Disciples of Christ


Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Campbellites

General Information

The Disciples of Christ, or Christian Church, is part of the largest religious movement to have originated in the United States. The church numbers approximately 1.1 million members in the United States and Canada, and does overseas work in many other countries. The church had its beginnings in Kentucky and western Pennsylvania in 1804 - 09.

Kentucky Presbyterian minister Barton W Stone and others who shared his liberal views on pulpit freedom and on associations across denominational lines withdrew from the Presbyterians to become "Christian only." Pennsylvanian Thomas Campbell split with the Presbyterians over his right to serve the Lord's Supper to Christians of different persuasions. The two groups united in 1832 as Campbell's son Alexander Campbell became the prominent figure in the movement.

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In the 20th century there have been two separations: finding the "law" of Christian life exclusively in the New Testament, the Churches of Christ objected to musical instruments in worship and officially withdrew in 1906; the North American Christian Convention, another conservative faction, pulled away gradually between 1926 and 1969 and became known as the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. In 1968 the mainstream of the Disciples of Christ restructured itself, with a General Assembly directing operations.

Due to their origin as a protest against denominational exclusiveness, the Disciples are characterized by a commitment to interdenominational activity, autonomy in its levels of polity, and general liberality. They claim to have no official doctrine; membership ordinarily requires only a confession of belief in Jesus Christ and subsequent baptism by immersion of its adult believers. The custom is to have the Lord's Supper central to every worship service and to have lay people regularly preside. Its General Assembly argues social, political, and moral positions with the understanding that no one can be bound by its decisions. The church has ordained women almost since its inception.

Robert L Friedly

Garrison, W E, Christian Unity and the Disciples of Christ (1965).

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

General Information

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an American Protestant denomination that emerged during frontier revivals in early 19th-century Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Its founders hoped to serve as a unifying force among Protestants. The Bible, particularly the New Testament, is the sole ecclesiastical authority for the Disciples of Christ. Church polity is congregational.

The founders of the Disciples were Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander Campbell, former Irish Presbyterian ministers. Their followers became known popularly as Campbellites, although they preferred to be known as Disciples of Christ. In 1809 Thomas Campbell founded the Christian Association of Washington County, Pennsylvania, which he based on a return to early Christian ideals. In 1811 Alexander joined his father in forming a congregation at Brush Run, Pennsylvania, and from there the movement spread westward. In 1832 the Kentucky revivalist Barton Stone and most of his followers, called Christians, united with the Campbell group.

Conflict arose among the Disciples during the second half of the 19th century. Churches of conservative-minded Disciples withdrew in protest against the development of mission societies and the use in worship of instrumental music, which they felt to be unscriptural. By 1906 the seceding groups had formed a separate denomination known as the Churches of Christ.

The movement remained a loosely connected brotherhood until 1968. The International Convention of Christian Churches was the coordinating organization under which state conventions and independent boards and agencies operated. In 1968, however, a restructure plan was adopted that strengthened the national framework. As a result, mission, education, and other agencies became coordinated through a general assembly; a biennial delegated assembly replaced the annual international convention, and an executive unit, called a general board, was established. The names Christian Church and Disciples of Christ, which had been used alternatively, were combined to give the church its present name. Local congregations retained property rights, the right to call clergymen and determine worship and programs, and the liberty to determine how much they should contribute to national operations of the church. Nevertheless, 2768 congregations of the 8046 listed withdrew from the national organization.

Disciples recognize no formal creed. Baptism is usually by immersion, although, in accepting members, the rite of other churches often is recognized. Each congregation celebrates the Eucharist every Sunday as a memorial feast.

The Christian Church is one of the most ecumenically minded denominations. It participates in the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Often in the forefront in social action and mission work, the Disciples have a global network of missions coordinated by the United Christian Missionary Society. The church has pioneered in ecumenical theological education; in addition to its sponsorship of divinity houses at major nondenominational universities, it also maintains such institutions as Transylvania College (1780), in Lexington, Kentucky, and Bethany College (1840), in Bethany, West Virginia. One of the best-known publications of the Disciples of Christ is Christian Century (established in 1894), which has been a significant force in the American ecumenical movement.

Disciples of Christ

Catholic Information

A sect founded in the United States of America by Alexander Campbell. Although the largest portion of his life and prodigious activity was spent in the United States Alexander Campbell was born, 12 September, 1788, in the County Antrim, Ireland. On his father's side he was of Scottish extraction; his mother, Jane Corneigle, was of Huguenot descent. Both parents are reported to have been persons of deep piety and high literary culture. His father, after serving as minister to the Anti-Burgher Church in Ahorey and director of a prosperous academy at Richhill, emigrated to the United States and engaged in the oft-attempted and ever futile effort "to unite All Christians as one communion on a purely scriptural basis", the hallucination of so many noble minds, the only outcome of which must always be against the will of the Founder, to increase the discord of Christendom by the creation of a new sect. In 1808 Alexander embarked with the family to join his father, but was shipwrecked on the Scottish coast and took the opportunity to prepare himself for the ministry at the University of Glasgow. In 1809 he migrated to the United States, and found in Washington County, Pennsylvania, the nucleus of the new movement in the "Christian Association of Washington", under the auspices of which was issued a "Declaration and Address", setting forth the objects of the association. It was proposed "to establish no new sect, but to persuade Christian to abandon party names and creeds, sectarian usages and denominational strifes, and associate in Christian fellowship, in the common faith in a divine Lord, with no other terms of religious communion than faith in and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ". An independent church was formed at Brush Run on the principles of the association, and, 1 January, 1812, Alexander was "ordained". His earnestness is attested by the record of one hundred and six sermons preached in one year; but he wrecked every prospect of success by finding in his reading of the Scriptures the invalidity of infant baptism, and the necessity of baptism by immersion, thus excluding from the Christian discipleship the vast majority of believing Christians. On 12 June, 1812, with his wife, father, mother, and three others, Alexander was rebaptized by immersion. Nothing was left him now but to seek association with one or other of the numerous Baptist sects. This he did, but with the proviso that he should be allowed to preach and teach whatever he learned from the Holy Scripture. The Baptists never took him cordially; and in 1817, after five years of herculean labours, his followers, whom he wished to be known by the appellation of "Disciples of Christ", but who were generally styled "Campbellites", numbered only one hundred and fifty persons. Campbell's mission as a messenger of peace was a failure; as time went on he developed a polemical nature, and became a sharp critic in speech and in writing of the weaknesses and vagaries of the Protestant sects. Only once did he come in direct contact with the Catholics, on the occasion of his five days' debate, in 1837, with Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati, which excited great interest at the time but is now forgotten. His sixty volumes are of no interest. Campbell was twice married and was the father of twelve children. He died at Bethany, West Virginia, where he had established a seminary, 4 March, 1866.

According to their census prepared in 1906 the sect then had 6475 ministers, 11,633 churches, and a membership of 1,235,294. It is strongest in the West and Southwest, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio having the largest bodies. J.H. Garrison, editor of their organ "The Christian Evangelist", outlined (1906) the belief of his sect.

According to their investigations of the New Testament the confession of faith made by Simon Peter, on which Jesus declared he would build His Church, namely "Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God", was the creed of Christianity and the essential faith, and that all those who would make this confession from the heart, being penitent of their past sins, were to be admitted by baptism into the membership of the early Church;

that baptism in the early Church consisted of a burial of a penitent believer in the water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and that only such were fit subjects for baptism;

that the form of church government was congregational;

that each congregation had its deacons and elders or bishops, the former to look after the temporal and the latter the spiritual interests of the church.

They practise weekly communion and consider it not as a sacrament but as a memorial feast.

While they hold both New and Old Testaments to be equally inspired, both are not equally binding upon Christians.

Accepting the Bible as an all-sufficient revelation of the Divine will, they repudiate all authoritative creeds and human grounds of fellowship.

Publication information Written by James F. Loughlin. Transcribed by Christine J. Murray. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

Also, see:
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ

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