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Independent Baptist vs United Church of Christ – What’s the difference?

The United Church of Christ is a Liberal mainline denomination. When dividing denominations, it is often helpful to see what denominational category they fit into, such as Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, etc. The United Church of Christ fits into the denominational category of Congregationalist.

From 1931 until 1957, most of the Congregationalist churches in the United States were part of a denomination called the “Congregational Christian Churches” Or CCC. In 1957, the CCC merged with another denomination, called the “Evangelical and Reformed Church.” Or ERC. In the merger, the CCC churches made up about 60% of the new denomination, and the ERC churches made up about 40%.

Noticing differences in the direction of the United Church of Christ, at the merger, two groups split off from the Congregational Christian Church to form other denominations. The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, or NACCC was one of them, leaving because they were worried about possible infringement on the congregations in the new denomination. The Congregational Christian Churches had a congregational polity, where each church body would make the decisions of the church, being completely independent. However, in the United Church of Christ, adding on the Evangelical and Reformed church, things weren’t guaranteed to be so. The ERC has Presbyterian polity, meaning that there was a rule of elders within the churches, and they weren’t quite so concerned with independence. In fact, to this day, some churches in the United Church of Christ have strictly congregational polity, and others have Presbyterian polity. The NACCC has about 400 congregations as of 2019.

The other group to split off at the creation of the UCC was the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, or 4 C’s. Their reason for leaving was the theologically liberal trend of the denomination. The 4 C’s hold to biblical inerrancy, and opposed homosexuality and abortion, among other theologically conservative positions, while the UCC has moved consistently liberal, not holding these positions. There are over 300 churches in the 4 C’s as of 2019.

In contrast, the United Church of Christ has over 5,000 congregations.

Now let’s compare the United Church of Christ to Independent Baptists.

Although there is still a widely congregational polity in the UCC, the UCC organization itself does have the power to ordain ministers and to validate them as acceptable UCC ministers if they come from another denomination. Independent Baptists have no such higher authority to ordain ministers other than local churches. The UCC also has a general synod which makes doctrinal pronouncements. These are not binding on the individual churches, as it is said that the General Synod speaks to churches and not for them. However, no such body exists for Independent Baptists.

Here are some excerpts from General Synod pronouncements that most Independent Baptists would have a problem with:

In the General Synod pronouncement of the UCC as a ‘just peace church,’

  1. We affirm all nations working together to insure that people everywhere will be able to meet their basic needs, including the right of every person to: a. food and clean water, b. adequate health care, c. decent housing, d. meaningful employment, e. basic education, participation in community decision-making and the political process, g. freedom of worship and religious expression, h. protection from torture, and i. protection of rights without regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national or social origin.

Many Independent Baptists would question whether all these should be considered rights.

In the same pronouncement, this is also stated:

  1. We affirm our support for the United Nations, which should be strengthened developing the following: a. more authority in disputes among countries, b. peacekeeping forces, including a permanent force of at least 5000, able to police border disputes and intervene when called to do so by the U.N., c. peacemaking teams, trained in mediation, conflict intervention, and conflict resolution, d. support for international peace academies, e. a global satellite surveillance system to provide military intelligence to the common community, f. international agreements to limit military establishments and the international arms trade, g. an international ban on the development, testing, use, and possession of nuclear and bio-chemical weapons of mass destruction, and h. an international ban on all weapons in space and all national development of space-based defense systems and Strategic Defense Initiatives.

Most independent Baptists would disagree with the globalization and weakening of national powers as recommended by the UCC pronouncement, seeing that as a step toward the rule of the antichrist.

In 2010, the UCC made a statement titled ­”Reproductive Health and Justice: Why the UCC Is a Leader in this Area,” which said in part:

The United Church of Christ has affirmed and re-affirmed since 1971 that access to safe and legal abortion is consistent with a woman’s right to follow the dictates of her own faith and beliefs in determining when and if she should have children…

We have also supported that women with limited financial means should be able to receive public funding in order to exercise her legal right to the full range of reproductive health services. What is legally available to women must be accessible to all women.”

The UCC has made the following statements, among others, on LGBT rights. I’ll just give the titles, as they are descriptive enough. Most Independent Baptists disagree with these statements.

In 2011, “The Right of LGBT Parents to Adopt and Raise Children”
In 2003, “Affirming the Participation and Ministry of Transgender People within the United Church of Christ and Supporting their Civil and Human Rights”
In 1996, “Equal Marriage Rights for Same-sex Couples”,
In 1983, “Resolution on the Institutionalized Homophobia within the United Church of Christ”

In 1998, The UCC Executive Council adopted the following statement:

The Executive Council of the United Church of Christ calls for immediate passage of the Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1998 and urges all United Church of Christ members to communicate support for this legislation to their congressional representatives. Further, the Executive Council urges all United Church of Christ members to support similar hate crime legislation at the state and local levels of government.

In 1995, The General Synod passed a resolution entitled “Guns and Violence,” which they describe as

“inviting UCC members and congregations to advocate for legislation to strengthen licensing and registration of gun sales, strengthen regulations of gun dealers and ban semiautomatic assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips.”[1]

These statements reflect the hundreds of statements that the UCC makes, generally affirming Liberal political causes, such as on tax reform, climate change, and endorsing the BDS Boycott Divest and Sanction movement against Israel which is opposite of most of the beliefs held by Independent Baptist Churches.

Also part of this difference is though there may be preaching on topics that touch these political issues, Independent Baptist churches in general are practically apolitical. They don’t belong to organizations that are promoting political causes, don’t donate to political parties, and generally are more focused on people’s eternity than that they receive justice on this earth.

Most Independent Baptists are Fundamentalist or at least Evangelical, and so as a result, characteristics that define evangelicalism are present in their churches, and not present in UCC Churches.

Independent Baptists believe in the Inerrancy of Scripture, the UCC does not.
Independent Baptists preach then necessity of a born-again experience, salvation, while the UCC does not.

The United Church of Christ is very ecumenical, especially with other mainline denominations. It is part of the World Council of Churches. Independent Baptist churches tend to only work together with other Baptists, often only independent Baptists of like faith and practice.

The 2014 Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Study found that only 22% of United Church of Christ attendees say that there are clear standards for what is right and wrong, and 75% say that right and wrong depends on the situation. Nearly all Independent Baptists would choose the former option.

38% of UCC attendees say the Bible is not the word of God, and only 13% say that it is both the word of God and should be taken literally. Nearly all independent Baptists would answer that it is the word of God and should be taken literally.

44% of United Church of Christ members said they believe in Hell, while nearly all independent Baptists do. 72% in the UCC said Abortion should be legal in all cases, while very few Independent Baptists would agree. 82% in the UCC say that homosexuality should be accepted, while nearly all Independent Baptists would say that it is sinful, and 74% within the UCC strongly favor homosexual marriage, which is nearly universally rejected among independent Baptists.

26% in the UCC disbelieve in human evolution, while the great majority of Independent Baptists reject human evolution.

The following figures are slightly out of date, coming from a 2005 survey, but still can be useful in seeing a picture of the UCC’s practice.

UCC services tend to be more “high church” than Independent Baptist ones, with the use of liturgy. In 2005, 95% of UCC ministers claimed to use the UCC lectionary in planning worship.[2] The same service showed only 3% of UCC churches didn’t use an Organ in their services.

72% of UCC churches reported in 2005 that report that youth and adults were welcome to take the Lord’s Supper regardless of whether they have been baptized, which wouldn’t be accepted in Independent Baptist Churches. Clergy in the UCC view communion in many different ways, some as a memorial, others as a real presence, where in Baptist churches, only the memorial view is accepted.

97% of UCC churches practice infant Baptism, which is rejected by all Independent Baptist churches in favor of believer’s baptism. Sprinkling, pouring, and immersion are all acceptable methods in UCC churches, while Independent Baptists only accept immersion as valid.

The United Church of Christ recognizes the validity of all baptisms, but Independent Baptist churches require a person to be rebaptized if they were baptized when not a believer, or with the wrong mode, or in a church that the Independent Baptist church views as having improper authority.

Baptist churches don’t view Baptism or the Lord’s supper as sacraments, as the UCC does, but as “ordinances.”

Independent Baptist churches are less likely than Baptist churches within denominations to have a contemporary worship style. In this they are similar to the UCC, which as of 2005, reported only 7% having contemporary worship. 28% of UCC churches had a “blended” type service with contemporary and traditional elements.

Perhaps even more than other Mainline denominations, the United Church of Christ is much more focused in what they are doing, promoting social justice, than what any of their members or clergy believe.

So although “by the book” you may find that doctrinally you are more likely to find Calvinists in the United Church of Christ than in Independent Baptist churches, since the United Church of Christ is solidly in the Reformed tradition, but practically, you will most likely not hear sermons on that kind of theology in the UCC churches.

Independent Baptist churches, due to their literal interpretation of scripture, are likely to preach on standards of dress, music, and entertainment, that are not as likely to be preached on in UCC churches. UCC sermons are more focused on the churches’ role as a unit to affect the world socially, where Independent Baptists are focused on the individual members’ right standing before God, and the church’s responsibility to evangelize the world.

In addition to the little concern for precisely determining doctrine, such as is found in Independent Baptist churches, is the wide range of acceptable belief due to the general theological liberalism of the denomination, and the accepted individuality of the congregations due to the congregational polity.

[1] //www.ucc.org/gun-violence (Accessed 12/7/2018)

[2] //web.archive.org/web/20140809230341///www.ucc.org/assets/pdfs/witgf/ss2005.pdf (Accessed 12/7/2018)

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