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Disciples of Christ

(Christian Churches [Disciples of Christ], International Convention; name changed 1968 to Christian Church [Disciples of Christ]). Am. religious body organized to restore primitive Christianity and to unite all Christians on the basis of the Bible alone.

1. Antecedents. Though the Disciples originated in Am., similar movements arose at ca. the same time in Scot., Ireland, Eng., and Wales. a. J. Locke* emphasized that Christians should unite on the basis of such teachings as the Holy Spirit has in Scripture declared, in express words, to be necessary for salvation. b. The Glassites (Glasites), founded by John Glass (Glas; 1695–1773), opposed connection of ch. with state and sought to conduct affairs of the ch. after the primitive Christian pattern; also known as Sandemanians (Robert Sandeman, 1718–71, son-in-law of Glass, modified teachings of the group). A similar movement was led by Robert Haldane (1764–1842; Cong. evangelist and author) and his brother, James Alexander Haldane (1768–1851; 1st Cong. cleric in Scot.). The chs. in these movements were often called Churches* of Christ. See also Scotland, Reformation in, 4.

2. History.

a. T. Campbell* formed the Christian Association of Washington, Pennsylvania, 1809, and wrote Declaration and Address, regarded as the Magna Charta of the Disciples.

b. A. Campbell* joined his father Thomas 1810 and soon led the movement, headquarters at Brush Run, Pennsylvania; the Brush Run ch. joined the Redstone Bap. Assoc. of Pennsylvania 1813 and led a reform movement in the Bap. Ch.; as a result of disagreements, the Baps. excluded the followers of the Campbells, who repudiate the name Campbellites.

c. Chs. with the simple name “Christian” originated 1801 in the Cane Ridge Camp Meeting, Kentucky They adopted principles similar to those of the followers of the Campbells (emphasis on primitive Christianity, autonomy of the local cong., and the spiritual indep. and competence of the laity). By 1832 the Christian Churches under B. W. Stone* had merged with the main current of the Disciples.

d. The followers of the Campbells joined the Mahoning Bap. Assoc. 1823. W. Scott* (1796–1861) began his work in the Assoc. 1827; his formula for salvation: 1. faith (persuasion based on rational evidence); 2. repentance; 3. baptism by immersion; 4. remission of sins; 5. gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal life. He regarded the first three as within human power, the last two as works of God. The reform movement led to the separation bet. the followers of the Campbells and the Baps. that began before 1830 and was completed ca. 1833; because it was a gradual process involving various groups, the beginning of the Disciples as such cannot be dated precisely. During the following yrs. the Disciples continued to grow, without organization and without headquarters, and developed a sense of unity. Need for consolidation came to be felt, but first efforts at it met resistance in antipathy against human organizations. The 1st nat. conv. met Cincinnati 1849 and created the Am. Christian Miss. Soc.; but most miss. work continued to be done by individuals and local groups.

e. 1860–75 may be called “the era of controversy” in the hist. of the Disciples. The group passed through the Civil War without division, but questions, e.g., of open communion, instrumental music, creeds, clergy, and miss. socs. caused dissension. Later a group of conservatives withdrew because of their opposition to miss. socs. and instrumental music.

f. Succeeding yrs. were marked by expansion, organization of miss. socs. (merged 1920 into the United Christian Missionary Soc.), and federation.

3. Doctrine. Since their fundamental purpose is to restore in faith, spirit, and practice the Christianity of Christ and the apostles, the Disciples endeavor to avoid all ecclesiastical terminology, creeds, and ch. names not found in the NT Their position and message are set forth in T. Campbell, Declaration and Address, which advocates Christian unity, regards creeds as useful for instruction but not as tests of fitness for membership, holds the NT to be a perfect const. for worship, discipline, and govt. of the NT ch., and holds full knowledge of revealed truth unnecessary for membership; A. Campbell, The Christian System; P. Ainslie,* The Message of the Disciples for the Union of the Church; and Isaac Errett (1820–88), Our Position. The Disciples define the Trin. as the revelation of God in a 3-fold personality. They deny total depravity and the election of grace as contrary to reason. Christ is viewed as King with universal authority and leadership; the distinction bet. Law and Gospel consists in rejecting the binding character of the OT and making the NT the perfect const. for the worship, discipline, and govt. of the NT ch.; baptism by immersion is viewed as an act of obedience for the remission of sins; the Lord's Supper is celebrated every Sunday as a memorial feast. In recent yrs. liberalism has gained the upper hand among the Disciples.

4. The polity of the Disciples is cong. The local ch. is usually called “Christian Ch.” The chs. unite in dist. and state convs., but these are advisory. The Internat. Conv., composed of individual mems. of the chs., meets annually and is advisory.

5. Bacon Coll., est. 1836 at Georgetown, Kentucky, moved 1839 to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, subsequently became Transylvania Coll., Lexington, Kentucky; Bethany Coll., Bethany, West Virginia, was est. 1840; Butler U., Indianapolis, Indiana, grew out of Fairview Academy, est. 1843.

6. The Disciples have played a prominent role in interdenom, movements.

See also Christian Union; Foreign Christian Missionary Society; United Church of Christ, I B; Voliva, Wilbur Glenn.

W. E. Garrison and A. T. DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ (St. Louis, 1948); J. DeF. Murch, Christians Only (Cincinnati, 1962); O. R. Whitley, Trumpet Call of Reformation (St. Louis, 1959); see also entries under Religious Bodies (US), Bibliography. of. EL


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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