Next on our list of exploring the different Christian denominations is the United Church of Christ, or UCC. This communion was formed as the result of a merging of the Congregationalists, and the Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1957. The Congregationalists were a group of Christians from England originating in the 1600s who rejected any centralized organization that exercised control over individual congregations. Hence the name: “Congregationalists.” This same group would travel to the Netherlands to flee persecution, but not finding things better there, they would board a ship called the Mayflower set for the New World. In the early American Colonies, these Congregationalists would make up the religious majority. They would also be merged with the Puritans, another group that broke away from the Church of England. Valuing a good education, these Congregationalists would eventually go on to found some of our countries most distinguished universities, such as Harvard and Yale. Interestingly as well, the UCC has been the Christian community with which President Obama has had the closest ties throughout his life.
The Evangelical and Reformed Church, which would join the Congregationalists to form the UCC, were German in origin. They rejected Martin Luther and adopted the teachings of John Calvin. Together as the UCC, this communion is known for its liberal approach to theology and takes as its motto, “That they may all be one,” from John 17:21. The central difference between the UCC and the Catholic Church concerns authority – the Catholic Church having a central organization and authority. There is also disagreement on a great deal of other doctrinal and moral issues, including how we interpret the Scriptures, and how we conceive of the Trinity. Still, together we believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and we are able to work together in service to the needy and in other forms of social outreach. We also both believe in the importance of baptism, as well as the baptism of infants.
Another denomination is the Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends. Today, the Quakers only number around 200,000 in the United States. Yet, they are known for their work in social justice, as well as being pacifists and refusing to serve in the military. It’s believed that the Quakers were founded by George Fox in 1649. Fox rejected the corruption he saw within Protestantism. Like Lutherans, the Quakers rejected the Pope and the seven sacraments. Like Calvinists, they also rejected the bishops and a centrally organized church. And, going beyond that, they also rejected all sacraments, rituals, and ministers in the church. They also differ from other Protestants in that they do not acknowledge the Bible as their only rule of faith (Sola Scriptura). For Quakers, the emphasis is on the individual and one’s personal experience of the Holy Spirit, which they call the “Inner Light.” Quakers maintained a strict way of life, dressing simply, and avoiding entertainment.
William Penn, from whom Pennsylvania takes its name, led the first Quakers to America in 1681. Quaker Oats takes its name from this group… note the man depicted on the label. To be expected, there are many differences between us as Catholics, and Quakers: their rejection of baptism, as well as their understanding of the sacraments and authority in the Church. We do both, however, still acknowledge Christ as our savior. We also together disagree with the Protestant teaching of Sola Scriptura (that the Scriptures are our sole rule of faith). Finally, like other denominations, we can work together in various areas of social justice. May we continue to share our faith with those separated from us and pray for greater unity.