German Reformed Church in America
German Reformed Church in America The German Reformed Church is the historical continuation in America of the Reformed branch of the Protest-ant Reformation of Germany. The great movement of the 16th century in the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church was at first known as simply the Reformation, or Reformed Church, the term Reformed being used in a general sense as designating the whole religious movement in its opposition to the errors and corruptions of Rome. Two distinct tendenclan, embracing theology and practical life, were, however, at work from the beginning. The one received its type and character primarily from the genius, faith, and spirit of Martin Luther, and prevailed chiefly among the northern states of the German nation. The other is not thus related to the peculiar spirit of one man. Its character was wrought out rather by a succession of ministers and theologians in Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, and the German provinces bordering on the Rhine, among whom are prominent Zwingle, Bullinger, Calvin, Melancthon, Olevianus, Ursinus, and others of the same type of faith. Lutheran theology reached its full development in the Form of Concord, 1580; Reformed theology in the Palatinate Catechism, 1563, so called from the German province in which the Catechism originated; called also the Heidelberg Catechism, from the University of Heidelberg, is which Ursinus and Olevianus, the authors of the work, were professors of theology.
Palatinate was the name formerly borne by two provinces of Germany, distinguished as Upper and Lower, and situated along the river Rhine. The first (Oberpfalz) bordered on Bobemsia and Bavaria; the other (Unterpfalz) was situated on both sides of the Rheine, touching on different sides Masyence, Wurteinberg, Baden, Alsace, and Lorraine. The Palatinate did not yield to the power of the Reformation movement until 1546, when it embraced the Lutheran faith. It was molded, however; rather by the gentle spirit of Melanecthon than by the stern spirit of Luther. Under Frederick III, surnamed the Pious, who acceded to power in 1559, these German provinces passed over from the Lutheran to the Reformed faith. The theological controversies which preceded and accompanied this transition gave rise to the formation of a catechism, the design of which was to reconcile opposing Lutheran and Reformed elements onm a new basis. The principle and the scope of this new confession is Reformed, no Lutheran; but, resting on the Apostles' Creed as its animating and form-giving principle, it rises above extreme antagonisms, and aims at resolving into one consistent whole the divergent tendencies of faith characterizing the two original branches of Protestantism. The adoption of this catechism by a synod of the Palatinate, convened for the purpose January 19, 1563, was followed by the preparation of an order of worship answerable to it, and by a complete religious and educational organization of the two provinces; the great design of Frederick III being to establish and perpetuate the Reformed faith in this German electorate. Thus arose the Reformed Church of Germany, or the German Reformed Church, in distinction from the Reformed Church of Switzerland, of France Holland, Scotland, and other states and countries.
Religious persecution at home, civil oppression and confusion, and the gratuitous offer of land in Pennsylvania by William Penn, led to the emigration of a large number of Palatines to America in the beginning of the last centursy. From year to year their numbers increased. To these were added hundreds and thousands coming from other states of Europe, bold ing thea Reformed faith. They settled in New York along the Hudson, in New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and even extended into the Carolinas; but the greater number located in Pennsylvainia, east of the Susquehanna. The first minister was the Reverend George Michael Weiss, who, assisted on his way by the Classis of Amsterdam, emigrated from the Palatinate in company with about 400 Palatines in the year 1727. They settled along the Skippach, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Here a congregation was organized, and a wooden church immediately built. This, so far as known, was the first German Reformed Church in America.
Until the year 1747 the religious condition of these people was very sad. They had no ministers; no Church organization; no school-teachers; no books, excepting a few Bibles, Catechisms, Liturgies, and Hymn-books, Which they brought with them from the fatherland; and no pecuniary resources, for the majority were extremely poor. Besides, they were separated by national customs and by language from the large English population of the country. So helpless and destitute, yet anxious to enjoy the means of grace, they were exposed to the danger of being misled into all sorts of errors by irresponsible teachers. But they were distinguished for morality, industry, and thrift. In the course of time they began to accumulate property, and acquire a .reputation for honesty and integrity. With this came respect, influence, and general prosperity.
Yet this chaotic state of the Reformed Church grew worse rather than better. Emigration continued. This, added to the natural increase of population, extended the religious destitution, and multiplied their moral and spiritual, dangers; for from the first settlement of Palatines in America, throughout this entire period, there were at no time more than three or four ordained ministers of the Reformed Confession among them.
The arrival in 1746 of the Rev. Michael Schlatter, a Reformed minister from St. Gall, Semitzerland, who was commissioned and supported by the synods of North and South Holland, introduces the formative period in the history of the Church. A man of great energy, strong faith, burning zeal, and indomitable perseverance, he visited all the German settlements in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and some in New York; gathered the people; preached the Gospel; administered the sacraments; organized churches; located pastors; established schools; and on September 29, 1747, in the city of Philadelphia, succeeded in effecting the organization of the first synod, or the Coetues, as it was called, of the German Reformed Church. Subsequently he visited Europe for the purpose of representing the extreme destitution of the Germans in America. He traveled through Holland, Switzerland, Germany, and England, and everywhere awakened profound interest. He succeeded in creating a large fund, the yearly interest of which was devoted to the support of ministers and school-teachers in America, and to the purchase of Bibles for gratuitous distribution among the people. He also induced a number of young ministers to go forth as missionaries to their brethren in the New World, of whom, five came with him on his return to America.
The first Coetus consisted of thirty-one members — five ministers and twenty-six elders — and represented forty-six churches and a population then estimated at thirty thousand. Organized by direction of the Synod of Holland, the Coetus stood under the jurisdiction of that body. Its proceedings were sent annually for review and confirmation to the Classis of Amsterdam, that Classis having been charged by the Synod of Holland with the duty of superintending the affairs of the Geseman Church in America. No one was ordained to the office of the ministry without its consent.
This subordinate relation to the Church of Holland continued until 1793, a period of forty-six years. Emigration increased. From time to time, ministers and school-teachers from the Palatinate and other Reformed provinces of Europe arrived. But the increase of ministers was not in proportion to the increase of the population. Though the Church grew, yet the spirits-al destitutions multiplied, so that at the end of this period there were at least one hundred and fifty churches, but no more than about twenty-two ordained ministers.
In 1793 the Coetus resolved no longer to transmit its acts and proceedings for revision to the Classis of Amsterdam, and assumed the right to govern itself, and to have the care of the churches in America, isndependenttly of foreign oversight and control. A constitution was adopted, entitled "Synodal-Ordnung des hochdeutschen Reformirten Synods und der mit ihr verbundenen Gemeinden in den Vereinigten Staaten von Nord-America." By this act the Coetus became the Synod, and the Reformirte Kirche, or Reformed Church, became the Hoch-deutsche Reformirte Kirche, or High- German Reformed Church, in order to distinguish it from the Nieder- Deutsche, or Low-German, or Low-Dutch Church.
This event introduces a period of thirty-two years, extending to the establishment of a theological seminary in 1825, a period which it is not easy to characterize. In one respect there was progress. The people increased in numbers and wealth. There were also large accessions to the population by immigration. Congregations multiplied. Many Germans migrated westward, and churches were organized in Ohio. There was also proportionally a larger accession to the ranks of the ministry, the number rising from twenty-two to eighty-two. But in another respect there was retrogression. So long as the church stood directly under the supervision of Holland, the great majority of ministers were men who had been thoroughly educated in the gymnasiums and universities of Europe. But now, while some men of thorough education still came from Europe, the larger number came from the membership of the American Church. As the synod had no theological seminary, no college, and no academy, candidates for the office could acquire only a superficial or partial knowledge of Latin and Greek, of science and theology. Young men had to prosecute their studies under the tuition of pastors who had charge of from two to eight churches. As a natural consequence, the standard of ministerial qualifications had to be lowered; and with the loss of broad culture, departed also, in great measure, the sense of its value. Some of the leading ministers saw the evils to which, the Church was exposed from this tendency, and endeavored to resist it manfully, but without avail.
With the depression of the ministry came ecclesiastical disorders, the fruit of tendancies at work from the beginning. Some laymen presumed to administer the sacraments; some ministers, also, were disorderly. They were disposed to ordain men to the holy office on their own judgment and authority as individuals. The Church, moreover, felt the enervating influence of German rationalism or neology, and of the deism of England. The most active and influential men though struggling earnestly against these downward forces, could offer but a feeble resistance; for, taking the faith of the Reformation as the standard of judgment, they themselves occupied a false theological attitude. The rationalistic habit of thought of the 18th century, taking bold of them, gave an undertone to their preaching and ecclesiastical life, which, though they cherished firm faith in the truth of supernatural revelation, nevertheless nourished comparative indifference to the original faith of the Reformed Church as embodied in the Palatinate Catechism, and even exerted an influence in direct opposition to it.
Though separated by the ocean, the Church in America was always in close sympathy with the Church of Germany. The profound reaction against Rationalism, which began to reveal its presence there during the second decade of the present century, was almost simultaneous with a revival of a better faith in the bosom of the American Church. The first decided indications appear in the records of 1815, and from that time onward with gradually increasing clearness. In that year we meet the first recognition of the Heidelberg Catectism. In all the records preceding this time, we find no reference to any confession of faith.
In 1820, the synod enjoins on all ministers to use no other book but the Heidelberg Catechism in the instruction of youth preparatory to confirmation. The want of literary and theological institutions seems to be more deeply and generally felt. Earnest and persevering efforts are made to establish a theological seminary. In 1819 the constitution is revised and amended. The territory is subdivided into classes; a classis corresponding to a presbytery in the Presbyterian Church. And the synod, instead of being a general convention of all the ministers and one elder from each parish, as it had been since 1747, becomes a delegated body composed of ministers and elders chosen by the classes.
The revival of faith and activity resulted finally, after a struggle against much opposition extending through seven years, in the creation of a theological seminary by the Synod of Bedford, Pennnsylvania in 1824. The Reverend Lewis Mayer, D.D., was chosen professor of theology. The seminary opened at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the following spring. Removed to York in 1829, the institution was finally, 1835, located at Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, where it still remains. With the seminary was removed also to Mercersburg the high-school opened at York in 1830. This school, under a charter granted by the Legislature of the state, became Marshall College in 1836.
The opening of the theological seminary constitutes the most important epoch in the history of the Church in America. Followed soon after by the creation of a classical institution of a high order, it was the means of quickening the historical faith and dormant energies of the Church. Though several decades of years were necessary in order to unfold the moulding power of these institutions in the sphere of philosophy, theology, and practical life, yet a new impulse was at once given to thought and life. The standard of qualification for the ministry was elevated. A much larger number of pious young men responded to the call of God to preach the Gospel. The ministry increased rapidly. Religious periodicals were established: first, one in English, 1828; and several years later, one in German, 1836. A board of domestic missions and a board of beneficiary education were created. The benevolence of the people was evoked. Greater zeal manifested itself for the extension of the Church. About this time, also, some men were admitted to the ministry who could preach acceptably in English, and were thus prepared to meet the wants of the younger membership in the cities and larger towns; wants arising from the growing prevalence of that language among the German people; for, until 1825, with perhaps but two or three exceptions, all the pastors conducted public worship exclusively in the mother tongue; in consequence of which, scores of families, who preferred the English-language, had, during the previous fifteen or twenty years, in particular localities, passed over to other denominations. The transition, though generally gradual, caused no little dissension and confusion in nearly every congregation where the change was felt to be necessary, owing to the firmness with which the older people clung to German worship. At present this difficulty has been stirmounted throughout nearly all portions of the Church west of the Susquehanna and south of the Potomac, where the English language is now generally used either exclusively or in conjunction with the German; but east of the Susquehanna, where the Pennsylvania dialect of the German language has been perpetuated among not less than fifty thousand of her people, and where the great majority of ministers conduct public worship in the mother tongue, the problem still awaits solution.
Though the theological seminary and the gradual introduction of the English language both met a great want and proved to be a great good, yet the Church was thereby exposed to new and serious dangers. This spiritual awakening united positive and negative elements. It was the assertion and development of the old faith, and, at the same time, a reaction against what was defective and wrong in her American history. This reaction, modified by contact with the Presbyterian, Methodist, and other denominations, for a while confounded what was true and good in the past with what was false and evil, and was disposed, with the abuse of catechisation, confirmation, the observance of the great festivals of the Church year and other customs, to set aside these customs themselves, and thus ignore the historical character of the German Reformed Church. The false tendency prevailed most generally among the congregations that had introduced the use of the English language. The German sections of the Church enjoyed a large measure of protection. As the prevalence of the German language deprived them of the advantage of fellowship with the English denominations, so it shielded them also measurably against the transforming influence of a foreign spirit.
But even where this spirit, foreign to the genius of the Church, had acquired the most commanding influence, the traditional habit of thought and life was not extinct. The conditions of a strong counter reaction were always present. It was only necessary that some one assert clearly and forcibly the latent faith of the Church. This was done with great power by the Reverend John W. Nevin, D.D., several years after he had become, in 1840, professor of didactic theology in the seminary at Mercersburg.
For nearly twenty years the tendency to surrender her distinctive faith and customs had been gaining strength in the German Reformed Church, slowly indeed, but steadily, and the process of assimilation to a foreign form of Christian life was silently going forward. A powerful counteracting element, however, was developed as early as 1836 in the profound Anglo- German philosophy taught by the Reverend Frederick Augustus Rauch, D.P., the first president of Marshall College, who laid the foundation of the system of organic and objective thinking which has ever since characterized the leading educational institutions of the Church. There was accordingly at hand both a general and special preparation for the great Church movement of the last twenty-five years, of which Dr. Nevin has been the principal organ: general, in the slumbering spirit of the Heidelberg Catechism, which, living in the hearts of ministers and people, perpetuated a sense of dissatisfaction with a foreign religious habit, and constituted a general qualification to support, as by intuition, the protest against error, and the affirmation of fundamental truth pronounced by a great leader; and special, in the genetic method of thought which, in full Sympathy with the spirit of the Catechism, had, through the teaching of Dr. Rauch, given character to the college, and molded the philosophical thinking of the first ministers of the Church, who received a full literary and theological training in her own institutions.
This profound and comprehensive movement constitutes the leading characteristic of the Church in the last period of her American history. The bold criticisms of Protestantism, and the unequivocal reassertion of the catholic truth contained in the Protestant confessions of the 16th century by Dr. Nevin, and the publication of the Principle of Protestantisn by the Reverend Philip Schaff, D.D., in German and English, called forth earnest and sometimes very violent rejoinders from religious papers and quarterly reviews, and provoked a series of controversies concerning the new measure system, the Lord's Supper, tradition and the rule of faith, the nature of the Church, the present attitude of Protestantism and its relation to Roman Catholicism, the person of Christ, the nature of Christianity, and, in the course of time, holy baptism and liturgical worship, with many other cognate fundamental doctrines; controversies which have been prosecuted vigorously, with short intervals of repose, down to the present time, and have not only involved some of the principalf denomination's in this country, but of late have also extended to Germany.
The main positions, both negative and positive, affirmed by Dr. Nevin and his coadjutors, have from time to time been sustained by the Eastern Synod and by the General Synod, sometimes by direct and formal action, but generally in an indirect way, since the main questions have only occasionally been at issue before the judicatories in a formal manner. Indeed, instead of being merely the innovation of a party, the great movement has been only a life movement of the German Reformed Church herself, the men prominent in the controversies being rather the exponents and organs than leaders. Yet a portion of the Church has all along been opposing the prevailing theological views. The opposition has generally been conducted with moderation and sobriety, but sometimes it has been violent and disorderly, and has even indicated an inclination towards schism. Another effect of the controversies and of the theological attitude of the Church has been to provoke a large measure of opposition from some of the principal Protestant denominations. A disposition even shows itself to maintain that the German Reformed Church is no longer true to her origin and history as a branch of the Protestant Church.
Soon after the controversies began the Mercersburg Review was established, in order to serve as a medium for the development, defense, and progress of what came to be known among opponents as Mercersburg Philosophy and Theology. It was issued regularly from 1849 until 1861 inclusive. Suspended during the progress of the Civil War, it was resumed in January, 1867.
In 1820 the ministers and churches in Ohio organized themselves by the authority of synod into a classis, called the Classis of Ohio; but it stood in organic relation to synod only during the short period of four years. In 1824 it became an independent body, and assumed the title of the Synod of Ohio, having 11 ministers, 80 congregations, and 2500 members. In 1837 the Synod of Ohio became the Synod of Ohio and Adjacent States. In 1842 this synod subdivided its territory into six classes. Thus there came to exist two mutually independent synods, having the same organization, holding the sauce faith, governed by the same constitution, having the same usages and customs, and each one possessing supreme and final authority within its own bounds. The two bodies exchanged delegates annually, the delegate being admitted as a full member of the body to which he was commissioned. A sense of dissatisfaction with this incomplete and anomalous organization began to prevail, and a strong desire became general, both East and West, to effect a more perfect organization by creating a higher body that should have jurisdiction over the whole Church. The constitution was accordingly so changed by a vote of two thirds of all the classes of each synod as to make, room for the organization of a triennial General Synod. This body, composed of delegates, ministers and elders, chosen by all the classes, represents the whole Church. It is the highest judicatory, and "the last resort in all cases respecting the government of the Church not finally adjudicated by the synod." The General Synod held its first session in Pittsburg in November, 1863.
During the same year the Church celebrated the three hundredth anniversary of the formation and adoption of the Heidelberg Catechism.
This celebration was originally suggested by the Reverend Dr. Harbaugh, and the preparatory arrangements made by a committee of which he was chairman. Ministers, elders, and members from all parts of thee Church met in General Convention in the German Reformed church, Race Street, Philadelphia, January 17, 1863, and continued in session six days. Twenty essays and discourses on the origin, history doctrines, confessionals relations, and the fortunes of the Heidelberg Catechis, prepared by distinguished theologians of Europe and America, were read and discussed. The jubilee was formally closed by a similar convention held at Reading May 21, 1864.
Though held during the darkest times of the war of the Rebellion, yet the celebration was in all respects a success. Profound and general interest was awakened in the origin, history, faith, and relations of the German Reformed Church among ministers and the laity. The Church came to a better apprehension of her historical character as an original branch of the Protestant Reformation, and acquired a clearer consciousness of her present relative position and vocation, and of her future mission. A new impulse was at the same time given to all her practical operations.
As the fruit of this celebration, two volumes possessing permanent historical value were published: the Triglott Catechism and the Tercentenary Monument. The first is a critical edition of the Catechism in the original German, in Latin, modern German, and in English, printed in parallel columns, and accompanied with an historical introduction. The English is a new translation. The Monument consists of the discourses and essays delivered at the Convention held in Philadelphia, and was published in English and German.
This tercentenary jubilee constitutes a most important epoch is the history of the Church, and may be regarded as the relative conclusion of the ethical forces at work for the previous twenty or thirty years.
The second General Synod, held at Dayton, 1866, authorized the organization of two additional synods: the one, consisting of the classes of St. Joseph, Indiana, Sheboygan, Heidelberg, and Erie, to be called the Northwestern Synod; and the other, consisting of the classes of Clarion, St. Paul's, West New York and Westmoreland. The first was organized at Fort Wayne, Indiana, May 28, 1867. The organization of the other body is still pending, but will probably be accomplished during the coming year (1870).
For the last ten years measures have been in progress to restore the original title Reformed Church by dropping the American prefix German. The change has finally been secured by a vote of two thirds of the classes, and only awaits; the formal decision of the General Synod.
The Heidelberg Catechism is the symbol of faith, and the only standards of doctrines. The book may be said to embody two theological tendencies; the one Malancthonian, the other Calvinistic. We may designate them more correctly, perhaps, by saving that the one tendency, proceeding from faith in the divine human Savior, a concrete fact, as the fundamental principle, is christological, sacramental, churchly and conservative; while the other, presupposing the sovereign will of God as the determining principle of Christianity, is in sympathy with intellectualistic, sacramental, and unchurchly views, and renders the book susceptible of a construction which is apparently in full harmony with all the logical deductions which flow from the supralapsarian theory. Hence it is that the Catechism could be cordially endorsed by the Synod of Dort, 1618, which wrought out and affirmed with such logical consistency the celebrated Five Points of Calvinism; and that the Reformed (Protestant Dutch) Church, while it receives the Heidelberg Catechism as a correct and excellent exponent of revealed truth, nevertheless holds it only as construed according to the famous decrees of Dort and the Belgic Confession.
The German Reformed Church has never affirmed this supralapsarian element as a ruling principle. We mean the German, in distinction from the Swiss Reformed, French, Dutch, Scotch, and other branches of the Reformed Church. In the German branch the Melancthonian element has been predominant rather than the Calvinistic, though many of her theologians and ministers, and even Ursinus, one of the authors, interpret the Catechism in accordance with the Calvinistic theory of decrees.
The leading characteristic of the Catechism is the peculiar position which the Apostles' Creed occupies. The Creed is principal. It is not an element coordinate with the Decalogue and the Lord's Prayer, but the Decalogue and Lord's Prayer hold a place respectively which is demanded by the idea of the Creed. The Creed underlies and pervades the Catechism like a plastic power, and determines, prevailingly, the nature and substance of what must be received as the true faith.
It determines the ruling theory of Christianity as being a new creation rather than a system of revealed doctrines; as being an objective and concrete order of life rather than subjective experience and abstract theory. It determines the relation in which the believer is held to the new creation as being immediate, direct, and personal. Like the earth before the natural eye, so do supernatural objects stand before the eye of the spirit as a reality — a reality which is the possession of the believer.
The Creed also determines the order in which the facts of supernatural revelation are developed. As the Creed, on the one hand, presupposes the fall and misery of man, and, on the other, involves and implies holy living as a necessary consequence of the new life, whilst it embraces only those facts which belong to the positive side of revelation, the Catechism, answering to this order, places the creation and fall of man, sin and depravity, in the first part; conversion, good works, and prayer, as the necessary fruit of the new life, in the third part, under the, general head of Thankfulness, taking the Decalogue as the law of good works; and the Lord's Prayer as the model of devotion; whilst the second part gives the positive objective substance of redemption, and consists, in setting forth the facts of revelation in the order in which the Creed affirms them; and, in immediate connection therewith, expounds the sacraments and the office of the keys; the sacraments as the means of grace by which, through faith, we have part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and are fed and nourished unto everlasting life; and the office of the keys as embracing the preaching of the Gospel and Christian discipline, by which two things the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers. and shut against unbelievers. Holding this central position, the Creed informs the constitution of the Catechism, projects its peculiar structure, and breathes its animating spirit into the form of instruction. Not, that the Catechism realizes the idea of the Creed perfectly at all points; but it acknowledges the original authority of the Creed, and realizes its fundamental characteristics. The Creed thus also holds the Catechism in organic connection with the undoubted faith of the one holy Catholic Church in all the ages of her history up to the apostolic period.
Though the peculiar organizing force of the Creed may not, at all times since the Reformation, or even at the time of its first publication, have been clearly or consciously apprehended, yet this principal element has always been felt, and has always had a correspondent molding influence whenever and wherever the Catechism has been cordially received, and has, without prejudice and obstruction, been allowed freely to exert its educational power. Whatever is distinctive in the original character, or subsequent history, or the present attitude, as regards doctrine and worship, of the German as compared with other Reformed branches of the Protestant Church, is owing primarily and mainly to this fundamental and distinguishing element of her confession.
It is the peculiar genius of the Heidelberg Catechism which has given impulse to the profound and comprehensive theological movement by which the Church is now apprehended, and has sustained it with, increasing power; a movement that is progressively eliminating two classes of doctrinal views: those which follow logically from the Calvinistic theory of the divine sovereignty, and those which proceed from the Arminian conception of human freedom. Neither the sovereign will of God on the, one hand, nor the free will of man on the other, is the principle of salvation; neither God apart from man, nor man apart from God. According to the general idea of the Catechism, this principle is found in a concrete fact, the person of the Redeemer, who, being true God and the man, unites in himself mysteriously the freedom of the human with the sovereignty of the divine will. Being by true faith a member of Christ through the power of the Holy Ghost, a Christian determines himself freely, and is at the same time determined by God, when he lives according to the will of God, actualized in the person and work of Christ.
The most important result, theologically, of the tercentenary celebration, 1863, was the advancing, and maturing of a consciousness of this principal element of the Catechism, namely, the organic relation which the Creed bears to its structure, and doctrines. For the first time in her American history did the Church formally recognize the Creed, in its proper historical sense, as possessing fundamental authority for the Reformed faith. The tercentenary convention held in Reading, May, 1864, appointed a committee to' submit to the (Eastern) synod for adoption certain topics having reference to the theological and religious bearings of the tercentenary jubilee. The report of this committee was presented to the Synod of Lancaster in October of the same year. It sums up the theological and religious results in the following theses:
1. "Our tercentenary jubilee has served a wholesome purpose for renewing for our ecclesiastical consciousness, a proper,sense of what is comprehended in our confessional title Reformed, as related originally to Lutheranism in one direction, and to the Catholic Church of the olden times in another.
2. " It is an argument of sound and right historical feeling in this case, that the beginnings of our Church-life are referred, not simply to the epoch and crisis of the Reformation, but through that also to the original form of Christianity as it existed in the first ages.
3. "The true genius and spirit of our Church in this respect is shown by the place which is assigned to the Apostles' Creed in the Heidelberg Catechism, where it is plainly assumed that the Creed, in its proper historical sense, is to be considered of fundamental authority for the Reformed faith.
4. "It is a matter of congratulation that our growing sympathy with the Apostles' Creed is attended with a growing power of appreciation among us also for that christological way of looking at the doctrines of Christianity which has come to characterize all the evangelical theology of Germany in our time, and by which only, it would seem, the objective and subjective (in other words, the churchly and experimental) sides of the Gospel can be brought into true harmony with each other." These theses were adopted without dissent. They show with what unanimity the mother synod stands, in doctrinal apprehension, upon an historical and catholic basis, and protests both against all the sectarian and rationalistic tendencies of Protestantism, and against the errors and corruptions of the Roman and Greek churches.
Taking as a general principle the idea enunciated in these theses, that the Church refers her life not only to the epoch of the Reformation, but through this also to the original form of Christianity as it existed in the first ages, and that the Apostles' Creed is to be considered of fundamental authority for the Reformed faith, we proceed to state in few words some of the principal doctrinal views which the Palatinate Catechism, thus interpreted, teaches and involves:
1. Adam, created in the image of God, was endowed with capacity to resist temptation and abide in his original state of life-communion with God; but he transgressed the command of God by a free act of his own will through the instigation of the devil, the head of the kingdom of darkness.
2. The fall of Adam was not that of an individual only, but the fall of the human race.
3. All men are born with the fallen nature of Adam, and are thus under the power of the kingdom of darkness, inclined to all evil, and unapt to any good; and are subject to the wrath of God, who is terribly displeased with their inborn as well as actual sins, and will punish them in just judgment in time and is eternity.
4. The eternal Son of God, incarnate by the Holy Gleost of the Virgin Mary, true God and true man in one person, is the principle and substance of the new creation.
5. In the mystery of the Word made flesh, the humanity which the Son of God assumed into organic and etereal union with himself is the most perfect form of supernatural revelation, and the only medium of divine grace.
6. All the acts of Christ are not those of God or of man separately taken, but the acts of the God-man.
7. His baptism, fasting, and temptation; his miracles and his word; his agony, passion, and death; his descent into Hades; his resurrection from the dead, ascension to heaven, and session at the right hand of God; the coming of the Holy Ghost, and his second advent — all derive their significance and saving virtue from the mysterious constitution of his person.
8. The atonement for the sin of man is the reconciliation of God and fallen humanity in the person asnd work of Jestms Christ. It is not simply the offering of himnself on the cross, but the whole process of resuming human nature into life-communion with God, and includes both perfect satisfaction to the law by suffering the penalty and all the consequences of sin, and complete victory over the devil. The full benefit ofthe atonement inures to the believer, because by faith he is a member of Christ and a partaker of his anointing, and thus stands before God in the life and righteousness of Christ.
9. The Church constituted by the coming of the Holy Ghost is the mystical body of Christ, a new, real, and objective order of existence, and is both supernatural and natural, divine and hueman, heavenly and earthly, the fullnesss of him that filleth all in all; in whose communion alone there is redemption from sin and all its consequences, fellowship with God in Christ, and the hope of complete victory over death and hell: and of eternal glory. The relation which the new, regenerated humanity, his mystical body, bears to Christ the head, the second Adam, is analogous to the organic relation which the old, fallen, accursed humanity bears to the first Adam.
10. The sacraments are visible, holy signs and seals, wherein God, by an objective transaction, confirms to sinners the promise of the Gospel. They are the means whereby men; through the power of the Holy Ghost, are made partakers of the substance of divine grace, that is, of Christ and and his benefits.
11. Holy baptism is a divine transaction, wherein the subject is washed with the blood and spirit of Christ from all the pollution of his sins as certainly as he is washed outwardly with water; that is, he is renewed by the Holy Ghost, and sanctified to be a member of Christ, that so he may more and more die unto sin, and lead a holy and unblamable life.
12. Baptized persons do not attain unto the resurrection of the dead and eternal life in virtue simply of holy baptism, but only on the condition that, improving the grace of baptism, they believe from the heart on Christ, die unto sin daily, and lead a holy life, and thus realize the full virtue of the incarnation and atonement.
13. The sacrament of the holy supper is the abiding memnorial of the sacrifice of ours blessed Savior Jesus Christ for our sins upon the cross; the seal of his perpetual presence in the Church by the Holy Ghost; the mystical exhibition of his one offering of himself made once, but of force always to put away sin; the pledge of his undying love to his people, and the bond of his living union and fellowship cith them to the ends of time. In the use of this sacrament believing communicants do not only commemorate his precious death as the one all-sufficient vicarious sacrifice for their sins, but Christ himself also, with his crucified body and shed blood, feeds and nourishes their souls to everlasting life; that is, by this visible sign and pledge he assures them that they are really partakers of his true body and blood, through the working of the Holy Ghost, as they receive by the mouth of the body these holy tokens in remembrance of him.
14. The bread and wine of the holy stepper are not transmuted into the very body and very blood of Christ, but continue to be natural bread and wine; nor is the body and blood of Christ consubstantial, that is, in, with, and under the natural bread and wine; but the sacramental transaction is a holy mystery; in which the full life-giving and saving virtue of Christ, mediated through his humanity, is really present by the supernatural power of the Holy Ghost, and communicated to those who, by true a faith, eat and drink worthily, discerning the Lord's body.
15. At death the righteous pass into a state of joy and felicity, and abide in rest and peace until they reach their consummation of redemption and bliss in the glorious resurrection of the last day.
16. The second advent of Christ to judge the world in righteousness will complete the objective order of redemption, and also the subjective procaks of life and salvation in his body, the Church; when the last enemy, which is death, shall be destroyed; when the saints shall come forth from thee dead in the full image of their risen Lord, and with him pass into heaven the state of perfect blessedness; and the wicked shall rise to the resurrection of eternal damnation.
We add a brief summary of doctrine on points not directly included in the foregoing formal statements.
The German Reformed Church denies that the will of God or the will of man is the principle of theology; that Christianity is merely a system of doctrine or a rule of moral conduct; that the covenant is only a compact between God and man, or between the Father and the Son; that there is a two-fold eternal decree, electing some unto salvation and others unto damnation; that the election of God unto eternal life in Christ becomes effectual outside of the economy of grace; that the humanity of Christ, or the incarnation, is an expedient in order to make an atonement for sin; that the Church is an association of converted individuals; that the Bible is the foundation of the Church; that the relation of the centents of the Bible to the individual is immediate; that the authority of the Church is subordinate to the private judgment of the individual Christian; that the unconverted and ungodly may observe the holy communion; that justification consists in a forensic act of God imputing the righteousness of Christ as extra, or that it is realized by an act of faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ; that the faithful use of the ordinary means of grace is inadequate to the wants of the Church and the world; that the Church of Rome is a total apostasy; and that Protestantism has its ground immediately in the sacred Scriptures.
On the contrary, the Church affirms that the person of Christ is the true principle of sound theology; that Christianity is a new life; that the humanity of Christ is an essential constituent of Christianity; that the Christian Church is an organic continuation in time and space of the life- powers of the new creation in Christ Jesus; that the covenant is an order or institution of grace, spiritual and real; that the Bible was written by members of the Church under plenary inspiration of the Holy Ghost; that private judgment is subordinate to the general judgment of the Church as expressed particularly in the oecumenical creeds; that the word of God is the only norm of faith and practice, and is superior to all creeds and confessions; that the individual comes to a right apprehension of the contents of the Bible through the teaching of the Church; that the election of grace unto life is effectual in and by the established economy of grace; that justification is by an act of faith in the person and work of Christ, and consists both in the imputation and impartation of Christ and his righteousness; that holy baptism is the sacrament of regeneration, regeneration being the transition from the state of nature to the state of grace, as natural birth is the transition to the natural world; that regeneration, succeeded by conversion and sanctification, completes itself in the resurrection from the dead, inasmuch as regeneration and salvation pertain to the entire man, the body no less than the soul; that believers only hold communion with Christ in the Lord's Supper; that the ordinary, divinely-ordained means of grace are adequate to all the needs of the Church and the world, and, if faithfully used, do not fail to promote a steady and vigorous growth of the Church; that, although the Church of Rome holds many articles of faith, and approves and perpetuates many customs which are not warranted by the Scriptures and are wrong, she is nevertheless a part of the Church of Christ; and that Protestantism is an historical continuation of the Church Catholic, in a new and higher form of faith, organization, and practice.
There is a respectable minority, located chiefly in the West, who dissent from many of the doctrines as given in this statement; a few even resist the whole system of thought as being subversive of the true Reformed faith. Some of them adopt the theory of salvation taught by the Methodist Church, and observe some of her measures and customs. Others hold the Calvinistic theory of decrees, and their teaching conforms to the Presbyterian or Puritan type of religion. But the prevailing faith, as held by the Eastern Synod, is gradually overcoming opposition, and extending; and from year to year the number of ministers and churches is increasing, both West and East, that stand firmly on the historical, churchly, and sacramental basis of the Palatinate Catechism.
As regards worship, the Church is in a state of transition. During the present century extemporaneous prayer has prevailed in the regular services of the Lord's day; but this is a departure from the original custom. Originally the worship was liturgical. The Palatinate Liturgy was issued one year after the Palatinate Catechism. It did not, however, like the Catechism, acquire an oecumenical character. Every state or province in Europe where the Reformed Church was established had its own liturgy. In Switzerland there were as many liturgies as Reformed cantons. In Scotland they were in use also for at least a century after the Reformation.
These liturgies contain offices for the regular service of the Lord's day; for the administration of the sacraments; for the ordination of ministers, elders, and deacons; for the solemnization of marriage, burial of the dead, etc.; and contain the creed, the Lord's prayer, confession and absolution, the Gloria in Excelsis, Te Deum, and the Litany and responses, although no one book unites all these elements. They are all a hand-book for the minister rather than an order of worship for the people.
The first ministers in America brought with them the liturgies of those sections of Germany or Switzerland from which they emigrated. These continued in common use, particularly in the German congregations, though preference was generally given to the Palatinate liturgy, until partially superseded by the book prepared at the direction of the synod by the Reverend Dr. Mayer, and adopted in 1840. This work had no historical basis, and never took root.
General dissatisfaction prevailed with this state of things. The great christological movement deepened the sense of want; and there was an earnest demand for a liturgy answerable in spirit and character to the churchly and sacramental ideas which had been revived in the Church. A liturgical committee was accordingly appointed in 1849. Specific instructions were given in 1852. The book known as the Provisional Liturgy was reported to synod in 1857, and submitted to the churches for trial. This liturgy excited a controversy which continued until 1864, when the Eastern Synod, in compliance with an order of the General Synod of Pittsburg, referred the work for revision to a committee consisting of Reverend Drs. Schaff, Nevin, Wlff, Zacharias, Bombergelr, Harbaugh, Porter, Fisher, Gerhart, and Apple; and Messrs. John Rodenmayer, George Shafer, George C. Welker, and Louis H. Steiner, M.D. This committee reported a book entitled An Order of Worship for the Reformed Church to the Synod of York, 1866. After a long and animated discussion, a resolution was passed by a vote of 53 to 14, authorizing the optional use of the "Order of Worship" within the limits of the Eastern Synod, and referring the book for action to the General Synod, which convened at Dayton, Ohio, November 28, the same year. The General Synod devoted three days to a calm and full discussion of the questions relating to doctrine and cultus, when certain resolutions disapproving the book were lost by a vote of 55 to 66. Thereupon the book was approved "as an order of worship proper to be used in the congregations and families of the Reformed Church" by a vote of 64 to 57. The opposition arose chiefly from ministers and churches in the West. Of the ministers and churches East a very large majority supported the "Order of Worship." This liturgy is not simply a handbook for the minister, or a pulpit liturgy, but it is an order in which the people take part with the minister in the worship of God. Less complicated and shorter in many of its offices than the Book of Common Prayer, it unites all the historic elements of liturgical worship on the basis of the apostolic faith and the custom of the primitive Church, modified, however, by the faith, genius, and history of the Reformed Church, and adapted to the needs of the present age.
Though not yet formally adopted, many churches use the Order of Worship in full, many more use it in part, while it is held in high honor by nearly all those who do not yet feel prepared to use all its offices regularly. The book is daily gaining ground, and the probability is that in the course of one or two decades of years liturgical worship will become the established order of all the churches East, and to a large extent also of the churches in the West.
The government is Presbyterian. Every congregation is governed by a consistory, which is composed of the pastor, elders, and deacons; no congregation is without either elders or deacons. They are chosen by the communicant members for a term of two, three, or four years, generally only two years, and ordained by the laying on of hands, and installed. When the term expires, the administrative power ceases, but not the office. If re-elected, installation is repeated, but not ordination. The consistory is subject to the classis, which consists of the ministers and an elder from each parish within a given district. The classes are subject to the synod, the synod is a delegated body, and consists of a given number of ministers and elders, chosen by four or more adjacent classes. The synods are subject to the General Synod. This body consists of ministers and elders chosen by all the classes of the Church. It is the highest judicatory, and the last resort in all cases respecting government not finally adjudicated by the synods. Every judicatory has legislative authority within its own sphere; every minister and member possesses the right of appeal from a lower to a higher court.
All the children and youth are carefully catechized by the pastor once in two weeks, or once or twice a week, for a period of from three to nine months in the year, the time being determined by the ability of the pastor. Some pastors, particularly those located in cities and larger towns, have each but one church; but the majority have parishes consisting of from two to four churches, and not a few of from five to eight. Catechumens possessing the requisite qualifications are, after examination in presence of the elders, received into the full communion of the Church by the rite of confirmation. The holy communion is commonly administered twice a year, and in many of the churches four times. The communicants receive the sacred emblems by companies, standing around the altar. In many of the churches it is still customary to administer the communion to the sexes separately; first the men come to the altar, and afterwards the women. But this old German custom is going into disuse. In the English churches men and women approach the altar in company; so also in some of the German churches. Services preparatory to the celebration of the holy communion are held on the Saturday or Friday previous.
The baptism of infants is faithfully and universally observed. Children are presented by their parents. Sponsors are allowed, but the parents themselves must also be present. Baptism may be administered at any time and in any suitable place, but an occasion of public worship in the church is held to be most appropriate.
The principal festivals, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and Whit-Sunday, are held in high honor, and observed with much solemnity. The liturgy has revived the idea of the church year. In many congregations, the pulpit teaching and the worship observes the concrete historic movement of revelation from Advent to Trinity Sunday, and from Trinity Sunday to Advent, as set forth in the catholic cycle of Lessons. As the liturgy becomes known and is appreciated, so does the observance of the church year gain favor. Acquiring greater practical power from month to month, it is gradually receiving more general confidence, and being observed in all its parts.
There are connected with the General Synod 4 synods: 1. The Synod of the German Reformed Church in the United States, with 16 classes, 290 ministers, 718 congregations, and 88,603 members; 2. The Synod of Ohio and adjacent States, with 8 classes, 130 ministers, 308 congregations, and 20,069 members; 3. The North-western Synod, with 7 classes, 92 ministers, 166 congregations, and 9811 members; 4. The Pittsburg Synod (in process of formation), which will have about 44 ministers, 126 congregations, and 9240 members. Its statistics are included in synod No. 1 (two thirds) and in synod No. 2 (one third). Total, 31 classes, 512 ,ministers, 1192 congregations, 118,483 members. Received by confirmation and certificate during the year, 11,337. Aggregate membership, including those who are baptized, but not confirmed, 192,000.
Institutions of Learning. — Two theological seminaries. Seminary at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, founded in 1825: 4 professors, 30 students. Seminary at Tiffin, Ohio; founded at Canton, Ohio, 1838; suspended from the fall of 1839 to 1848; reopened at Columbus, Ohio, October 1848; removed and permanently located at Tiffin, Ohio, 1851: 2 professors, 20 students. Mission-house, Franklin, Wisconsin, 3 professors, 6 students; Freeland, Pennsylvania, 4 professors, 10 students.
Two fully-organized colleges,
(1.) Franklin and Marshall, at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Franklin College, founded at Lancaster in 1787; and Marshall College, at Mercersburg, in 1836; Franklins and Marshall consolidated at Lancaster in 1853: 9 professors, 83 students, 442 alumni.
(2.) Heidelberg College, founded at Tiffin, Ohio, in 1850: 11 professors, 83 students.
There are, besides, seven classical institutions: Catawba College, Newton, North Carolina; Mercersburg College, Mercersburg, Pennsylvania; Palatinate College, Myerstown, Pennsylvania; Westmoreland College, Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania; Reimersburg Institute, Reimersburg, Pennsylvania; Calvin Institute, Cleveland, Ohio; and Ursinus College, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Mercersburg College is in process of organizing a full college course. It has 4 professors and 124 students. Two female seminaries; one at Allentown, Pennsylvania, the other at Tyrconnell, Maryland.
Periodicals. — Two reviews, four weekly papers, and one semi-monthly; one monthly magazine, and three Sunday-school papers.
There are two printing-establishments; one at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and one at Cleveland, Ohio.
These statistics represent the condition of the German Reformed Church in America in 1869.
Literature. — Mercersburg Review (Phila. 16 volumes); Heidelberg Catechism, by Reverend J. W. Nevin, D.D. (Phila. 1847); The Life of Rev. Michael Schlatter, by the Reverend H. Harbaugh, D.D. (1857); The Fathers of the Reformed Church (2 volumes), by Reverend Dr. Harbaugh; The Principle of Protestantism, by Reverend Philip Schaff, D.D. (1845); The Mystical Presence, by Dr. Nevin (1846); The Liturgical Question, by Dr. Nevin (1862); The German Reformed Church, a monograph by Reverend E.V. Gerhart, D.D. (1863); Tercentenary Monument (1863, p. 574); Der Heidelberger Catechismus, by Reverend Dr. Schaff (1863); A History and Criticism of the Ritualistic Movement in the German Reformned Church, by the Reverend J.H.A. Bomberger, D.D. (1866); Vindication of the Revised Liturgy, by Dr. Nevin (1867). Comp. the Heldelberg Catechism in German, Latin, and English, with an historical introduction, prepared and published by the direction of the German Reformed Church in the U. S. of America (tercentenary edition, New York, Charles Scribner, 1863, page 277). Also a Liturgy for the use of the Ger. Ref. Church in the U.S. of America (1858, page 340); revised under the title An Order of Worship for the Ref. Ch. (Phila., S.R. Fisher & Co., 1867, page 388). See also Creed and Customs, by Reverend George B. Russell, A.M. (Phila., S.R. Fisher & Co., page 420). (E.V.G.)