1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Reformed Church in the United States
REFORMED CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES, a German Calvinistic church in America, commonly called the German Reformed Church. It traces its origin to the great German immigration of the 17th century, especially to Pennsylvania, where, although the German Lutherans afterwards outnumbered them, the Reformed element was estimated in 1730 to be more than half the whole number of Germans in the colony. In 1709 more than 2000 Palatines emigrated to New York with their pastor, Johann Friedrich Hager (d. c. 1723), who laboured in the Mohawk Valley. A church in Germantown, Virginia, was founded about 1714. Johann Philip Boehm (d. 1749), a school teacher from Worms, although not ordained, preached after 1725 to congregations at Falckner’s Swamp, Skippack, and White Marsh, Pennsylvania, and in 1729 he was ordained by Dutch Reformed ministers in New York. Georg Michael Weiss (c. 1700–c. 1762), a graduate of Heidelberg, ordained and sent to America by the Upper Consistory of the Palatinate in 1727, organized a church in Philadelphia; preached at Skippack; worked in Dutchess and Schoharie counties, New York, in 1731–46; and then returned to his old field in Pennsylvania. Johann Heinrich Goetschius was pastor (c. 1731–38) of ten churches in Pennsylvania, and was ordained by the Presbyterian Synod of Philadelphia in 1737. A part of his work was undertaken by Johann Conrad Wirtz, who was ordained by the New Brunswick (New Jersey) Presbytery in 1750, and in 1761–63 was pastor at York, Pennsylvania. A church was built in 1736 at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Johann Bartholomaeus Rieger (1707–1769), who came from Germany with Weiss on his return in 1731, had preached for several yea.rs. Michael Schlatter (1716–1790), a Swiss of St Gall, sent to America in 1746 by the Synods (Dutch Reformed) of Holland, immediately convened Boehm, Weiss and Rieger in Philadelphia, and with them planned a Coetus, which first met in September 1747; in 1751 he presented the cause of the Coetus in Germany and Holland, where he gathered funds; in 1752 came back to America with six ministers, one of whom, William Stoy (1726–1801), was an active opponent of the Coetus and of clericalism after 1772. Thereafter Schlatter’s work was in the charity schools of Pennsylvania, which the people thought were tinged with Episcopalianism. Many churches and pastors were independent of the Coetus, notably John Joachim Zubly (1724–1781), of St Gall, who migrated to S. Carolina in 1726, and was a delegate to the Continental Congress from Georgia, but opposed independence and was banished from Savannah in 1777. Within the Coetus there were two parties. Of the Pietists of the second class one of the leaders was Philip William Otterbein (1726–1813), born in Dillenburg, Nassau, whose system of class-meetings was the basis of a secession from which grew the United Brethren in Christ, commonly called the “New Reformed Church,” organized in 1800. During the War of Independence the Pennsylvania members of the Church were mostly attached to the American cause, and Nicholas Herkimer and Baron von Steuben were both Reformed; but in New York and in the South there were many German Loyalists.
Franklin College was founded by Lutherans and Reformed, with much outside help, notably that of Benjamin Franklin, at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1787.
The Coetus had actually assumed the power of ordination in 1772 and formally assumed it in 1791; in 1792 a synodical constitution was prepared; and in 1793 the first independent synod met in Lancaster and adopted the constitution, thus becoming independent of Holland. Its churches numbered 178, and there were about 15,000 communicants. The strongest churches were those of Philadelphia, Lancaster and Germantown in Pennsylvania, and Frederick in Maryland. The German Reformed churches in Lunenburg county, Nova Scotia, became Presbyterian in 1837; a German church in Waldoboro, Maine, after a century, became Congregational in 1850. The New York churches became Dutch Reformed. The New Jersey churches rapidly fell away, becoming Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, or Lutheran. In Virginia many churches became Episcopalian and others United Brethren. By 1825, 13 Reformed ministers were settled W. of the Alleghanies. The Synod in 1819 divided itself into eight Classes. In 1824 the Classis of Northampton, Pennsylvania (13 ministers and 80 congregations), became the Synod of Ohio, the parent Synod having refused to allow the Classis to ordain. In 1825 there were 87 ministers, and in the old Synod about 23,300 communicants.
A schism over the establishment of a theological seminary resulted in the organization of a new synod of the “Free German Reformed Congregations of Pennsylvania,” which returned to the parent synod in 1837.
John Winebrenner (q.v.), pastor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, left the Church in 1828, and in 1830 organized the “Church of God”; his main doctrinal difference with the Reformed Church was on infant baptism.
In 1825 the Church opened a theological seminary at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, affiliated with Dickinson College. James Ross Reily (1788–1844) travelled in Holland and Germany, collecting money and books for the seminary. It was removed in 1829 to York, where an academy was connected with it; in 1835 the academy (which in 1836 became Marshall College) and in 1837 the seminary removed to Mercersburg, where, in 1840, John W. Nevin (q.v.) became its president, and with Philip Schaff (q.v..) founded the Mercersburg theology, which lost to the Church many who objected to Nevin’s (and Schaff’s) Romanizing tendencies. The seminary was removed in 1871 from Mercersburg to Lancaster, whither the college had gone in 1853 to form, with Franklin College, Franklin and Marshall College.
In 1842 the Western Synod (i.e. the Synod of Ohio) adopted the constitution of the Eastern, and divided into classes. It founded in 1850 a theological school and Heidelberg University at Tiffin, Ohio. The Synods organized a General Synod in 1863. New German Synods were: that of the North-West (1867), organized at Fort Wayne, Ind.; that of the East (1875), organized at Philadelphia; and the Central Synod (1881), organized at Galion, Ohio. New English Synods were: that of Pittsburg (1870); that of the Potomac (1873); and that of the Interior (1887), organized at Kansas City, Missouri. In 1894 there were eight district synods.
After a long controversy over a liturgy (connected in part with the Mercersburg controversy) a Directory of Worship was adopted in 1887.
The principal organizations of the Church are: the Board of Publication (184); the Society for the Relief of Ministers and their Widows (founded in 1755 by the Pennsylvania Coetus; incorporated in 1810; transferred to the Synod in 1833); a Board of Domestic Missions (1826); a Board of Foreign Missions (1838; reorganized in 1873), which planted a mission in Japan (1879), now a part of the Union Church of Japan, and one in China (1900). The Church has publishing houses in Philadelphia (replacing that of Chambersburg, Pa., founded in 1840 and destroyed in July 1864 by the Confederate army) and in Cleveland, Ohio.
Colleges connected with the Church, besides the seminary at Lancaster, Franklin and Marshall College and Heidelberg University, are: Catawba College (1851) at Newton, North Carolina; and Ursinus College (1869), founded by the Low Church wing, at Collegeville, Pennsylvania, which had, until 1908, a theological seminary, then removed to Dayton, Ohio, where it united with Heidelberg Theological Seminary (until 1908 at Tiffin) to form the Central Theological Seminary.
In 1906, according to Bulletin 103 (1909) of the Bureau of the United States Census, the Church had 1736 organizations in the United States, 1740 churches and 292,654 communicants, of whom 177,270 were in Pennsylvania, and about one-sixth (50,732) were in Ohio. Other states in which the Church had communicants were: Maryland (13,442), Wisconsin (8386), Indiana (8289), New York (5700), North Carolina (4718), Iowa (3692), Illinois (2652), Virginia (2288), Kentucky (2101), Michigan (1666), Nebraska (1616), and (less than 1500 in each of the following arranged in rank) S. Dakota, Missouri, New Jersey, Connecticut, Kansas, W. Virginia, N. Dakota, Minnesota, District of Columbia, Oregon, Massachusetts, Tennessee, California, Colorado, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
See James I. Good, History of the Reformed Church in the United States, 1725–1792 (Reading, Pa., 1899), and Historical Handbook (Philadelphia, 1902); and the sketch by Joseph Henry Dubbs in vol. viii. (New York, 1895) of the American Church History Series.