Evangelical Association of Reformed and Congregational Christian Churches
The Evangelical Association of Reformed and Congregational Christian Churches is a small fellowship of conservative evangelical Protestant Christian congregations in the United States that became disaffected from the United Church of Christ due to that denomination's national entities professing support for practices such as abortion and homosexuality. Unlike other more sectarian churches, the Evangelical Association does not forbid its member congregations to simultaneously belong to other denominations and fellowships, as the local churches continue to practice congregational polity.
The EA began in 1998 from meetings between the clergy of First Protestant Church in New Braunfels, Texas and St. John's Evangelical Protestant Church in Cullman, Alabama, two large UCC congregations of Evangelical and Reformed (German Protestant) heritage. A core group resulting from interested churches of like mind brought about this initiative to provide a more orthodox alternative fellowship to the UCC in particular matters such as ministerial placement and foreign missions work. Many of the founding churches had been active in the Biblical Witness Fellowship organization, a "renewal" lobby akin to those orchestrated by the Institute for Religion and Democracy in connectional denominations such as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Perhaps the incident that provoked many of the EA's current congregations to depart the UCC was that denomination's action at its 2005 General Synod to support the rights of two individuals of the same gender to marry. This, to them, was the culmination of over 30 years of unacceptable liberal theology and ethics, to the point of a high apotasy from strict understandings of the Bible; some congregations that had been considering disaffiliation expedited the process in order to disassociate from national entities as quickly as possible. One renewal group claims that over 250 churches withdrew from the UCC over a four-year period following the General Synod's measure.
As of March 2013, the Association listed 74 congregations as members, with Pennsylvania and North Carolina having all but 34 of them, over half the total. All but 19 of the churches are from an E&R heritage, although a few congregations in North Carolina are predominantly African-American in membership. The latter churches are descended from the "Christian Connection"; these left due not only to theological disagreement with national entities, but also because they had been adversely affected by the UCC Eastern North Carolina Association's strict application of nationally-recommended seminary requirements for ordination.
Unlike the UCC, the EA is a dues-paying organization, which means that it is not reliant on congregational benevolent support, as the UCC's conferences and national entities are; there is also no "free-riding," e.g., a congregation receiving services from the organization without paying for them. This, in turn, limits the size of the national staff, a decision valued by the politically conservative constituency of the EA, who frequently equate bureaucracy with liberalism.
Faith & Practice
The EA requires its constituent churches to affirm both the Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed and to subscribe to a statement of faith, which explicitly proclaims exclusive salvation in Jesus Christ and denounces extramarital sexual activity or encouragement of the same. Other than those requirements for membership, the EA considers each local congregation as a "complete church" that possess all of the rights and responsibilities of the Universal Church as bestowed upon it by the Holy Spirit and set forth in God's Word.
Each local church has the right to govern its own affairs, including the right to ordain its own clergy. Local churches ordain in a manner similar to other Congregational bodies, through ecclesiastical councils made up of area ecumenical Christian clergy who review candidates who have completed either a Bible college or seminary education.
The combination of creedal subscription on the one hand and the rights of self-governance on the other makes the EA very similar to Lutheran denominations, which reflects the Evangelical Synod heritage of some of its congregations. Otherwise, the polity is in effect almost identical to that of the UCC, which almost all the group's congregations once belonged to.
EA churches recognize two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion, which local churches are permitted to administer according to their own customs; like the UCC, the EA has no official doctrine pertaining to those ordinances. EA churches administer both infant and adult baptism, by sprinkling (namely among former E&R congregations) or believers' baptism by immersion (former Christian Connection churches).
- "Guidelines for Ordination," Evangelical Association of Reformed & Congregational Christian Churches: Getting Affiliated: How ministers, individuals, and churches gain recognition.
Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, a group similar to the EA