Presbyterian/Reformed Churches in the USA



Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or PC(USA)

  • Website - "Who We Are"
  • 2.5 million members
  • National offices in Louisville, Kentucky
  • History:
    • Formed in 1983 as a reunion of the northern (UPCUSA) and southern (PCUS) branches of the Presbyterian church that occurred during the Civil War
    • Much of early Presbyterian immigrants came from England, Scotland, and Ireland
    • First General Assembly held in Philadelphia in 1789, convened by Rev. John Witherspoon, who was the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence
    • Major division within Presbyterianism in 1861 during Civil War
    • Princeton was founded by a Presbyterian, Rev. William Tennent
    • The divided churches reunited in 1983 to form the PC(USA)
  • Missions are a central focus: "Witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world, Presbyterians engage in mission activities, seek to alleviate hunger, foster self-development, respond to disasters, support mission works, preach the gospel, heal the sick, and educate new generations for the future. In partnership with more than 150 churches and Christian organizations around the world, the missionary efforts of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) involve approximately 1,000 volunteers and compensated personnel."



  • Social issues:
    • Women may be ordained to the ministry.
    • Abortion: 1992 Position Statement: "There are no biblical texts that speak expressly to the topic of abortion, but that taken in their totality the Holy Scriptures are filled with messages that advocate respect for the woman and child before and after birth. Therefore the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) encourages an atmosphere of open debate and mutual respect for a variety of opinions concerning the issues related to problem pregnancies and abortion." Areas of substantial agreement:
      • "The considered decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy can be a morally acceptable, though certainly not the only or required, decision. Possible justifying circumstances would include medical indications of severe physical or mental deformity, conception as a result of rape or incest, or conditions under which the physical or mental health of either woman or child would be gravely threatened."
      • "We are disturbed by abortions that seem to be elected only as a convenience or ease embarrassment. We affirm that abortion should not be used as a method of birth control."
      • "The Christian community must be concerned about and address the circumstances that bring a woman to consider abortion as the best available option."
    • Homosexuality:
      • General: "Homosexuality is not God's wish for humanity." Yet the church "should be open to more light on what goes into shaping one's sexual preferences and reexamine its life and teaching in relation to people who are seeking affirmation and needing acceptance and who are apparently not free to change their orientations."
      • No same-sex marriage.
      • No ordination of homosexuals.
    • Alcohol: Moderation and responsible use.
    • Death Penalty: Opposed.

The United Church of Christ (UCC)

  • Website
  • Founded in 1957 as the union of several Christian traditions
  • Denomination is founded on the ideal that "Christians did not always have to agree to live together in communion. Our motto—"that they may all be one"—is Jesus' prayer for the unity of the church. The UCC is one of the most diverse Christian churches in the United States."
  • 1.4 million members
  • In 1957, UCC resulted from the union of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches, each of which was a union of two other churches:
    • Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) – began as congregations of German settlers in Pennsylvania, then Reformed immigrants from Switzerland, Hungary, and others
    • Evangelical Synod of North America - founded in 1841 as association of German Evangelical pastors; reflects 1817 union of Reformed and Lutheran churches in Germany
    • Congregational Churches – founded in 1648 with the Cambridge Platform, which unified the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation (1620) and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1629)
    • Christian Churches – late 1700s as a reaction to the theological and organizational rigidity of the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches

Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

  • Website
  • About 312,000 members and 1248 congregations in 2002
  • Practices governed by Book of Church Order
  • Headquartered in Lawrenceville
  • Active in missions
  • History:
    • Left the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern) "in opposition to the long-developing theological liberalism which denied the deity of Jesus Christ and the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Additionally, the PCA held to the traditional position on the role of women in church offices."
    • Formed in Birmingham, Alabama in 1973 from 260 congregations
    • In 1982, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod joined PCA
  • Beliefs:
    • Inerrancy of the Bible
    • Adherence to "TULIP"
  • Organization:
    • Organized into sessions, presbyteries, and a general assembly
    • Distinction between two classes of elders: teaching and ruling
    • Democratic emphasis on rule from the grassroots up, not top down

Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS)

  • Website
  • History:
    • RCUS was one of the largest denominations before 1930s and 1940s, now one of the smallest
    • In 1930s and 1940s, most RCUS congregations merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America. Some refused to do so, and believed that the merging congregations "compromised our Reformed heritage" and "do not honor God and his Word."
    • Those who did not merge, mostly in Dakotas, constitute today's RCUS
    • RCUS began as a German immigrant denomination founded by Rev. John Philip Boehm in 1725
    • In 1933-34, most RCUS congregations merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church. This new church merged with the Congregational Christian Churches in 1957 to form the United Church of Christ.
  • Beliefs:
    • RCUS opposed liberal, humanistic tendencies in the church and ecumenism that compromises true doctrine.
    • Doctrine based on Bible alone, and confessional standards are The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession of Faith, and the Canons of Dort (accepted because they accurately summarize the Bible)
    • Strict predestination
    • Presbyterianism is the form of church government instituted by the Lord
  • "The RCUS is not the only Reformed or Biblical church, nor are Reformed believers the only Christians. Christ warns us against such arrogance in Matthew 24:23, 24. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the teaching summarized in the Reformed creeds is the most faithful expression of Biblical teaching known to man."

Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)

  • Website
  • 70,000 active members in 190 congregations
  • Strong missionary emphasis
  • Founded in 1981 in St. Louis, MO by pastors from UPCUSA and PCUS. "They wanted to form a church that took seriously the words of Scripture, the theology of the historic confessions of the faith, and the evangelical fervor of Presbyterian founders. They envisioned a denomination that was truly evangelical and truly Presbyterian; hence the name."
  • Individual EPC believers and churches are free to decide on "nonessentials" such as worship styles, spiritual gifts and ordination of women.
  • Position Papers:

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