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Presented, April 6, 2008 am
“Are you part of the United Church of Christ?”
The United Church of Christ (UCC) has been getting a great deal of press lately because it is the church that Senator Barak Obama is a member of. Because we identify ourselves as the church of Christ many of us have probably heard someone ask, “Are you a part of the United Church of Christ?” The obvious answer to that question is NO! But because of its prevalence in discussions, I would like to take a few moments this morning to examine this denomination. We will notice its origin & philosophy as well as examine some of what it teaches.
Note: Most of the information that I will be presenting today on the background of this denomination is taken from their official website, www.ucc.org . My purpose in presenting this lesson is to identify some reasons why it is not the ONE true church we read of in the Bible. I do NOT present this lesson with malice or joy, but as something I believe we need to be familiar with as we seek to “give a defense for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
I. I. The History of the UCC
a. A fairly young denomination. Began on June25, 1957 with the union of two protestant denominations: “The Evangelical and Reformed Church” and “The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches” (which included some churches of the “Disciples of Christ”). Historically it points to the fact that each of these denominations also formed by merger of two denominations.
b. According to Wikepedia.com (online encyclopedia) the 2007 yearbook listed some 5,518 congregations with approximately 1.2 million members.
II. II. Organization of the UCC
a. It has its own constitution called, “Constitution of the United Church of Christ” which is available at their website. It is interesting to read but also telling which describes its structure and affiliation with other bodies.
b. The basic unit of the UCC is the congregation or local church. Each congregation is free to worship and work in a way it seems fit.
c. However there is also a hierarchy which is appointed by local churches and their “ordained ministers”. It consists of Associations (Local churches, ordained ministers, licensed ministers, etc. who can vote within a geographical area), Conferences (consisting of associations and other local churches) and a General Synod (which is described as, “the representative body of the United Church of Christ”.) These bodies discuss affairs and ordination of ministers in local churches as well as other things.
III. III. Teachings of the UCC
also has its own creed called a
statement of faith in which they outline key beliefs.
In addition to this they openly accept the creeds and statements of faith of others throughout the centuries. On their website you can find the “Apostle’s creed, Nicene creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, Augsburg Confession of faith and others. Concerning these they say they are “valued in our church as authentic testimonies of faith.”
b. There are many things they teach that are true - God in 3 persons, Jesus Christ was crucified and is rise, emphasis on the local church, a desire for unity, the priesthood of all believers, the need for love, etc. In fact they have adopted a mantra stated some 200 years ago which says, “In essentials – unity, in non-essentials – diversity, in all things – charity.” http://www.ucc.org/about-us/what-is-the-united-church-of.html That is a true statement when we understand that compromise is NOT acceptable. BUT some truth is not enough!
c. There are also many thins they teach that involve error.
unity in diversity.
God WANTS UNITY! John 17:30-31, 1 Corinthians 1:10, etc, but unity cannot come at the cost of truth!
In the UCC, not every congregation is in agreement on every subject. In fact one of their biggest emphasis is diversity in beliefs. On a page that describes what they are about they place emphasis on “testimonies of faith rather than tests of faith.”
A test of faith would be something that you would draw lines of fellowship over – such as God’s plan of salvation, proper worship, the authority of scripture, etc. Consider 2 John 9-11.
“The unity of the church is not of its own making. It is a gift of God. But expressions of that unity are as diverse as there are individuals. The common thread that runs through all is love.” (ibid)
The UCC teaches that “As individual members of the Body of Christ, we are free to believe and act in accordance with our perception of God’s will for our lives. But we are called to line in a loving, covenantal relationship with one another – gathering in communities of faith, congregations of believers, local churches.” (ibid.)
One of their symbols is a large comma (red or black) which symbolizes this doctrine of acceptance of everyone. http://www.ucc.org/god-is-still-speaking/ The idea of the comma is to say, “Don’t put a period where God put a comma.” Which was taken from Gracie Allen (of Burns and Allen – entertainers).
In fact the intent is to say that we cannot reject anyone AND that we need to ignore their lifestyle (including what we perceive to be sinful conduct). The problem with these statements is that it does not hold one accountable to the truth of God’s word – Galatians 1:6-9.
Emphasis on the term covenant.
The term “covenant” is important. When we obey the gospel we enter into a covenant (a binding agreement) with our Lord to follow and obey Him.
But in the UCC, “Covenantal Relationships” has reference to more than one’s relationship with Christ and perhaps other members of a local church. It also has reference to churches, associations and conferences recognizing one another even if they disagree. In an article describing the autonomy of local churches it says, “but it also is called to live in a covenantal relationship with other congregations for the sharing of insights and for cooperative action under the authority of Christ.” (ibid.) What this means is that while a congregation stands by its own beliefs it is to still work with congregations with which they do not agree. In essence, unity-in-diversity.
In 1985, the General assembly voted to accept homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. One of the “firsts” they boast of is ordination of the first openly gay persons into ministry in 1972 (Rev. William R. Johnson). Today, More than 700 UCC congregations have engaged in a program called, “Open and Affirming” (ONA) which supports and teaches acceptance of homosexuality. The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) ministry is a ministry of the UCC.
The scriptures condemn homosexuality. 1 Cor. 6:9, Romans 1:26-27
women as pastors.
Another point of pride at their website is the ordination of the first woman pastor. They mention the appointment of Antoinette Brown in 1853 (Congregational Church).
Note: They consider a part of their heritage the history of the churches that merged to form the UCC.
In their General Synod which includes a board of 5 members, 3 of them are women, two of which have the term Reverend attached to their name and the third is Associate General Minister (Edith Guffey).
The scriptures condemn in passages such as 1 Timothy 2:11-5, 1 Corinthians 14:34,35
v. Two sacraments.
1. They teach both baptism and the Lord’s Supper as important. In fact they call them sacraments. “an outward sign, instituted by Christ, that conveys and inward, spiritual grace through Christ.” (Wikipedia.com) This term is NOT found in scriptures and both are acts of OBEDIENCE rather than mere signs of God’s grace to us.
Baptism. While baptism is treated as
important, they do not specify how or when it is to be done. In fact, baptism
can be in any form (sprinkling, pouring or immersion) and can include infants or
adults. Also, at the discretion of a local congregation, they accept baptisms
from any previous place.
On their “What we believe page” they say, “We believe that all of the baptized 'belong body and soul to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.' No matter who – no matter what – no matter where we are on life's journey – notwithstanding race, gender, sexual orientation, class or creed – we all belong to God and to one worldwide community of faith. All persons baptized – past, present and future – are connected to each other and to God through the sacrament of baptism.” (ibid)
The problem with this is obvious. In scripture, baptism is FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS (Acts 2:38) and only offered to those who are capable of understanding and belief (cf. Mark 16:16 – note the order, 1 Peter 3:21 – “the answer of a good conscience”, etc.). In Acts 19:1-5 we read of a group of individuals who were baptized again because the reason for their first baptism was not acceptable.
3. The Lord’s Supper - it is to be offered to all and conducted at the discretion of the local congregation. Scriptures regulate when (Acts 20:7) and how it is to be offered (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
4. NOTE – their constitution and belief statements on these and other subjects are vague and open to liberal interpretation, which is obviously intentional
still speaks. By that they mean that
God’s word is not complete and there are still prophets. In fact, their “What
we believe page” states “We believe that the UCC is called to be a prophetic
church” (ibid). In their constitution it says, “There is yet more light
and truth to break forth from God’s holy word…It declares that the study of the
scriptures is not limited by past interpretations, but it is pursued with the
expectation of new insights and God’s help for living today.”
That statement sounds good on the surface, but the intent is to say that you can interpret scripture ANY WAY you want to. Scriptures teach that the word of God is complete (Jude 3, Galatians 1:6-9, 2 Peter 1:3, etc.) and to be respected as it is written (1 Peter 4:11, 1 Corinthians 14:37).
Acceptance of denominationalism.
The primary goal of the UCC is to achieve unity (at virtually any cost - TT). In addition to their broad constitution which provides many different ways for a church to be recognized by the UCC, including “any denomination which… unites with the United Church of Christ” (Constitution), they also seek ways to be united with other denominations and churches. AS a result the UCC is members of United Council of Churches, World Council of Churches, World Alliance of Reformed Churches – these councils (alliances) are multi-denominational councils. In addition to this they have direct ties (Ecumenical partnership) with Aliance of Baptists, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Methodist Church, AME churches, International Council of Community Churches, etc.
I mention these because they demonstrate how willing the UCC is to compromise doctrinally for unity. The Bible condemns the denominational concept of Christianity (1 Cor. 1:10-13), etc.
IV. IV. Lessons to learn from this study
a. Just because a church calls themselves by a Bible name does not make it so. What makes a church the TRUE church is what it does, INCLUDING its name. Matthew 7:21-23 clarifies this.
danger: The appearance of truth. The
danger of this religion is that some of their core beliefs are based upon truth,
but they have veered from that truth, in some instances to the extreme.
For example: The emphasis on local congregations is good and scriptural, BUT what about anything that goes beyond that? WHERE is the authority? Where do we find associations, Conferences and a General Synod in scripture?
Also their emphasis on unity is important – BUT not at the cost of truth!
1 Thess. 5:22 tells us to abstain from every appearance (form) of evil. If some is evil we are to avoid it. 2 Timothy 3:5 describes the self-willed man who has “a form of godliness but denying its power. And form such people turn away.”
dismisses the importance of scriptural authority
for what we do and that which promotes unity. Colossians 3:17 – do all in the
name of the Lord.
1 Peter 4:11 – speak as the oracles of God (not man or man’s wisdom).
d. Why we call ourselves the church of Christ?
i. It is NOT a denominational title. Let us understand we do not intend to use the term as an official title of churches on earth.
ii. It is a scriptural description of who we are. We are the congregation of Christ’s people here in this location. The term is used in Romans 16:16.
Because we are!
At least, we strive to be the one true church as much as we can.
Matthew 16:81 – Jesus spoke of building His church. It is HIS and thus we must strive to keep it His by doing His will.
Thus we can see some information about the UCC. Much more could be added to these things. It is my hope that we now understand more about this denomination and that we can give a defense when people ask us. We are certainly NOT affiliated with this denomination, NOR ANY of its congregations in any way. Let us always strive to speak ONLY where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent. 2 Peter 2:1-3, 2 Timothy 4:1-4. Think about it.