ruled by elected elders and deacons. The pastor is the presiding officer of the church council or consistory. The RCUS has around 50 congregations with about 4,000 baptized members throughout the U.S. The congregations are grouped together in four classes (Western Classis, Northern Plains Classis, South Central Classis, Covenant Eastern Classis). A general, or national, synodconvenes annually in mid-spring (the most recent meeting was the 261st Synod at Northland Reformed Church, Kansas City, Missouri, on May 21-24, 2007).
The old RCUS, as well as the continuing RCUS, originally held only to the
Heidelberg Catechismas its statement of faith. The 1995Synod meeting officially adopted the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Canons of Dort, which along with Heidelberg are known as the Three Forms of Unity, and which are commonly used together by Reformed churches (especially those coming out of the Dutch branch of Reformed churches). By holding strictly to these standards, the RCUS maintains a strong affiliation with Calvinismand the 16th-century Protestant Reformation.
The RCUS believes in the inerrancy of the Bible, including a teaching that
Genesis1:1--2:4 must be understood as a literal 24-hour, six-day creation account. Nearly all congregations prohibit women from voting in church elections (with the exception of a few congregations which joined later and where this practice was allowed). The RCUS also does not allow women to hold special office (elders, deacons, pastor), a stance in keeping with most conservative Reformed or Presbyterian bodies in the U.S.
The Reformed Church in the United States is a member of the
North American Presbyterian and Reformed Councilas well as the International Conference of Reformed Churches.
The RCUS is most heavily concentrated in
California, Colorado, and South Dakota.
* [http://www.rcus.org Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS)] Official homepage
* [http://www.cityseminary.org City Seminary of Sacramento]
* [http://www.heidelbergseminary.org Heidelberg Theological Seminary]
* [http://www.leben.us Leben, a journal of Reformed life]
* [http://reformedherald.org Reformed Herald]
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