THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES IN THE UNITED STATES
VII. LUTHERANS. VIII. PRESBYTERIANS. IX. METHODISTS. X. UNITED BRETHREN. XI. DISCIPLES OF CHRIST. XII. UNITARIANS. XIII. CHRISTIAN SCIENTISTS.
After the Reformation under Martin Luther, the national churches formed in Germany and the Scandinavian countries took the name of Lutherans. Very early in the history of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, afterward New York, some claim as early as 1623, Lutherans, although from Holland, came to that city and held meetings. In 1652 they applied for permission to have a church and pastor; but the Dutch Reformed authorities objected, and caused the first Lutheran minister, in 1657, to be sent back to Holland. The services were continued in a quiet manner, but not until the English conquest of New Amsterdam, in 1664, were the Lutherans allowed freedom of worship.
In 1638 some Swedish Lutherans settled upon the Delaware, and erected the first Lutheran church in America near Lewes. But the Swedish immigration soon ceased, and was not renewed until the next century. In 1710 a colony of Lutherans exiled from the Palatinate in Germany brought their church again to New York and Pennsylvania. In the eighteenth century the Protestant Germans and Swedes came to America organized at Philadelphia in 1748. Since that time the Lutheran churches have grown by immigration and natural increase, until now they number approximately nine and a third millions of members
Coming from different lands and speaking different language they are organized in at least twelve major independent bodies, some now using English, others still retaining their home-tongues, at least seven in number. In doctrine, they all accept the Augsburg Confession, Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith,and a belief that the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not mere memorials but channels of divine grace. They are organized into synods, uniting to form a general synod, but reserving much authority to the local churches.
The Presbyterian churches in America sprang from two sources. The earliest was the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, reformed in 1560 by John Knox, and recognized as the established church in that country. From Scotland it spread over into the northwest of Ireland where the population was and still remains Protestant. The other origin was the Puritan movement in England, during the reign of James I; rising to rule in the Parliament in the early period of the Commonwealth. After the accession of Charles II the Church of England regained its sway, and more than two thousand Puritan pastors, mostly Presbyterian in their views, were ejected from their parishes. All these three elements, Scotch, Irish and English aided in forming and building up the Presbyterian immigrants in large part united with the Congregational churches, but in the other colonies they organized churches of their own order. One of the earliest Presbyterian churches in America was formed at Snow Hill, Maryland, in 1684 by the Rev. Francis Makemie from Ireland. Makemie and six other ministers met in Philadelphia in 1706, and united their churches into a presbytery. In 1716, the churches and ministers, having increased in number and extended in their four presbyteries, including seventeen churches. At the opening of the Revolutionary War, in 1775, the synod included seventeen presbyteries and one hundred and seventy ministers. The Presbyterians were strong supporters of the rights of the colonies as against George III, and one of their leading ministers, John Witherspoon, was the only clerical singer of the Declaration of Independence. After the war, the church had grown to such numbers that a General Assembly was formed in
Philadelphia, embracing four synods.
As the Presbyterian principles, as well as the Scotch-Irish nature, tended to strong and independent thinking upon doctrinal questions, divisions arose in the synods and presbyteries. One of these resulted in the organization of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1810, in Tennesse, from which state it spread to other neighboring states, and even as far as Texas and Missouri. The efforts to reunite this branch with the parent body were, in 1906, successful in large part. In 1837, a division was made over questions of doctrine between two elements,known respectively as the Old and New School Presbyterians, and each had presbyteries, synods, and General Assembly, claiming to represent the Presbyterian Church. After more than forty years of separation, when the difference of views had been forgotten, the two schools were united in 1869. At the opening of the war, in 1861, the Presbyterian churches in the South formed their own church, the Presbyterian Church in the U.A., whereas the church in the North was known as the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
There are several major branches of Presbyterianism in the United States, with over four and a half million members. All hold substantially to the Calvinistic doctrines as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The local church is governed by a board called the session, composed of the pastor and elders. The churches are united in a presbytery, and the presbyteries in a synod, which generally, but not invariably, follows state lines. Over all is a General Assembly, meeting every year; but important changes in government or doctrine require a ratification by a constitutional majority of the presbyteries and approval by the General Assembly in order to become law.
The Methodist churches in New World date from the year 1766, when two Wesleyan local preachers, both natives of Ireland, came to America and began holding Methodist meetings. It is uncertain whether Philip Embury held the first service at his own house in New York, or Robert Strawbridge in Frederick Country, Maryland. Both of these men formed societies, and in 1768 Philip Embury built a chapel on John Street, where a Methodists in America grew, and in 1769 John Wesley sent over two missionaries, Richard Boardman and Thoma Pilmoor, to supervise and extend the work. Other preachers, seven in all, were Francis Asbury, who came in 1771. The first Methodist Conference in the colonies was held in 1773, Thomas Rankin presiding. But with the opening of the Revolutionary War, all except Asbury left the country, and much of the time, until peace came in 1783, he was in retirement. When the United States were recognized by Great Britain the Methodists in America numbered about fifteen thousand. As they were nominally connect with the Church of England, Wesley endeavored to induce the Bishop of London to consecrate a bishop for America; and, finding his efforts of no avail, he set apart the Rev. Thomas Coke, D.D., a clergyman of the English Church, as “Superintendent” of his societies in America, using the ritual for the consecration of a bishop, but changing the title. He directed Dr. Coke to consecrate Francis Asbury to the same office as his associate in charge of the Wesleyan societies in America. A conference of the Methodist preacher in America was held in the week of Christmas, 1784, in Baltimore, and the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized. Asbury declined to receive the office of superintendent until to the appointment of John Wesley was added the vote of his fellow-preachers. Dr. Coke soon returned to England; by common consent the title “Bishop” soon took the place of the cumbrous word “Superintendent,” and until 1800 Asbury was the sole incumbent of the office. To his tireless labors, wise plans, and strong leadership, the Methodist churches of
America owe more than to any other one man.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was the parent body in this country, but various differences in race, language, political rivalries, especially, in 1844, the agitation over the slavery question, many divisions took place. In April, 1939, the Uniting Conference forming The Methodist Church was held by representatives of The Methodist Episcopal Church; South and the Methodist Protestant Church, with a total membership in the United States of about eleven million.
These Methidist churches hold to the same theology, being strongly Arminian or free-will as opposed to the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, and laying emphasis on the personal consciousness of salvation by every believer. They are also alike in their polity or organization; the local churches his title was in 1908 changed to district superintendent; the district united in annual conferences, and over all bishops who are appointed for life, though subject to retirement(in the Methodist Church) by the General Conference, the supreme law-making body, meeting every four years. Each pastors is appointed annually by the bishop in charge of his conference. In some branches of the church he can be reappointed as many times as may be desirable; in others his pastorate is limited to four years
The Church of the Brethren in Christ, now called the Evangelical Unite Brethren Church, was the first church in America not transplsnted from the Old World. It arose in Pennsylvania and Maryland, uder the earnest revival preaching of two men, Philip William Otterbein, born in Dillenburg, Germany, originally a minister of the German Reformed Church, and Martin Boehm, Mennonite. Both preached in the German language, and formed German-speaking churches under the supervision of “unsectarian” ministers. In 1767 these two leaders met for the first time at a “great meeting’ in a barn, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, at which time the small Mr. Boehm preached with marked spiritual power. At the close of the sermon, the large Mr.Boehm preached with marked spiritual power. At the close of the sermon, the large Mr. Otterbein embraced the preacher and exclaimed, “We are brethren.” From that greeting came the corporate name of the church, the words “in Christ” being added at the formal institution of the church in Frederick County. Maryland, in 1800. At that time, Ottebein and Boehm were elected bishops, and a government was adopted fashioned after the American democracy. While bishops are chosen, the church always has had but one order of preachers, and no episcopacy. All power is vested in the laity; all officers, including bishops, being elected for a term of four years by and equal number of ministers and laymen, conference superintendents always having been elected, not appointed. While its polity and government differ from those of the Methodist Church, except that it has quarterly,annual, and general conferences, it preaches the same Arminian theology
Services at first were exclusively in German, but now almost wholly in English. Church headquarters and printing establishment are at Dayton, Ohio. Its chief benevolent institution, the Otterbein Home, the largest in the United States, is located near Lebanon, Ohio. The members are conservative as to attire, oaths or affirmations and resistance to force
After several years of discussion, a division, a division occurred in 1889, a majority favoring a vision of the constitution of the church so as to remove the membership ban against those belonging to secret orders. The “Radicals” formed a new church, the “Liberals” being awarded all church property except in Michigan and Oregon.
In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, November 16,1946, there was a union between the Evangelical Church and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. The combined membership totals slightly over seven hundred thousand.
The church bearing two names, both official, of “Disciples of Christ,” and also “The Christian Church,” unlike the other bodies already named in this chapter, was distinctly American in its origin. It began its history in 1804, after a great religious awakening in Tennessee and Kentucky, where the Rev. Braton W. Stone, a Presbyterian minister, withdrew from that denomination and organized a church a t Cane Ridge, Bourbon County, Kentucky, of which the Bible, without any doctrinal statements was to be the only standard of faith, and the only name Christian. A few years afterward the Rev. Alexander Campbell, a Presbyterian ministers from Ireland, adopted the principle of baptism by immersion, and formed a Baptist church, but soon with drew, and called his followers “Disciples of Christ.” Both Stone and Campbell established many churches, and in 1832 their groups were united, forming one church in which both names, “Disciples” and “Christian,” were recognized. The effort of both these men had been to unite all the followers of Christ in one body, with no creed statement other than faith in Christ, and with no more definite name than “Disciples” or “Christians.”
They accept both the Old and New Testament, but only the latter as the standard for Christians, with no specific statement of doctrine. They practice baptism by immersion of believers only, not including infants, with the view that in the act of baptism “comes a divine assurance of remission of sins and acceptance with God.” They are Congregational in their system, each church being independent of outside control, but uniting with the denomination for mission work at home and abroad. Their officers are elders chosen by the recognize no distinction between ministers and laymen. Throughout their history the Disciples of Christ have been zealous and aggressive in evangelism. They have a
membership of about two million.
Another similar body, also called “Christians,” or “Christian Church,” merged with the Congregationalists in 1931. The Unitarian churches in England and America are the modern representatives of the ancient Arians of the fourth and fifth centuries. They emphasize the human nature of Jesus Christ, and have thereby served the cause of Christian truth. But they deny to Jesus Christ Godhead or Deity, and they regard the Holy Spirit not as a Person but as an influence. They assert the being and unity of God, but not the Trinity or “Three Persons in one God.” They are generally opposed to the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, believing with the Methodists in the freedom of the human will. They regard the Bible not as an authority in faith and conduct but as a valuable collection of literature. In America they appeared at first not as a sect but as a school of thought in the New England churches. In 1785, King’s Chapel in Boston, then Protestant Episcopal, adopted a creed and a liturgy omitting all recognition of the Trinity, and chose a minister of Unitarian opinions, the first church in New England of that faith. In 1805 a Unitarian, Henry Ware, was made professor of divinity in Harvard University; and in the same university, which since that time has been under Unitarian control. The name “Unitarian” as applied to the movement first appeared in 1815; and soon after this many of the oldest Congregational churches in New England became Unitarian; including the one founded by the Pilgrim Fathers in Plymouth. In the controversy that arose, more than one hundred and twenty of the Congregational churches went over to the Unitarian body views, without changing their names. The Unitarian body has embraced many leaders of thought in the United States, particularly in New Lowell, Longfellow, Holmes and Bryant, among them were Unitarians. Yet the Unitarian churches have not won members in proportion to the Trinitarian or orthodox branch of Congregationalism. Their membership has shown a slight increase in the past decade or more and now numbers about 167,000. In polity they are congregational, each local church being self-governing. They have no standard creed or confession of faith, and as a result their ministers have the widest liberty and variety of opinion, some of them hardly to be distinguished from the “orthodox,” others on the extreme of free-thought. But while uncertain in their doctrines, Unitarians have always been active in reform and all and all efforts of social service.
The Church or Christ, Scientist, is composed of those who accept as authority the teachings of Mrs. Mary Baker Glover Eddy. She began to announce her principles in 1867, established an association of Christian Scientists in 1876, and organized her followers as a church in Boston, in 1879, with herself as pastor. Its members were few in number, but have increased to thousands, worshiping in a magnificent building, and known as “The Mother Church,” cities of the denomination. Mrs. Eddy died in 1910, and left no successor, but her teaching are embodied in a volume called Science and Health. The various churches of Christian Science have no pastors, but instead in each church a “First Reader” taking charge of the services, and changed from time to time. Their doctrines are disseminated by lecturers, appointed by the parent church. Practically it is a system of healing disease of mind and body which teaches that all cause and effect is mental, and that sin, sickness, and death will be destroyed by a full understanding of the divine Principle of Jesus’ teaching and healing. The membership figures are not available. The manual of the church forbids “the numbering of people and the reporting o such statistics for publication.”
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