Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

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The insignia of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), often abbreviated as the Disciples of Christ or Christian Church, is a denomination of Christian Protestantism that grew out of the Restoration Movement founded by Thomas Campbell and Alexander Campbell of Pennsylvania and West Virginia (then Virginia) and Barton W. Stone of Kentucky. Both families were originally Presbyterians. There are about 800,000 members in the United States and Canada. [1]


[edit] History

The roots of the Disciples of Christ lie in the Restoration Movement of the early 1800s, with a focus on Christian unity and lack of strict denominationalism. This focus came from a study of the New Testament by the movement's founders. Tolerance of other viewpoints that differed on non-essentials was key, as was inclusion based on the Lord's Table (Communion). It has been estimated that the movement that gave rise to the modern Disciples of Christ (and its associated offshoots) has been surpassed in size by only one other body of North American origin, that of churches of Christ.

The unity of this group was shaken by the formation of a missionary society in the late 1840s, a development looked upon with disfavor by many, especially among the smaller, more rural, and Southern congregations, and by the adoption shortly after this by some congregations of instrumental music, predominantly (at first) pianos and organs. After the American Civil War the dispute became more strident, as many leftover regional animosities became a subtext. By the 1870s and 1880s there were essentially two groups within the Restoration Movement. However, because the "brotherhood" of churches in the movement had no central organizations or assemblies in which a schism could be formalized, the break was not formalized until the congregations that rejected instrumental music and missionary societies asked to be listed separately as the Churches of Christ in the United States Religious Census of 1906.

Another group, perhaps nearly as conservative as the Church of Christ (but at variance with the Church of Christ mainly on Biblical interpretations concerning the use of musical instruments during worship), was disturbed by the liberalism that it perceived to be predominant at a church conference in Memphis, Tennessee in 1926. In 1927, this group formed the North American Christian Convention.

Another group within the Disciples sought greater unity and coordination among the churches. In response to the ecumenical movement, some Disciples sought to create a structure by which representatives could be chosen to represent the full brotherhood of Christian churches in discussion with other Christian churches and denominations. In 1956, the United Christian Missionary Society and the Board of Higher Education of Disciples of Christ, two of the largest para-church organizations in the brotherhood, created the "Panel of Scholars" to examine the issues facing the churches and to articulate a response. Following the 1963 publication of The Panel of Scholars Reports, a proposal for "restructure" of the Disciples of Christ was made. The restructure called for the creation of regional and general "manifestations" of the church that would be recognized as ministries in their own right. This proposal was put before a convention of the Christian Churches in 1968. The churches that endorsed the restructure became part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The remainder became known as the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ.

At the time of the 1906 division, the Disciples were by far the larger of the two bodies; now it would seem possible that they might be the smallest of the three current major divisions of the Restoration Movement, the other two bodies being so strongly congregational as to make a reliable count of their overall memberships almost impossible.

[edit] Modern Disciples

The Disciples of Christ declare only one essential tenet of the faith: belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Although those who wish to join a Christian church are not required to affirm any statements of belief beside this, the Disciples are members of the World Council of Churches and include a statement of faith in the Preamble to the Design of the Christian (Disciples of Christ), the governing document of the church. WorldCat The Disciples affirm that Jesus is the son of God and that he offers saving grace to all, as all persons are God’s children, and almost all Disciples churches share several common practices:

  • Open Communion: Communion is celebrated weekly during the worship service; no individual is ever refused Communion.
  • Baptism by immersion: Disciples practice "Believer's baptism" by immersion, however, other baptism traditions are honored in converts. New members of the Disciples who were baptized as infants may request baptism by immersion, while some ministers will not baptize a member under these circumstances others will.
  • The unity of the church: Disciples believe that all Christians are called to be the Body of Christ; they deny that any denomination (including their own) is the "one Church." Disciples seek opportunities for common witness and service with other denominations. As early Disciples leader Barton Stone declared, "Unity is our polar star."
  • Common ministry: Disciples ministers are ordained by their respective regional church, based on criteria established by the general church, and after an intensive in-care process with the region. They must have sponsorship by at least one local congregation, and normally the ordination service is hosted by that congregation. An ordained Disciples minister normally holds a Master of Divinity degree from a theological seminary. Laypersons often lead worship, and lay elders and deacons preside at Communion.

Baptized Christians within the Disciples are not prohibited from presiding at communion or baptizing new believers, although in practice these functions are normally performed by ministers or specifically designated lay people within a congregation. Furthermore, individual congregations are not required to call ordained ministers as pastors, and many congregations are led by ministers who are not formally ordained.

  • Freedom of belief: Individual members are free to follow their consciences; they are expected to extend that freedom to others. Members are encouraged to seek guidance from scripture, study, and prayer, but to develop their own opinions about most issues.

In addition, Disciples churches practice congregationalist church governance and utilize a "bottom-up" hierarchy. Each church within the Disciples controls its own property and has the right to choose any minister. Decisions made by a local church cannot be appealed to the regional or general church, although regional ministers are often asked to intervene in disputes within a church. The General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a biannual gathering of congregations, expresses only the views of that particular assembly and holds little power to bind the denomination as a whole, although decisions may be made that affect the general manifestation of the church. The denomination is governed by The Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

At the 2005 General Assembly, over 3000 delegates voted nearly unanimously to elect Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, senior pastor of Disciples Christian Church in Bartlesville, OK, as General Minister and President of the denomination. Rev. Watkins was the first woman to be elected as the presiding minister of a "mainline" Protestant denomination.

[edit] The Chalice

The insignia of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a red chalice with a white St. Andrew's Cross in the upper left corner. The chalice recalls the central place of Communion to the life of every Christian. The cross of Saint Andrew is a reminder of the ministry of each person and the importance of evangelism, and recalls the denomination's Presbyterian ancestry. The current symbol was designed in the 1960s by John Fulton and Robert Friedly.

[edit] Churches Uniting in Christ

The Disciples are part of Churches Uniting in Christ, an ecumenical movement that many hope will result in one large mainline Protestant body in the U.S. similar to the role of the United Church in Canada and the Uniting Church in Australia; more conservative members tend to oppose this due to the liberalism of some of the other churches involved in the project. The Disciples were closely involved in the church union discussions between the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada which would have resulted in a "Church of Christ in Canada," but which floundered at the 11th hour in 1974 when the Anglican bishops feared that their prerogatives would be compromised in a larger denomination dominated by non-episcopal liberal evangelical Protestants. The Disciples have continued to develop a close relationship in the USA with the United Church of Christ.

In the United Kingdom, the related Churches of Christ largely united with the United Reformed Church in 1981.

[edit] Peoples Temple and Jim Jones

The Peoples Temple congregation led by Jim Jones was affiliated with the Disciples of Christ at the time of the mass suicide of its members on 18 November 1978 at its compound in Guyana. Jones was ordained by the Disciples of Christ. His fellowship and standing with the Disciples was in the process of being revoked due to mental defect at the time of the events in Guyana. Because of the congregational polity of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), regional leaders did not have the power to intervene in a decisive manner. However, since the tragedy, the systems of accountability in all regions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have been strengthened.

[edit] Prominent members

[edit] Affiliations

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

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