THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES IN THE UNITED STATES
I.ROMAN CATHOLIC. II. PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL. III. CONGREGATIONAL. IV. REFORMED. V. BAPTIST. VI. SOCIETY OF FRIENDS.
There are in the United States at the present time no less than 265 religious bodies with over 325,000 churches. The inclusive membership of various religious bodies is approximately 125,000,000. Only those that appear to be the largest and most important can be noticed, and these very briefly. We take them up in the order of their establishment in America.
As the earliest expeditions to the New World for discovery, conquest, and colonization were from Spain, Portugal and France, all Roman Catholic nations, the first church planted upon the Western Continent, both in South and North America, was the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that church in America begins in the year 1494, when Columbus, on his second voyage, took with him twelve priests for the conversion of the native races. Wherever the Spaniards went, for settlement or for conquest, they were accompanied by their clergy, who established their religious system. The earliest churches in the United States were at St. Augustine in Florida, in 1565, and in Santa Fe, New Mexico, about 1609. The Spanish method was to enslave the natives, enforce their conversion, and compel them to build churches and monasteries after the plan of those in Spain. Some of their old mission buildings, massive structures, now dismantled and deserted, may still be seen in Texas and California. As the result of the Spanish occupation the territory from Florida to California was, in the eighteenth century, entirely controlled by the Roman Catholic Church. But this vast area was only thinly populated, for the Spaniards, great in conquest, were slow in colonization.
Soon after the Spanish control of the South, came the French occupation of the North, on the St. Lawrence River, in “New France,” or Canada. Quebec was settled in 1608, Montreal not until 1644; and for a time the French immigrants were few. In 1663 the French population of Canada numbered only two thousand five hundred. But soon after, the colonists began coming rapidly, and their birth-rate in America was far above that in France so that all the Atlantic Ocean, was soon possessed by devoted French Catholics, mainly illiterate, and more submissive to their priests than their fellow Catholics in France. In Canada a great effort was made to win the Indians to the Catholic faith, and history has no more heroic, self-sacrificing annals methods were in marked contrast with those in Spanish America. They won the friendship of the red men by kindness and unselfish endeavor.
At the middle period of the eighteenth century, all the territory of the great northwest beyond the Alleghenies was under French influence; the Southwest was ruled by Spain; and over both possessions the Roman Catholic Church was supreme, while only a narrow ribbon along the Atlantic coast was Protestant under English colonies. Every forecast for the future would have pointed to the Catholics as destined to rule the entire continent. But the British conquest of Canada in 1759, and later the cession of Louisiana and Texas to the United States, changed the balance of power in North America from Catholicism to Protestantism. The English colonies on the Atlantic seaboard were Protestant, except the settlers in Maryland, in 1634, who were English Catholics, whose worship was forbidden in their own country. Even in the New World they could obtain a charter only by allowing freedom to all religious; and soon, the majority of settlers being Protestants, the Catholic worship was prohibited, though afterward again permitted. Not until 1790 was a Roman Catholic bishop for Maryland consecrated, the first in the United States. At that time the Catholic population in this country was estimated at over fifty thousand.
A great current of immigration to America from Europe began about 1845; at first overwhelmingly Catholic, coming mainly from strongly Catholic countries in Ireland. To these were added later other millions from South Germany, and still later many from Italy. From the natural growth by birth, from immigration, and a careful priestly supervision, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States made great progress until now the Catholic population is over forty-six millions, or about one third the number o communicants in the combined Protestant churches.
As a part of the world-wide Roman church, the American Catholics are under the rule of the pope at Rome. The nation is divided into one hundred ten dioceses, each having its bishop appointed by the pope, to whom nominations are made by the clergy, which may be accepted or rejected. The dioceses are united in twenty-four archdioceses, each under and archbishop; and over all are six cardinal bishops, also appointed from Rome.
The Church of England was the first Protestant religion established in America. A service was held under Sir Francis Drake in California, as early as 1579, and clergymen accompanied the unfortunate expedition of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1587. The permanent entrance of the of the English Church dates from 1607, with the first English colony at Jamestown, Virginia. The Church of England was the only form of worship recognized in the early period in Virginia and other southern colonies. When New York, settled by the Dutch, became English territory, in 1664, the Church of England was favored and soon became the official church of the colony, although other Protestant forms of worship were not forbidden. Trinity parish in New York was constituted in 1697, and Christ Church in Philadelphia in 1695.
Every clergyman of this church was required at his ordination to take an oath of allegiance to the British crown, and as a natural result nearly of them were loyalists (called Tories) in the Revolutionary War. Many of the Episcopal clergymen left the country, and at the close of the Revolution it was difficult to supply the vacant parishes, because the requirement of loyalty to Great Britain could no longer be met; and for the same reason no bishops could be consecrated. In 1784 the Rev. Samuel Seabury, of Connecticut, received consecration from Scottish bishops, who did not require the oath of loyalty, and in 1787, Drs. William White and Samuel Provoost were consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, thus giving to the American Church the English succession. The church in the United States took the official name of the Protestant Episcopal Church. The growth of the Episcopal Church since has been rapid and regular. It has now a membership of almost three and one-half millions
It recognizes three orders in the ministry, bishops, priests, and deacons, and accepts most of the thirty-nine articles of the church of England, modified to fit the American form of government. Its legislative authority is vested in a
general conventions in the several dioceses.
After Virginia with the Church of England, the next region colonized was New England, beginning with the Pilgrims, who landed from the ship Mayflower, at Plymouth, on Massachusetts Bay, in December, 1620. These were Separatist Congregationalists, the more radical element in the English Puritan movement, on account of their view exiled from England to Holland; and now sought a home in the unoccupied New World. Before landing at Plymouth they organized themselves as pure democracy, with a governor and council elected by popular vote, although under the English flag. According to their convictions, each local church was absolutely independent of outside authority, forming its own platform, calling and ordaining its own minister, and managing its own affairs. Any council or association of churches had only a moral influence, not an ecclesiastical authority, over its several societies. They were in effect an established church, and as such all the families in the settlement were taxed for the support of the church, but only members of the church could vote in town and colonial elections. Gradually the restrictions were removed, but not until 1818 in Connecticut, and 1833 in Massachusetts were church and state absolutely separated and church support made entirely voluntary.
The persecutions of the Puritans by the rulers of the English Church led multitudes to find refuge and freedom in New England; and the colonies in that region grew more rapidly than elsewhere through the seventeenth century. Two colleges were established, Harvard at Cambridge and Yale at New Haven, both destined to grow into great universities. In general education New England was far in advance of the other colonies in America. As Presbyterians and Congregationalists sprung alike from the Church of England, and both grew Calvinistic in their creeds, accepting the Westminster Confession, the relations of these two bodies were friendly. There was long a tacit understanding, made a formal compact in 1801, the plan of Union, to provide ministers of either denomination to serve churches of either group. This, however, was abrogated by a Congregational system has made rapid progress throughout all the United States, though less in the South than elsewhere. In 1931 the Congregationalists and the Christian Church(General Convention) united at Seattle, Washington, to form the Congregational-Christian Church, with a membership of about 2,000,000.
New York was first occupied by the Dutch from Holland as a trading post in 1614. The colony was first called New Netherlands and the city New Amsterdam. The first church was organized in 1628, under the name of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church; and during the Dutch supremacy it was the official church of the colony. Churches of this order were established in northern New Jersey, and on both sides of the Hudson River as far as Albany. For more than a hundred years services were held in the Dutch language. In 1664 the colony was taken by Great Britain, renamed New York, and the Church of England became the state religion. But the citizens of Dutch ancestry steadfastly clung to their own church; and its large possessions of property advanced in value with the growth of the city. In 1867 the word “Dutch” was omitted from its official title, many strong churches in the Middle and Far West. The membership is about 233,000.
Another Reformed Church of German origin was brought to this country early in the eighteenth century, and bears the name of “The Reformed Church in the United States.” Pupolarly one church is known as the Dutch Reformed, the other as the German Reformed. A third church of the same order is the Christian Reformed, which grew out of a secession from the state church in Holland, in 1834; and a fourth is “The True Reformed Church.” Efforts have been made to unite these four Reformed churches into one organized body, but thus far without result.
All of these Reformed churches hold to the Calvinistic system of doctrine, teach the Heidelberg Catechism, and are organized upon the same plan, similar to the Presbyterian, but with different names of its ecclesiastical bodies. The ruling board in the local church is the consistory. The neighboring consistories form a class is; the class is of a district are united in a particular synod; and these in a general synod.
One of the largest and most widely diffused of the Christian churches in America is the Baptist group, numbering in its ten major divisions considerably more than twenty million members. Their distinctive principles are two: (1) That should be given only to those who profess their faith in Christ, and consequently that infants should not be baptized; (2) That the only Scriptural form of baptism is by immersion of the body in water, not by sprinkling or pouring.
They are congregational in their system, each local church being absolutely independent of all outside jurisdiction, fixing its own standards of membership and making its own rules. They have no general Confession of Faith, and no catechism for the instruction of the young in their tenets. And yet there is no church in the land more united in its spirit, more active and aggressive in its labors, and more loyal to its principles than are the Baptist churches.
The Baptist arose soon after the opening of the Reformation in Switzerland, and spread rapidly in North Germany and Holland. They were first called Anabaptists, because they baptized again those who had already been baptized in infancy. In England they were at first in union with the Independents or Congregationalists, and gradually became a separate body. In fact, the church at Bedford, over which John Bunyan was pastor about 1660, still in existence, is even now reported as both a Baptist and
In America, they began with Roger Williams, a clergyman of the Church of England, who came to New England, and was driven out of Massachusetts because he refused to conform to Congregational rules and opinions. He obtained a charter for the colony of Rhode Island in 1644. There all forms of religious worship were free, were made welcome. From Rhode Island the Baptists spread rapidly and widely over all parts of the continent.
Of the ten major bodies, the largest are the Southern Baptist Convention, formed in 1845, and now having over eleven million members; the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., Inc., with over five million members; the National Baptist Convention, organized in 1895 with a present membership of over two and a half million; and the Free Will Baptists, organized in New Hampshire, in 1787, with a membership of over 170,000.
It will be remembered that the Baptists in England formed the earliest modern missionary society in 1792, and sent out William Carey to India. The adoption of Baptist views by Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice, while on the way to Burma, led to the organization of the Baptist General Missionary Convention in 1814; and since that time the Baptists have been in the forefront of missionary endeavor, and of success.
Of all the movements arising from the great Reformation the one which swung the farthest away from prelacy and church rule,was the Friends, commonly called “the Quakers.” This Society-for it never took the name “church-arose from the teaching of George Fox in England, beginning about 1647. He opposed the outward forms of the church, ritual, and ecclesiastical organization. He taught that baptism and the communion should be spiritual and not formal; that the body of believers should have neither priest nor salaried minister, but that any worshiper should speak as moved by the Spirit of God, who is the “inner light” and guide of all true believers; and that in the gifts of the Spirit and the government of the Society, men and women should have the same privileges. His follower at first called themselves “Children of the Light,” but later “The Society of Friends.” It is not certain how the name “Quakers” came to be applied to them, but it became general,and is not displeasing to the members of the Society.
The teachings of George Fox were accepted by multitudes who were out of sympathy with the dogmatic, intolerant spirit at that time manifested by the Church of England. The extent of his influence is shown in the record of nearly fifteen thousand Quakers imprisoned, two hundred transported and sold as slaves, and many dying as martyrs to their faith, either by mob-violence or in prisons. Some sought refuge in New England, but as they brought their testimony, they found the Puritans no less persecuting than the Anglicans. At least four Quakers- one a woman-were executed in Boston.
The Friends found a safe harbor in Rhode Island, where all forms of faith and worship were free. They formed settlements in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. In 1681 the territory of Pennsylvania was given to William Penn, a leader among the Friends, by King Charles II, and Philadelphia, “the Quaker City,” was founded in 1682. For seventy years the governors of that colony were descendants of William Penn. In the middle of the eighteenth century Benjamin Franklin said that the colony was “one-third Quakers, one-third
Germans, and one-third miscellaneous.”
Active persecution ceased both in England and America after the Revolution of 1688 and the Quakers bore their testimony and formed societies in many of the colonies. While their organization was simple their discipline was strict. Slavery was in existence in every colony but was forbidden among the Friends, and they bore strong testimony against it, even in the southern plantations. They were deeply interested in efforts for the Christianization and civilization of the wretched jails of that time, and in other philantropic activities. Many forms of social service now prominent, were initiated and maintained by the Quakers long before they were regarded by others as legitimate church work
The enforcement of discipline-particularly in the dis-fellowshiping of members who married outside of the society; the strong testimony against slavery and other evils; and the refusal to bear arms in war, which has been one of their principles, caused a decline in the numbers of the Quakers during the eighteenth century. But a greater blow was the dissension over the doctrines preached by Elias Hicks, who claimed to be Unitarian, not recognizing Christ as God; and in 1827 a separation was made between the Orthodox and Hicksite Friends, although the name “Hicksite” was never sanctioned by that branch. Of these bodies the “Orthodox Friends” as they are called are largely in the majority of membership. Their doctrines are in accord with the churches known as evangelical, with special emphasis upon the immediate personal teaching of the Holy Spirit to the individual, often spoken of as the “Inner Light.”
Their present organization is completely democratic. Every person born to Quaker parents is a member, together with those who have been admitted on their own request. All are entitled to take part in the business of the assembly in any meeting in which they are members.
The Five Year Meeting of Friends was formed in 1902, approximately seventy thousand. The Society is organized as a series of subordinated meeting which recall to mind the Presbyterian model. For merely the system was double, the men and women meeting separately for their own appointed business. Recently the meetings have been for the most part held jointly, with equal liberty for all to state their opinions and serve on all committees and other appointments.
In conjunction with good-will centers abroad, the American Society of Friends promptes interest and understanding among oppressed minorities in Europe.
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