DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR
A PILGRIM PEOPLE:
A HISTORY OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST AND ITS ANTECEDENTS

The following questions may be used in any classes using Pilgrim People as a text. Suggestions for other questions, or modification of these questions may be sent to chuckmaxfield@gmail.com.

After each chapter, a group could discuss how they see the "C" "P" and "L" ideas portrayed in that chapter, and how they see them contradicted.

Chapter 1: Introduction
  1. In the United Church of Christ, some folks identify strongly with one of the antecedent groups. Others see this as divisive, say the UCC was a new creation in 1957, and its pre-history is not relevant to its identity. What do you think?

  2. Can you identify the presence of “C” “P” and “L” in the life of the UCC as you have experienced it?
Chapter 2: European Roots

  1. The Reformation marks the beginning of many of the characteristics - and controversies - of the groups that formed the UCC. Look at the characteristics listed in the text for the following groups, and ask: Where do you see these in the life of the UCC today? What has been left behind?

Chapter 3: Puritan New England (1620-1691)

  1. The Puritan settlers of New England reasoned that the church taught ethical behavior - to not steal, not kill, love your neighbor, etc. To the extent that people voluntarily lived these principles, the state had need of fewer police, fewer judges, and fewer jails. Therefore it was in the interest of the state to support the church. What do you think? What problems did this policy create in 17th century New England?

  2. The Plymouth authorities defined the existence of two congregations of different denominations in Rehoboth as a problem, and the formation of Swansea as a solution. Do you understand why it was a problem to them? If it is not a problem to you, why not?

  3. The half-way covenant distinguished between what the author calls experiential Christians and intellectual believers. What does it mean to be an experiential Christian? Should church membership be restricted to experiential Christians? Can a person be an intellectual believer without being an experiential Christian? If so, what role do intellectual believers have in the church?

  4. Should a UCC pastor today baptize children whose parents are not church members? Why or why not?
Chapter 4: Eighteenth Century Immigration, Developments and Independence (1691-1793)

  1. How were the Reformed of Pennsylvania and the Congregationalists of New England different? How were they similar? Compare and contrast the polity of the Cambridge Platform, Saybrook Platform, and the Coetus and Synod.

  2. Compare the Connecticut Congregational practice of licensure and the Reformed practice of probationary membership in synod to the UCC practice of “in care” and licensed ministry today. How are they similar? How different?

  3. In the section “A Broadening Church” the author describes changes in New England Congregationalism. Is such change an act of disloyalty to the original principles of the church, or is it a natural development from the original principles? How do you distinguish between the two?
Chapter 5: Pietism and the Great Awakenings (1675-1835)

  1. What do you think of Spener’s principles? Do they still have relevance today?

  2. Was the Reformed Church acting in opposition to the principle of catholicity when it opposed the Congregation of God in the Spirit? Why or why not?

  3. Discuss the criticisms of the First Great Awakening. Do these issues still exist today?

  4. What is the role of emotion in religious faith? in worship? How were the Awakenings an opening for the power of the Spirit to the people? How may they have been harmful?

  5. Do movements within the church like Otterbein’s necessarily lead to schism? How can it be avoided? Should it be avoided?
Chapter 6: Denominational Realignment in the Second Great Awakening

  1. The Christian movement opposed creeds and hierarchy, believing they were the causes of division in the church. Were they? Do they have to be?

  2. In the Disciples-Christian union orchestrated by Stone, Stone had to give up some things. Does church union require giving up some things? What can be compromised? What cannot? Did Stone give up too much?

  3. Was the Unitarian schism contrary to the principle of catholicity? Why or why not?
Chapter 7: Mission to the World (1795-1870)

  1. The LMS, ABCFM, and Basel Mission all began with a spirit of catholicity. In a relatively short period of time, denominational missionary societies rose up. Europe and America have exported their denominationalism with Christianity. Were they correct in starting with a catholic spirit? Why did it fail?

  2. For the UCC in the United States, church involvement in politics begins with opposition to Cherokee removal. Should the church be involved in politics? Why or why not? When? How?

  3. What do you think of Anderson’s mission policies of What problems might be encountered?
Chapter 8: The Multiple Fruit of Missions (1800-1870)

  1. This chapter describes several activities which might be called “mission” which do not necessarily fit Anderson’s “great object.” The next chapter will describe the “home mission” of starting churches on the frontier. Are all of these things mission? In the light of all this, how do you define mission?
Chapter 9: Conquering the Valley and Beyond (1790-1870)

  1. The Plan of Union of 1801 plays a crucial role in both Congregational and Presbyterian history. Why did it fail? Did it fail?

  2. The author speaks of three books helping to create denominational identity in the Evangelical Synod. What is “denominational identity”? How is it created?
Chapter 10: Slavery and Freedom

  1. The text describes three factions of the movement against slavery, (1) radical abolitionists, (2) Christian abolitionists, and (3) anti-slavery people. In movements of reform, which approaches are most effective? How do they relate to each other?

  2. The AMA demonstrated a remarkable ability to rapidly change its entire agenda–from an abolitionist society--to an education society--to a church extension society. Is it possible (or desirable) for missionary agencies today to change so completely and so rapidly?
Chapter 11: Romanticism

  1. Can you identify any of the characteristics of romanticism in your congregation?

  2. Compare and contrast the strategy of the “Old Reformed” to the strategy of Trinitarians in New England in their religious war with Unitarians (chapter 6). What would appear to be effective strategies in “religious wars” within churches?

  3. Bushnell argued that a person could be raised from birth as a Christian, and never need to be converted. What do you think? Is this a rejection of the doctrine of original sin?
Chapter 12: Liberal Protestantism (1870-1920)

  1. Liberal Protestantism is an attempt to make the historic Christian faith relevant to a rapidly changing world. We might compare this with “indigenization”–the effort to find a way to express the Christian faith that is authentic to another culture. Liberal theology, like indigenization, raises many questions. What is essential and universal in the Christian faith, and what belongs to its cultural expression in a particular time and place? What would you count as the positives and negatives of the effort of liberal theology to relate the Christian faith to a new era?

  2. Why did these denominations prepare statements of faith? Why do we do it today?
Chapter 13: Denominational Formation (1863-1920)

  1. How have denominations organized on a business-like model? What are the pros and cons of doing this? What other options are there?

  2. Reflect on the long record of attempts at church union. What can we conclude would be the most effective approach to church union?

  3. According to the text, the merger of Women’s Mission Boards into the ABCFM had negative consequences. When should men and women do things together? When should women act on their own?
Chapter 14: Mission to America (1870-1920)

  1. Grant’s Peace Plan is describe by the author as a negative experience. This contrasts to the apparently positive (though controversial) good working relationship of the Freedmen’s Bureau and AMA in Reconstruction. What insights do these experiences give us on “faith-based initiatives” in church-state cooperation?

  2. The author is critical of the Friends of the Indian for transferring their agenda for the African American to the American Indian. Do you think these criticisms are fair? Are there other ways we practice this kind of transference without cultural sensibility?

  3. According to the author, “the church was captured by the spirit of the times, rather than the gospel.” What evidence do you see for this? What counter-evidence do you see? Are there ways that the church today is captured by the spirit of the times?
Chapter 15: The New Americans (1870-1920)

  1. German Russians joined the Congregational and Reformed Churches, while Swedish Mission Friends organized their own denominations. Why the different result? What are the pros and cons of each pattern?

  2. How can the church balance the desire of ethnic groups for self-determination with the larger church’s desire for integration?
Chapter 16: The American Church In Its Global Context (1870-1920)

  1. Is it possible for missionaries to be concerned for the whole person and whole society without exporting their cultural values?

  2. Under what circumstances, if any, should the church support the war aims of the state? What is the church’s ministry in war time?
Chapter 17: The Church Faces a Changing World (1920-1960)

  1. Are Neo-orthodoxy and Christian Realism shaped by their times as much as 19th Century Liberal Protestantism? Is there anything in theology that endures? Are Neo-orthodoxy and Christian Realism relevant today?
Chapter 18: The Road to Union (1920-1966)

  1. This chapter describes three experiences of church union. Which do you think was most successful? Why? What characteristics make for successful church union?
Chapter 19: The New United Church–Addressing Social Issues (1957-2003)

  1. Why does the church address social issues? How can they be interpreted to the local congregation? The larger society?
Chapter 20: The New United Church–Piety, Theology and Ecumenism (1957-2003)

  1. The author claims that Neo-Orthodoxy and Christian Realism continue to be the prevailing theological current in the UCC, yet the UCC is perceived by many as theologically liberal. How do you explain this discontinuity? Where, in your perception, is the theology of the UCC centered?

  2. What is UCC piety today?

  3. How does the UCC express its catholicity today?
Chapter 21: The New United Church–Its Mission and Structure (1957-2003)

  1. Is membership decline a problem? Why have efforts to change it failed? What can be done?

  2. Can the new covenant polity work? What problems would you anticipate?