The United Church of Christ came into being in 1957
with the union of two Protestant denominations: the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational
Christian Churches. Each of these was, in turn, the
result of a union of two earlier traditions.
The Congregational Churches were organized when
the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation (1620) and the
Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1629)
acknowledged their essential unity in the Cambridge
Platform of 1648.
The Reformed Church in the United States traced
its beginnings to congregations of German settlers in
Pennsylvania founded from 1725 on. Later, its ranks were
swelled by Reformed immigrants from Switzerland, Hungary
and other countries.
The Christian Churches sprang up in the late
1700s and early 1800s in reaction to the theological and
organizational rigidity of the Methodist, Presbyterian
and Baptist churches of the time.
The Evangelical Synod of North America traced its
beginnings to an association of German Evangelical
pastors in Missouri. This association, founded in 1841,
reflected the 1817 union of Lutheran and Reformed
churches in Germany.
Through the years, other groups such as American
Indians, Afro-Christians, Asian Americans, Pacific
Islanders, Volga Germans, Armenians, and Hispanic
Americans have joined with the four earlier groups. In
recent years, Christians from other traditions,
including the Roman Catholic Church, have found a home
in the UCC, and so have gay and lesbian Christians who
have not been welcome in other churches. Thus the United
Church of Christ celebrates and continues a broad
variety of traditions in its common life.
Characteristics of the United Church of Christ
The characteristics of the United Church of Christ
can be summarized in part by the key words in the names
that formed our union: Christian, Reformed,
Christian. By our very name, the United Church of
Christ, we declare ourselves to be part of the Body of
Christ—the Christian church. We continue the witness of
the early disciples to the reality and power of the
crucified and risen Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.
Reformed. All four denominations arose from the
tradition of the Protestant Reformers: We confess the
authority of one God. We affirm the primacy of the
Scriptures, the doctrine of justification by faith, the
priesthood of all believers, and the principle of
Christian freedom. We celebrate two sacraments: baptism
and the Lord's Supper (also called Holy Communion or the
Congregational. The basic unit of the United
Church of Christ is the congregation. Members of each
congregation covenant with one another and with God as
revealed in Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy
Spirit. These congregations, in turn, exist in
covenantal relationships with one another to form larger
structures for more effective work. Our covenanting
emphasizes trustful relationships rather than legal
Evangelical. The primary task of the church is
the proclamation of the Gospel or (in Greek) evangel. The Gospel literally means the "Good
News" of God's love revealed with power in Jesus Christ.
We proclaim this Gospel by word and deed to individual
persons and to society. This proclamation is the heart
of the leiturgia—in Greek, the "work of the
people" in daily and Sunday worship. We gather for the
worship of God, and through each week, we engage in the
service of humankind.
What we believe
We can tell you more about the United Church of
Christ with the help of seven phrases from Scripture and
Tradition which express our commitments.
That they may all be one. [John 17:21] This motto
of the United Church of Christ reflects the spirit of
unity on which it is based and points toward future
efforts to heal the divisions in the body of Christ. We
are a uniting church as well as a united church.
In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in
all things charity. The unity that we seek requires
neither an uncritical acceptance of any point of view,
nor rigid formulation of doctrine. It does require
mutual understanding and agreement as to which aspects
of the Christian faith and life are essential.
The unity of the church is not of its own making.
It is a gift of God. But expressions of that unity are
as diverse as there are individuals. The common thread
that runs through all is love.
Testimonies of faith rather than tests of faith.
Because faith can be expressed in many different ways,
the United Church of Christ has no formula that is a test of faith. Down through the centuries,
however, Christians have shared their faith with one
another through creeds, confessions, catechisms and
other statements of faith. Historic statements such as
the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Heidelberg
Catechism, the Evangelical Catechism, the Augsburg
Confession, the Cambridge Platform and the Kansas City
Statement of Faith are valued in our church as authentic testimonies of faith. [See Beliefs for the
complete texts of some of these testimonies.] In 1959,
the General Synod of the United Church of Christ adopted
of Faith prepared especially for congregations of
the United Church. Many of us use this statement as a
common affirmation of faith in worship and as a basis
There is yet more light and truth to break forth from
God's holy word. This affirmation by one of the
founders of the Congregational tradition assumes the
primacy of the Bible as a source for understanding the
Good News and as a foundation for all statements of
faith. It recognizes that the Bible, though written in
specific historical times and places, still speaks to us
in our present condition. It declares that the study of
the scriptures is not limited by past interpretations,
but it is pursued with the expectation of new insights
and God's help for living today.
The Priesthood of All Believers. All members of
the United Church of Christ are called to minister to
others and to participate as equals in the common
worship of God, each with direct access to the mercies
of God through personal prayer and devotion.
Recognition is given to those among us who have
received special training in pastoral, priestly,
educational and administrative functions, but these
persons are regarded as servants—rather than as
persons in authority. Their task is to guide, to
instruct, to enable the ministry of all Christians
rather than to do the work of ministry for us.
Responsible Freedom. As individual members of the
Body of Christ, we are free to believe and act in
accordance with our perception of God's will for our
lives. But we are called to live in a loving, covenantal
relationship with one another—gathering in communities
of faith, congregations of believers, local churches.
Each congregation or local church is free to act in
accordance with the collective decision of its members,
guided by the working of the Spirit in the light of the
scriptures. But it also is called to live in a
covenantal relationship with other congregations for the
sharing of insights and for cooperative action under the
authority of Christ.
Likewise, associations of churches, conferences, the
General Synod and the churchwide "covenanted ministries"
of the United Church of Christ are free to act in their
particular spheres of responsibility. Yet all are
constrained by love to live in a covenantal relationship
with one another and with the local churches in order to
make manifest the unity of the body of Christ and thus
to carry out God's mission in the world more
The members, congregations, associations,
conferences, General Synod, and covenanted ministries
are free in relation to the world. We affirm that the
authority of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and
interpreted with the aid of the Holy Spirit stands above
and judges all human culture, institutions and laws. But
we recognize our calling both as individuals and as the
church to live in the world:
To proclaim in word and action the Gospel of Jesus
To work for reconciliation and the unity of the broken
Body of Christ.
To seek justice and liberation for all.
This is the challenge of the United Church of