The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
By Robert Ndonga
Members: The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a Protestant
denomination with a membership of about 800,000 in the United States and
The denomination known today as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
came out of the American "Restoration Movement" that sought to reclaim Biblical
practices among Protestant churches in the United States. Followers of Thomas
Campbell (born in County Down, Ireland on February 1, 1768) and Barton W. Stone
(born in Port Tobacco, Maryland on December 24, 1772) combined in 1832 to begin
what came to be known as the Stone-Campbell movement.
Like most renewal movements, disagreements within the two streams of
theological thought eventually arose. A major source of conflict was the
formation of the American Christian Mission Society, which followers of Thomas
Campbell's ideas felt was not Biblical. Eventually, in 1906, the major factions
split into two separate denominations (although many within the movement prefer
to not use the word "denomination," as they feel it indicates an unacceptably
concrete level of organization). The "Churches of Christ" formed around
those who followed Campbell's original ideas. In a similar vein, the Christian
Church also known as Disciples of Christ formed around the followers of Barton
Key Personalities and Dates
Barton W. Stone: was born in Port Tobacco, Maryland
on December 24, 1772. Stone was educated as a school teacher and entered the
ministry through the Presbyterian Church. He served a church in Cane Ridge
Kentucky, and after hosting the historic Cane Ridge Revival of 1801, he, along
with several others formed the Springfield Presbytery. The new movement
rejected all human creeds and placed strong emphasis on appealing to the Bible
as the only rule of faith and practice. The Springfield Presbytery was soon
dissolved and all ties to any denominational life were broken to enter into
unity with the body of Christ at large.
Thomas Campbell: was born in County Down, Ireland, on
February 1, 1763 and came to America from Scotland in 1807. He was
severely censured by Pennsylvania church authorities because of his refusal to
use Presbyterian creeds when administering the Lord Supper. In 1808 he,
along others began the Christian Association of Washington, Pennsylvania.
That group adopted the motto, "Where the scriptures speak, we speak; where
the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." Campbell and his
followers were called "Reformers," because of their desire to restore the
Church to its first century beliefs and practices. This new emphasis in faith
and practice came to be known as the "Restoration Movement."
Alexander Campbell: Born on September 12, 1788 in Ireland,
he joined his father Thomas in western Pennsylvania. Biographer Nathaniel
Haynes wrote that Thomas and Alexander were "one in their aims, spirit and
work." Near Washington, Pennsylvania, Campbell and his son Alexander, and the
Christian Association established the Brush Run Church, which in 1815, became
part of an existing Baptist Association. Needless to say, Reformers and
Baptists differed in key issues, and in 1830, the bond was broken. The
Reformers came to be known as "Disciples."
A dedicated scholar and educator, Alexander founded Bethany College in Bethany,
Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1840 and served as the school's first
The "Christians" and the "Disciples of Christ" agreed on basic beliefs and
practices. They united to create a new Christian movement on the American
The Christians and the Disciples functioned and grew as a movement, often
referred to as the "stone-Campbell movement." During this period, the Disciples
saw their union simply as a "brotherhood" In 1960 the Commission of Brotherhood
Restructure began the task of designing a new form of organization.
A representative assembly meeting in Kansas City overwhelmingly approved the
provisional design for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Church
historian Duane Cummings wrote: "Approval of the provisional design marked the
passage of the Disciples into denominational maturity. Officially named the
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), they became a church."
Aggressive Vision: 2020 Vision
1000 new congregations
1000 transformed congregations
The leadership development necessary to realize these new and renewed
All within a context of being an anti-racist/pro-reconciling church.
Beliefs and Practices
Disciples always have opposed...the use of creeds to exclude persons from
the church. It was (the) use of creeds as 'tests of fellowship' that the
Disciples' founding fathers fingered as the major cause of division among
Christians...So, unlike most other churches, Disciples do not have an official
doctrinal statement they can refer to as their distinctive doctrinal stance.
For many years, The Christian Evangelist, a forerunner of our present journal
"The Disciple", carried a maxim in its masthead: "In essentials, unity: in
nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity." This maxim
expresses the celebrated conviction among Disciples that liberty should be
allowed in the nonessential areas in which most creedal statements dictate. A
widely-known slogan among Disciples claims "No Creed but Christ."
The Lord's Supper or communion is celebrated in weekly worship services and
is open to all who believe in Jesus Christ regardless of denominational
Disciples practice baptism by immersion, but also honor other baptism
traditions from other denominations. The use of the specific form of baptism;
that is, baptism by immersion is seen as powerfully symbolic. As such, it
mirrors Jesus' own baptism; it acts out dying with Christ, and emerging to new
life; it is a "putting on" of Christ.
Churches of Christ do not practice infant baptism. Rather, infant dedication is
practiced and cherished as a time honored tradition among Disciples. An infant
so dedicated confirms that dedication with a personal faith response usually
during the early teenage years, about the same time when most Disciples are
Disciples embrace the broad meaning of the term "Salvation" to include
notions of deliverance from all threats of life, both now and hereafter. This
explains their passion and unwavering quest for social, political, and economic
Where do the Disciples stand today?
Originally part of the Restoration Movement (begun by Thomas and Alexander
Campbell, Barton W. Stone and others), the Disciples of Christ adopted a
denominational structure and created Christian Missionary Fellowship in the
late 1800s, thus "abandoning" the "non-denominational" principle of the
In recent years (1970s following), the Disciples of Christ denomination has
broadened its freedom of belief and has endorsed the following positions which
differ vastly with Southern Baptists and other Evangelical churches:
ordained women ministers
ordained women elders
denied the requirement of immersion for salvation as essential to
salvation, as they did when they were first founded.
participated in unity discussions with the Roman Catholic church,
apparently acknowledging the latter's claims and doctrines.
A few have denied the virgin birth of Jesus
A few have participated with other liberal denominations in undermining
the accuracy and authenticity of the Bible.
A few have supported gay marriage.
Report of the Commission on Theology in response to Resolution No. 87828,
"Concerning Salvation in Jesus Christ."
Williamson, Clark M. Williamson, "Theological Reflection and Disciples
Renewal," in Michael Kinnamon, ed., Disciples of Christ in the 21st Century
(St. Louis, MO: CBP Press, 1988).
M. Eugene Boring, Disciples and the Bible: A History of Disciples Biblical
Interpretation in North America (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1997) 45-47.On the
plan of salvation, cf. discussion of Walter Scott, esp. 395-402 on various
forms of the steps for salvation.Cf. also Isaac Errett's classical statement,
cited and discussed in Boring, 128-131, 396. In the second generation of
Disciples' history, Robert Milligan's Scheme of Redemption was already tending
toward emphasis on human act rather than God's initiative and grace. Cf.
Boring's Excursus, "Five Generations of the 'Five Finger Exercise.'"
Mark G. Toulouse, Joined in Discipleship: The Shaping of Contemporary
Disciples Identity (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2nd. Revised and Expanded Edition
Paul Tillich, "You Are Accepted, In Shaking the Foundations (1948),
World Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry: Faith and
Order Paper, No. 111 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982). Disciples
affirm this document of the World Council of Churches. Cf. also Clark
Williamson, Baptism: Embodiment of the Gospel, The Nature of The Church: Study
Series 4 (St. Louis: Christian Board of Publication, 1989). An excellent
discussion of the development of Disciples thought about baptism. This little
book also contains, as an appendix, a copy of "A Word to the Church on
Baptism," a report of the Commission on Theology affirmed by the General
Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 1987.