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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Reformed Church in the United States (The)

REFORMED CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES (The), commonly known as the German Reformed Church, was founded by immigrants from Germany and Switzerland who came to the New World during the 18th century, in several instances driven hither by persecution. Some went to Virginia, in which the first congregation was organized as early as 1714. Most of the immigrants settled in Pennsylvania. There the scattered bands were organized slowly into congregations through the efforts of John Philip Boehme, a schoolmaster, and of the Revs. George Michael Weiss and Michael Schlatter, aided by men and money sent by the Reformed Church of the Netherlands (q.v.). The assistance given them by the Dutch Church naturally led to their subjection to the Classis of Amsterdam, which from 1725 till 1792 exercised jurisdiction over the Coetus, as the ecclesiastical gathering in America was called which met from year to year, composed of the pastors of the congregations and one elder from each consistory or local session. In 1793 the German churches assumed independence by constituting themselves as a Synod, which at the time enrolled 22 pastors, 178 congregations and about 15,000 communicant members. The churches multiplied considerably during the next half century, by means of increased immigration, the effects of a revival, which lasted from 1829 till 1844, and by the use of modern methods in church work, such as the Sunday school and missionary efforts, although in some districts the growth was impeded by the vexing problem of the inevitable transition from the use of the German language to that of the English in church services, something which in some instances caused deplorable divisions. The lack of ordained ministers also interfered with the progress of the denomination, a couple of attempts to found theological seminaries ending in dismal failure. In 1844 the Church began to be disturbed by the so-called liturgical controversy, which did not end until 1878, when a peace committee was appointed to settle the difficulty. In 1863 the Eastern Synod and the Synod of Ohio united to form the General Synod, meeting every three years. At present there are nine synods, viz.: those of the Southwest, Interior, Central, German of the East, Potomac, Pittsburgh, Northwest, Ohio and Eastern. The membership of these various synods totals (1918) over 330,000 communicants, forming 1,785 churches, served by 1,300 ordained ministers. The theological seminary of Lancaster, Pa., is the oldest ministerial training school of the Church, dating from 1825. In Dayton, Ohio, the Central Theological Seminary is located. A third theological school is near Sheboygan, Wis., called the Mission House. Several colleges and academies are under auspices of the denomination, Franklin and Marshall College being the oldest. An extensive home mission work is carried on by two boards, under various nationalities, notably among the Hungarians and Germans. Foreign mission work is carried on in China and Japan, in each country with about 30 ordained pastors. The publication work of the denomination is very extensive, including several periodicals, of which the Reformed Church Messenger (Philadelphia) is the oldest. The doctrinal standard of the Church, the Heidelberg Catechism, is regularly taught to the youth of the Church. The rite of confirmation of the new communicant members is celebrated with solemnity. The Sabbath school is flourishing. The official book of praise, the “Hymnal,” was superseded in 1919 by a hymnbook published jointly by the Reformed Church, United States, and the Reformed (Dutch) Church in America. Prior to 1870 the 150 psalms were used in the song service. Since that date hymns only are employed. The government of the Church is presbyterial, according to the “Constitution,” which contains some 200 articles and is based on the Church Order of Dordrecht. Doctrinally the position of the denomination is broad and tolerant. Attempts to effect union with the Reformed Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (North) have hitherto borne no fruit.