Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Good History

I've said it before, and i'll say it again. I'm tired of being a "Christian, but". I'm a Christian but I affirm other traditions, like the LGBTQ, believe in evolution, drink alcohol, don't believe in a sacred/secular split, etc. In my studies this semester, i'm taking "United Church of Christ: History, Polity, and Doctrine" and i'm loving it! I'm learning with each class that the UCC is definately my spiritual and historical home.

The UCC has been many things and it's hard to sum up. In short it comes from 4 denominations that merged in the 1950s. Those "4 Streams" are the Congregationalists, Reformed, Christian, and Evangelical churches. We affirm all four of those histories, some extending all the way back to the reformation, while others were home-grown American Revolutions.

UCC has poked fun of itself calling themselves:
  • a heady and exasperating mix
  • unitarians considering christ
  • utterly confused christians
  • universalists christ crazed
  • un-tied christians
and yet stand as a church that wants to be:
  • united and uniting
  • reformed and reforming
  • unity with variety
  • unity in diversity
  • looking for the living God
  • affirming that God is still speaking
  • believing "In essentials unity, in nonessentials freedom, in all things charity" (Eden Seminary's motto)
here's a brief overview of what each "Stream" brings to the UCC.

The Congregationalists: the Puritan and separatists were part of this tradition. intially it was called "The Way" and didn't want to be labeled anything as the prime beliefs being the autonomy of the individual church and the freedom to follow Christ in context and as the sole head of the church.

they were Calvinists and believed int he elect, primacy of scripture, and that all works are a responce to the freely given grace of God. they believe that creeds and confessions weren't all that important and cared more for conversation and education. the motif's in play were a sense of flexibility and adaptability, social awareness, realistic and practical, and great missional zeal.

some notables: Johnathan Edwards (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God), John Wise (natural rights such as democracy, autonomy, and covenant is consistent with faith which lead to Congregationalist support of the American Revolution), and Washington Gladden (father of the social gospel: Christians must stand against injustice, rabid and selfish individualism, and economic exploitation).

The Reformed Church: has roots in Germany and names Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin as sources. Liked Calvin's simple worship and struck a balance between Luther and Zwingli in communion: not going as far as Luther but yet refraining from calling it "just a symbol" as Zwingli. Unlike the Congregationalists, this stream was confessional with a lot of creeds, the foremost being the Heidelberg Catechism. They focused that a highly structured church is a good thing and found freedom in the order as it provided helpful boundaries and easy identity.

Lancaster Theological Seminary where I attend was the only historical Reformed Seminary and also where Mercersburg Theology popped up. some notables include the hiding of the Liberty Bell during the revolutionary war, Philip Schaff, and John Williamson Nevin.

The Evangelical Church: didn't have a lot of money or members. They largely affirmed three things.
  1. Pietism that sits between orthodoxy and rationalism
  2. no creed but Christ crucified
  3. in essentials unity... that phrase listed above.
H. Richard Niebuhr and his brother Reinhold Niebuhr both came out of this tradition.

The Christian Church: was largely absorbed by the Congregationalists. they were largely a small confederacy, loosely affliated with one another, that was based on Enlightenment Principles and affirmed: Law, unity, passion with no trained clergy. they wanted warm hearted leaders with a keen moral sense.

so there are the 4 Streams in a nutshell. each brings their own story and contributes in a unique way. there is also a UBER-PROGRESSIVE history behind each of these as the UCC was the first to ordain a woman, african-american, and openly gay ministers. started the first integrated anti-slavery society, wrote the 'Serenity Prayer', argued to uphold the treaties made with the First Nations Tribes, as well as many other firsts. Read more about these firsts here! Plus it would stand to mention that President Obama was UCC in Chicago; NOT MUSLIM. but since Rev. Wright, he's stuck to the National Cathedral, which is okay, Darth Vader is on the outside of the church, so it can't be all bad, right?

Needless to say it's great to know that i'm part of a progressive strain that has been at the forefront of the issues. many want to call Christians closed-minded, stiff-necked, and out-dated, but here is a whole history that says otherwise. they affirm a generous orthodoxy and have been exempt from a lot of charges now leveled at many Christians today.  i can't help but want to work to keep this proud history going! RAWK!


Cody said...

UCC Polity is my jam. This was an excellent post--I wish confirmation classes had you as required reading (or that you would just teach should start a youtube series explaining polity and theology in terms people undertand, like dinosaurs).

Anglican Gurl said...

EEEEEEWWWWWW.... You are saying that you are proud to claim the Puritans?! Are you crazy man?!

Luke said...

@Cody: glad you liked the post... i'll have to do my own as this one is actually notes from Jacq teaching it. i'm in her polity class and i'm love'n it.

@AG: you just sad that we broke off from your church cause y'all didn't reform enough? ;-)

there are some things that make me cringe about the Puritans, sure, like every other Christian group. laws like "don't feed the Quakers" and their idea of exceptionalism. but anytime you hear someone want to outlaw styrofoam cups nationwide, that's the Puritan spirit at work.

Al said...

As I am getting to know you through our blogs, I was just thinking--What is the UCC? Do I want to get to know someone from there? :) Then I find this post. It's just like you knew I was coming, and baked a cake!
As a Canadian, I know something about our United Church, and it seems to have some common threads.
I'm in a state of flux, church wise, a voyage of discovery. So, it's cool to learn about other groups, their history, and future.