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Disciples of Christ

DISCIPLES OF CHRIST

DISCIPLES OF CHRIST. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Churches of Christ both trace their origins to the Appalachian frontier revivals of 1795 through 1810. Early leaders of the Disciples stressed the need for the reunion of divided Christendom, the restoration of the primitive Church described in the New Testament, and the importance of human freedom in the search for truth, unencumbered by denominational creeds or traditions. One early theorist was Barton Stone, a Presbyterian minister, who was the host of Kentucky's Cane Ridge revival of 1801. Stone separated from his Church in 1804 and created an association of churches in Kentucky and Tennessee. He was soon joined by Alexander Campbell, the son of Thomas Campbell, the Presbyterian minister who had authored the "Dedication and Address" of the Christian Association of Washington in 1809. A key text for the Disciples of Christ, the "Dedication and Address" announced, "Where the scriptures speak, we speak; where the scriptures are silent, we are silent."

Under Alexander Campbell, the Restoration Movement in Ohio and Pennsylvania grew rapidly. Although initially operating under the auspices of the Mahonic Baptist Association, the Campbellite churches broke with the Baptists in 1827 and merged with the Stoneite churches in 1832. Both groups shared an aversion to creeds and a desire to convert all people to evangelical Christianity. The new entity laid great stress on education, chartering such institutions as Bethany College in Virginia (now West Virginia) and Franklin College in Tennessee. It also organized church-wide associations such as the American Church Publication Society (1846) and the American Christian Missionary Society (1849), although southern


congregations denounced the latter for infringing on their prerogative to evangelize.

Dividing the Movement

In 1861, most Disciples, who resided in the border states and feared the consequences of war, believed that the Bible permitted slavery and refused to participate in the Civil War. Alexander Campbell was critical of slavery, but strongly opposed abolitionism, favoring gradual emancipation and resettlement. In 1863, however, the American Christian Missionary Society passed a resolution condemning Southern secession, an action denounced by southern leaders like Tolbert Fanning. Campbell's death in 1866 removed one potential source of unity. In the next thirty years, other divisions surfaced over full-time paid preachers, the practice of open communion, and the use of instrumental music in church services (all of which were favored by many congregations in the north), which steadily pushed members of the future Churches of Christ away from the Disciples of Christ. Although formal separation was not acknowledged until 1906, actual separation preceded this event by at least ten years.

The Disciples took an activist stance during the nineteenth century, establishing the Christian Women's Board of Missions (1874), which worked in Central and South America and Liberia, erecting a number of new colleges and endowing chairs in biblical studies at several state universities. They also organized the National Benevolent Association (1887) and the Board of Ministerial Relief (1895). Between 1870 and 1900, the movement grew from 330,000 to 1,125,000.

The Modernist Controversy

During the early twentieth century, the Disciples were forced to grapple with modernist theology, which had gained a following in the Campbell Institute at the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago. J. W. McGarvey, President of the College of the Bible in Lexington, Kentucky, launched a series of bitter attacks on modernism, which culminated in a dispute with younger faculty at his own institution in 1917. Equally divisive was the clash over the Federated Church Movement between 1905 and 1914, which aroused hostility because it represented a denial of the Disciples' earlier stance against denominationalism and because of the increasing identification of the Federal Council of Churches with modernism and social justice. A flashpoint on this issue was the Disciples' Monterrey mission in Mexico; many members objected to a 1918 interdenominational agreement that called upon them to surrender this activity to the Methodists. Finally, the questions of open membership and the admission of the unimmersed to full membership drove conservatives to launch a series of efforts in 1918 to defend "orthodoxy," criticizing trends in the newly established United Christian Missionary Society and attempting to pass resolutions that liberals claimed were "creedal."

After 1926, conservative congregations largely abandoned efforts to reform the Church's organizational structure, forming an independent organization and calling themselves Christian Churches or Churches of Christ. Efforts during the 1930s and 1940s to restore unity to the movement by stressing the common theological roots of all the groups came to nothing. In the 1960s, the Disciples of Christ only accentuated division from the independents with its promotion of "Brotherhood Restructure," advocating a repudiation of historic congregationalism in favor of a more structured national church organization with a delegate convention rather than a mass meeting, a move that cost them roughly one-third of their member congregations.

The Disciples in the Early 2000s

The Disciples of Christ have been very active in the ecumenical movement, but participation in the Federal Council of Churches and later in the National and World Council of Churches has always been rejected by the independent Christian Churches and the Churches of Christ.

Some Disciples have worked with the National Association of Evangelicals, although uneasy with its creedal basis, and with the Consultation on Church Union. There have also been discussions with the United Church of Christ that have resulted in an "ecumenical partnership." Today, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has a very denominational style. It has welcomed women into the ministry and is sympathetic to biblical criticism. Most congregations practice open membership and favor a mission role that assists national churches to grow rather than aggressive evangelism. It attaches considerable importance to social ministry, but takes a relaxed view on moral questions. All the agencies historically established by the Disciples of Christ are controlled by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which has experienced a considerable decline in membership since 1945.

On their part, the Churches of Christ disdain any sort of extra congregational activity or involvement in social issues. They are opposed to instrumental music in church services and to missionary organizations. They are very conservative, with regard to both the Bible and moral issues, oppose women in the ministry, and are very critical of ecumenism. The growth rate in the Churches of Christ has been declining. In 1999, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) had 831,125 members and the Churches of Christ had 1,500,000 members.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dunnavant, Anthony L., ed. Cane Ridge in Context: Perspectives on Barton W. Stone and the Revival. Nashville, Tenn.: Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1992.

Dunnavant, Anthony L., Richard T. Hughes, and Paul M. Blowers. Founding Vocation and Future Vision: The Self-Understanding of the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ. St. Louis, Mo: Chalice Press, 1999.

Hughes, Richard T. Restoring the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996.

McAllister, Lester G., and William E. Tucker. Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). St. Louis, Mo: Bethany Press, 1975.

Webb, Henry E. In Search of Christian Unity: A History of the Restoration Movement. Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing, 1990.

JeremyBonner

See alsoChristianity ; Denominationalism ; Protestantism ; Religion and Religious Affiliation .

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Disciples of Christ

Disciples of Christ US Protestant church, claiming to derive all its beliefs from the Bible. It strives to return to the purity of the Scriptures. Beginning in the 19th-century religious revival movements of frontier America, there is no single founder and no creed but Christ. There are c.1.2 million members.

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Disciples of Christ

Disciples of Christ: see Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

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"Disciples of Christ." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Disciples of Christ." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/disciples-christ