Reformed Church in the United States
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|Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS)|
|Associations||North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council, International Conference of Reformed Churches|
|Separations||1933-34 majority merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church (now part of the United Church of Christ)|
|Source: Abstract of the Minutes of the 270th RCUS Synod, 2016|
The Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) is a Protestant Christian denomination in the United States. The present RCUS is a conservative, Calvinist denomination. It affirms the 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). The RCUS is most heavily concentrated in California, Colorado, and South Dakota.
Originally the German Reformed Church, the RCUS was organized in 1725 thanks largely to the efforts of John Philip Boehm, who immigrated in 1720, and organized the first congregation of German Reformed believers near Philadelphia, and later would be joined by other ministers such as George Weiss and Michael Schlatter. Boehm was eventually ordained by the Classis of Amsterdam, which oversaw the American branch of the Dutch Reformed Church (now the Reformed Church in America) in 1729. The German Reformed would remain under Dutch Reformed oversight until 1793, when the German Reformed adopted their own constitution. In the 1740s, Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, bishop of the Moravian Church, visited Pennsylvania, with the hopes of uniting the German Lutherans and Reformed with the Moravians, which Boehm staunchly resisted.
The 19th century saw controversy as the German Reformed Church debated issues such as revivalism and especially the Mercersburg Theology of John Nevin and Philip Schaff. In 1866 Samuel Miller, a member of the German Reformed Church, published a work entitled A Treatise on Mercersburg Theology: Mercersburg and Modern Theology Compared. Other controversies, such as debates over liturgy, also occurred in the 19th century. The second half of the century also saw the formation of their first General Synod, held in 1863, and, in the 1870s and 1880s, there were attempts, albeit unsuccessful, to unite with the Dutch Reformed Church.
The twentieth century saw the RCUS increasingly move toward ecumenism and higher criticism of the Bible. Some who were more conservative in their theology united to form the Eureka Classis of the RCUS to continue classical Reformed worship and polity. The RCUS merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America (ESNA), a group that was a mix of both Lutheran and Reformed theology, reflecting the Prussian Union of Churches, in 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 Lutheran teachings with Calvinist practices; most of its churches and members descended from late 19th-century immigration either from parts of Germany where Reformed confessionalism had taken hold or from the Volga River region of Russia, who were ethnically German and isolated from liberalizing influences in the motherland. By contrast, most RCUS churches, classes, and synods farther east had significantly assimilated 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.
In 1986, the Eureka Classis was dissolved, resulting in the formation of its current Synod with four classes. Membership in the four Classis' has been on a steady decline for many years.
Polity and beliefs
The polity of the RCUS is presbyterian, 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 42 congregations with about 3,000 baptized members and 2900 confirmed members throughout the United States. The congregations are grouped together in four classes: Western Classis, Northern Plains Classis, South Central Classis, Covenant Eastern Classis. A classis is equivalent to a presbytery in Scots-Anglo-Irish Presbyterian denominations. A general, or national, synod convenes annually in mid-spring.
The old RCUS, as well as the continuing RCUS, originally held only to the Heidelberg Catechism as its statement of faith. In 1995, the Synod officially adopted the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Canons of Dort, which along with Heidelberg are known as the Three Forms of Unity 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 Calvinism and the 16th-century Reformation.
The RCUS believes in biblical inerrancy, including a teaching that Genesis 1:1—2:4 must be understood as a literal 24-hour, six-day creation account. In keeping with tradition, nearly all congregations prohibit women from voting in church elections. The RCUS also does not allow women to hold special office (elders, deacons, pastor), a stance held by many conservative Reformed or Presbyterian bodies in the United States. In addition, the RCUS rejects some standard positions associated with American fundamentalism such as premillennialism and total abstinence from alcoholic beverages, holding instead a focus on a European Calvinist orthodoxy rather than American-style revivalism. The RCUS is also known for being critical of the homosexual lifestyle and intolerant of those who practice it.
- "Abstract of the Minutes of the 266th Synod" (PDF). pp. 64–68. Retrieved November 13, 2012.