Presbyterian Church in the United States

Presbyterian Church in the United States
Presbyterian Church in the United States
Classification Protestant
Orientation Calvinist
Polity Presbyterian polity
Associations merged with the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America ("the Northern Presbyterians") in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Origin 1861
Separated from Presbyterian Church in the United States of America
Separations Presbyterian Church in America

The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) was a Protestant Christian denomination in the Southern and border states of the United States that existed from 1861 to 1983. That year it merged with the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Contents

History

This group split from the main national body of Old School Presbyterianism, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA), after that body's General Assembly passed the Gardiner Spring Resolutions passed in May 1861. These resolutions denounced secession as an act of treason. Prior to the split, the Old School Presbyterian Church was the only mainline Protestant denomination to maintain a national unity across sectional lines as late as mid-1861. During the American Civil War, the denomination was known as the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America.

Also divisive was the Civil Rights Movement, the response to which in effect split the PCUS into three factions: a liberal group desiring full endorsement of the movement's platform, a moderate faction desiring church-wide consensus before taking positive action, and a conservative/traditionalist group vigorously opposing what it believed was the meddling of the church in the civil and cultural traditions of its native region. Conservatives argued that church activity on behalf of racial desegregation and voting rights constituted a violation of the doctrine of "the spirituality of the church," a late-19th century principle developed by PCUS theologians that declared that social reform and political participation were duties or pursuits to be taken up by individuals, not church courts. In particular, the conservative group defended that teaching aggressively, a doctrine that liberal critics deemed a justification for maintaining racial segregation and preserving the social standing of historic upper-class elites within Southern society, a fair percentage of which were PCUS members.

Having been eventually defeated numerous times in the General Assembly by a coalition of the liberals and moderates from the 1960s onward, some PCUS conservatives, primarily from non-metropolitan parts of the Deep South, founded what today is the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in late 1973, formally citing its rationale as "[a] long-developing theological liberalism which denied the deity of Jesus Christ and the inerrancy and authority of Scripture" on the part of PCUS leaders. Some evangelicals, however, remained in the PCUS in order to contend for their beliefs; this group was more willing to perceive common cause with UPCUSA conservatives. Nonetheless, by the 2000s, some churches from both heritages began to depart the post-merger denomination over similar concerns and moral disputes, namely in favor of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

After the PCA congregations left, the PCUS was able to work more closely with the UPCUSA towards a merger which finally happened in 1983 as the two formed the present Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Today, this is the largest Presbyterian denominational body in the country with around 2 million congregants.

Beliefs and practices

The PCUS was one of the more conservative bodies of Presbyterianism throughout most of its history, with a strong emphasis on subscription to the Westminster Confession and interest in Calvinist scholasticism, particularly as expressed in Common Sense Realism and later the Princeton Theology. However, in the immediate years after World War II, many ministers and churches, especially in larger cities, began to adopt a more modernist understanding of doctrine and church life.

One important product of this liberalization was ecumenism, expressed in merger talks with the "northern" Presbyterian Church, known as the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America after 1958 (despite the common reference as "northern," the UPCUSA had congregations in all 50 states by the 20th century, with most of its southern churches the result of a 1906 merger with most of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church or the affiliation of African-American churches in the South Atlantic states after the Civil War). In 1946, with cooperation of three other denominations, it formed the United Andean Indian Mission, an agency that sent missionaries to Ecuador. Among some of the other liberalizing trends were the ordination of women to the offices of elder and deacon, the ratification of a pro-choice position on abortion by the General Assembly, and the rejection by that assembly of the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible, considered by conservatives as a touchstone dogma.

Notable members

See also


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