Presbyterian Church in the United States

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Not to be confused with Presbyterianism in the United States.
Presbyterian Church in the United States
Presbyterian Church in the United States.png
Classification Protestant
Orientation Calvinist
Polity Presbyterian polity
Origin 1861
Separated from Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1861)
Absorbed United Synod of the South (the New School Presbyterians, 1864)
Separations Presbyterian Church in America (1973)
Merged into Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1983
Congregations 4,250 in 1982
Members 814,931 in 1982
Ministers 6,077 in 1982[1]

The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS, originally Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America) was a Protestant Christian denomination in the Southern and border states of the United States that existed from 1861 to 1983. That year it merged with the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).


This group split from the main national body of Old School Presbyterianism, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) during the civil war in the United States. The immediate cause was passage of the Gardiner Spring Resolutions by the General Assembly in May 1861. These declared loyalty to the United States to be a religious duty.[2] Prior to the split, the Old School Presbyterian Church was one of two mainline Protestant denominations to maintain a national unity across sectional lines as late as 1861. During the war, the denomination was known as the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States of America. The denomination had also merged with the "new school" Presbyterian United Synod of the South (the "new school" Presbyterians had split over slavery in 1857).[3]

After the war, the PCUS, retained its "Old School" Presbyterian heritage until the 20th century, when the PCUS began to emphasize that they needed to change in light of the changing south.[4]

A point of contention were talks of merger between the mainline "Northern Presbyterians," the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and its successor denomination, the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. A vote for merger had come up in 1954, and despite popular support amongst many, the vote to merge failed, although the two denominations did manage to collaborate on a joint hymnal.[5] The PCUS also joined the Episcopalians, United Methodists, the United Church of Christ and the UPCUSA in the Consultation on Church Union in 1962, a group begun by UPCUSA stated clerk Eugene Carson Blake. Eventually, by 1968, union churches and presbyteries were formed,[6] and in 1970, a "Plan of Union" was drawn up,[7] but it would be another thirteen years until that union would take place.

Another important event occurred in 1965, when Rachel Henderlite became the first woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church in the United States; she was ordained by the Hanover Presbytery in Virginia.[8][9]

The response to the civil rights movement in effect split the PCUS into three factions: a liberal group desiring full endorsement of the movement's platform, a moderate faction desiring church-wide consensus before taking positive action, and a conservative/traditionalist group vigorously opposing what it believed was the meddling of the church in the civil and cultural traditions of its native region. Conservatives argued that church activity on behalf of racial desegregation and voting rights constituted a violation of the doctrine of "the spirituality of the church," a principle developed by 19th century Presbyterian theologian James Henley Thornwell, that declared that social reform and political participation were duties or pursuits to be taken up by individuals, not church courts. In particular, the conservative group defended that teaching aggressively, a doctrine that liberal critics deemed a justification for maintaining racial segregation and preserving the social standing of historic upper-class elites within Southern society, a fair percentage of which were PCUS members.

Having been eventually defeated numerous times in the General Assembly by a coalition of the liberals and moderates from the 1960s onward, some PCUS conservatives, primarily from non-metropolitan parts of the Deep South, founded what today is the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in late 1973, formally citing its rationale as "[a] long-developing theological liberalism which denied the deity of Jesus Christ and the inerrancy and authority of Scripture" on the part of PCUS leaders. Some evangelicals, however, remained in the PCUS in order to contend for their beliefs; this group was more willing to perceive common cause with UPCUSA conservatives. Nonetheless, by the 2000s, some churches from both heritages began to depart the post-merger denomination over similar concerns and moral disputes, namely in favor of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

After the conservatives left the PCUS mainly for the PCA, but a minority for the EPC, it became easier for the talk of union with the UPCUSA. Eventually, in 1983, the "Plan of Union" came up to a vote, with 53 PCUS presbyteries voting in favor union, and 8 opposed. On June 10, 1983, the reunion between the northern and southern Presbyterians was celebrated in Atlanta with the new denomination taking the name of the "Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)."

Beliefs and practices[edit]

R.L. Dabney (1820-1898), a Confederate veteran, became an influential theologian in the PCUS.
Year Membership pct change
1960 899,116 0.11
1961 913,582 0.94
1962 924,104 0,56
1963 933,534 0,42
1964 940634 0.4
1965 945,974 0,26
1966 951,182 0
1967 956,486 0
1968 957,430 0
1969 953,174 -0,4
1970 953,600 0
1971 945,074 0
1972 946,536 0
1973 906,359 0
1974 891,111 0
1975 878,126 0
1976 877,664 0
1977 869,693 0
1978 862,416 0
1979 852,711 0
1980 838,458 0
1981 823,143 0
1982 814,931 0[10]

The PCUS was one of the more conservative bodies of Presbyterianism throughout most of its history, with a strong emphasis on subscription to the Westminster Confession and interest in Calvinist scholasticism, particularly as expressed in Common Sense Realism and later the Princeton Theology. In fact, as their northern counterparts in Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. began to modify Calvinism, and experiment with confessional revision, in the later part of the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, the PCUS prided itself in being the bastion of "Old School" Presbyterianism, stoutly resisting calls for change to accommodate liberalizing sensibilities. However, in the immediate years after World War II, many ministers and churches, especially in larger cities, began to embrace, or at least tolerate, modernist and neo-orthodox understandings of doctrine and church life.

One important product of this liberalization was ecumenism, expressed in merger talks with the "northern" Presbyterian Church, known as the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America after 1958 (despite the common reference as "northern," the UPCUSA had congregations in all 50 states by the 20th century, with most of its southern churches the result of a 1906 merger with most of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church or the affiliation of African-American churches in the South Atlantic states after the Civil War). In 1946, with cooperation of three other denominations, it formed the United Andean Indian Mission, an agency that sent missionaries to Ecuador. Among some of the other liberalizing trends were the ordination of women in 1964, the ratification of a pro-choice position on abortion by the General Assembly, and the rejection by that assembly of the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible, considered by conservatives as a touchstone dogma.

Beginning in 1942, in response to liberal trends in the PCUS, conservative churchmen such as L. Nelson Bell, longtime medical missionary to China and father-in-law of evangelist Billy Graham, began establishing various periodicals and renewal parachurch organizations for conservative clergy and laymen alike.[11] In 1966, conservatives founded Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.[12] Eventually, in December 1973, prompted both by liberalism, and a proposed "Plan of Union" between the UPCUSA and the PCUS which reportedly had not included an escape clause for congregations that had no desire of being part of the planned denomination, delegates from 260 churches met in Birmingham, Alabama to form the National Presbyterian Church, which would later be renamed the Presbyterian Church in America in 1974.[13]

Following the departure of more conservative PCUS members into the PCA, the PCUS drafted a "Declaration of Faith," which paralleled the social concerns expressed in the UPCUSA's Confession of 1967.[14] While it was approved by the General Assembly of 1976, it failed to receive a requisite supermajority of the presbyteries (largely due to opposition states where loyalist conservatives remained), and the 1977 General Assembly instead approved it for study purposes, without binding authority.[14] That issue became moot upon the 1983 merger, as the Confession of 1967 was retained in the new denomination's Book of Confessions.

Notable members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Presbyterian Church in the United States Denominational Profile. The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). Retrieved May 26, 2014.
  2. ^ Johnson, Thomas (1894). History of the Southern Presbyterian Church. New York: The Christian Literature Company. pp. 324–336. 
  3. ^ D.G. Hart & John Meuther Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism (P&R Publishing, 2007), pg. 159
  4. ^ Hart & Meuther, pgs. 229 & 230
  5. ^ Hart & Meuther, pg. 232
  6. ^ Hart & Meuther, pg. 233
  7. ^ Hart & Meuther, pg. 242
  8. ^ "NAPC - National Association of Presbyterian Clergywomen". Retrieved November 8, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Women Ministers (1955-1966) and Margaret Towner". Retrieved November 8, 2013. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Hart & Meuther, pgs. 234 & 235
  12. ^ Hart & Meuther, pg. 235
  13. ^ Hart & Meuther, pg. 236
  14. ^ a b Hart & Meuther, pg. 237