The Slow Demise of the UCC

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:26 AM

Craig “Pressed” Tanner of Avoiding Evil has been doing an interesting series on the controversy between the Southern Baptist Convention and the CBF. Seeing some of this controversy reminded me of the controversy in the denomination that I grew up in, the United Church of Christ. I had always meant to write a post about the UCC, and I thought now might be appropriate.

First a bit of history. In 1840, the German Evangelical Church was formed in Missouri from Lutheran and Reformed church roots. This hits especially close to my own heritage, with my church forming in 1843 as German United Lutheran-Reformed St. Paul's Church in Central Township. Quite a name! The Lutheran-Reformed merger was somewhat uncomfortable unfortunately, and in our case a splinter church formed — its just a stones throw away even today and is a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (it ended up in a better denomination than we did). But, I'm getting distracted.

The German Evangelical Church eventually became the Evangelical Synod of North America. From there, the Evangelical Synod merged with the Reformed Church in America in 1934. The resulting church was the Evangelical & Reformed Church (E&R). The E&R was a denomination with Reformed leanings and a congregational organizational structure. Things were pretty good.

Unfortunately, things didn't stay that way. In the early fifties, parties met between the E&R and the Congregational Christian Churches about a possible union at Eden Seminary in St. Louis, a seminary of the E&R. By 1957, a deal was agreed to, and the E&R and the more liberal Congregational Christian Churches merged to form the United Church of Christ. Just to be clear, this name does not imply any association with the Churches of Christ. Perhaps they didn't expect it, or even see it, at the time, but the liberalism forming within the Congregational Churches soon spread across the former borders and started to wrest control of the UCC.

By the mid-1970's, the United Church of Christ's Evangelical contingent was shoved out of power to be replaced by what was becoming a liberal majority within the denomination. During the UCC's General Synod in 1977, the Evangelicals voted strongly against the first of many resolutions that would accept, even glorify and encourage, sexual promiscuity in the UCC. The group of delegates voting against the measure was large enough to allow the Evangelicals to unite into an official interest group, but not large enough to stop the approval of the measure.

A Pastor's wife, Barbara Weller, called for return to Biblical principles during the Synod, and a few hundred participants joined her call. In late 1978, the interest group was made permanent and named United Church People for Biblical Witness (UCPBW). The group celebrates its 25 year this year.

Over the next few years the UCPBW would publish numerous documents noting the unbiblical take the UCC had taken on issues of sexuality, but the work culminated in 1983 in Dubuque, Iowa where the official statement of the group was published, the Dubuque Declaration. The Declaration confirmed commitment to the Biblical values held at the formation of the UCC and noted the “erosion” of such values within the church.

In 1984, the group transformed itself in the the Biblical Witness Fellowship, a group that would focus on supporting local churches in addition to attempting to renew the national UCC. Two years later, the BWF launched a Missions Network, which many Bible believing churches within the UCC would divert funds to as the UCC's own missions program abandoned missions work and moved into social and “family planning” services.

It is getting late, so I'll wrap it up for tonight as this seems like a good place to leave off. While the UCC's Human Sexuality: A Preliminary Study, the 1977 report that started the widespread controversy was not only the opening, but also a major, salvo, the real attack was just beginning to emerge. I'll consider that in my next post on the subject.

Sources: I freshened up on my E&R history — especially dates — at this site. Other dates are drawn from the Biblical Witness Fellowship and United Church of Christ web sites.

Tags: Faith

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5 comments posted so far.

RE: The Slow Demise of the UCC

This sort of thing has been going on since Protestant Liberalism was born. Different denominations at different times fought their demons differently, often based on their traditions and constitutions. While immersed in some of the Southern Baptist infighting (as a student at Oklahoma Baptist University) during the 1970s, I watched with envy as the Missouri Synod Lutherans cleaned house. I remember “Seminex” and the whole thing. A few years ago I attended one of their churches for a while, after being made to feel unwelcome at some other churches. Eventually they ran me off, too, but it was a simple matter of culture clash. I really didn’t belong there.

To dispel the notion that I am a big trouble-maker: I am currently serving as Music Director at a tiny country church. They not only welcomed me with open arms, but have slyly tried to get me to run the whole show at times. Baptists are fiercely democratic in structure, and I’ve always had a very high view of layman competence. Thus, it feels really strange that they defer to me at every turn. Other local churches have asked me to do their music programs, but I’m happy here, and feel led to stay.

Posted by Ed Hurst - Aug 22, 2003 | 9:40 PM- Location: Rural Southeast Texas

RE: The Slow Demise of the UCC

Oh…I thought this post was going to be about the Uniform Commercial Code…

Posted by Sophorist - Aug 22, 2003 | 10:10 PM- Location:

RE: The Slow Demise of the UCC

Ed: The LCMS and the Southern Baptists both are somewhat inspirational to me. I fear such “house cleaning” won’t happen to the UCC. It is too far gone, at least it appears that way to me, as I will detail in my next few posts. Or perhaps you are already familar with the UCC…

Sophorist: I really got your attention then, eh? Maybe I’ll save the information I have on the demise of the other UCC for another day. ;-)

Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Aug 23, 2003 | 1:42 AM- Location: MO

RE: The Slow Demise of the UCC

No way man, the other UCC is going strong. Capitalism as we know it would crumble without the other UCC. Hmmm….maybe you’re right.

I thought the post on your UCC was interesting, too.

Posted by Sophorist - Aug 23, 2003 | 10:37 AM- Location:

RE: The Slow Demise of the UCC

As a UCC clergyperson (too PC??) I fit in with the BWF. I’m also prior ALC/Norweigen Lutheran Church. Guess you would call me a conservative UCC / liberal Baptist / middle-of-the-road Lutheran interested in Christian / Biblical evangelism. Most of what the UCC “headliners” propose I oppose, & think we really do need to seriously address in action (not just words) the truth behind why the UCC as a whole continues to shrink in numbers.

I have not given up hope that eventually a true Biblically evangelical will someday lead the UCC, the the BWF will become “mainstream” rather than “splinter.”

BTW, if there are newer UCC-related entries in your journal I would love to read them

Posted by Steve Langehough - Aug 30, 2004 | 2:49 PM- Location:

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