Volume III - Church History

Twentieth Century

Major denominational mergers among Protestants

While small splinter groups of mostly conservative Protestants continued to be formed throughout the twentieth century, there also were a number of significant mergers of smaller denominations into larger, united Churches. For example, the United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 with the merger of the Evangelical Brethren Church with the much larger Methodist Church. In 1939 the northern and southern wings of the Methodist Church had rejoined after about 80 years of separation resulting from the Civil War. The Protestant Methodist Church also participated in this reconciliation in 1939. The Evangelical Brethren Church also resulted from a previous merger, when the Church of the United Brethren and the Evangelical Church joined together in 1946.

In 1957, the United Church of Christ (UCC) was formed through the merger of the Congregational Christian Churches with the Evangelical and Reformed Church. At least four previous mergers had occurred to create these two Churches that merged to form the UCC.

In 1983 the United Presbyterian Church in the USA (UPCUSA) began the merger process with the Presbyterian Church in the US (PCUS) to form the Presbyterian Church (USA), known as the PCUSA.

In 1987, the largest Lutheran body in the U.S., called the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), was formed through an amalgamation of the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.

The United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant body in Canada, was formed in 1925 as a blend of Presbyterian, Congregational, Methodist, and Evangelical United Brethren Churches. The United Church of Canada took its final shape in 1968, when the Canada Conference of the Evangelical United Brethren joined it.

Mention must also be made of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), first begun in 1962. This has been a very serious, ongoing effort to forge at least some degree of unity among nine mainline Protestant Churches: the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA), the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AME Zion), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and the International Council of Christian Churches.

In the 1980s, rather than continuing to press for full integration of the ecclesiastical structures of these denominations, the COCU movement shifted to the more realistic goals of intercommunion, mutual recognition of ordination, and increased joint fellowship and service. In 1989 a definitive plan, called “Churches in Covenant Communion: The Church of Christ Uniting,” was offered along this line for consideration by the nine member Churches. In January of 2002, this plan resulted in the establishment of full intercommunion among the nine member Churches, in a relationship that was officially named Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC).