Back to OWR Homepage Back to Christianity Flowchart

Back to
Continental European Protestantism


Disciples of Christ

Doctrines From their conviction that Christian unity can be achieved neither by creeds nor by systematic theology, the Disciples of Christ do not insist upon any doctrinal orthodoxy. Entry into fellowship merely requires that the convert is repentant, accepts Christ as the Messiah, and receives baptism in immersion. While there is a very American presumption of individualism, it is not as radical as some forms. Each person is credited with the intellectual ability to comprehend the meaning of the New Testament, to be guided by it, to recognise its authority, and to have the moral sense to be able to follow its commands. Yet the organisation still aims for some consensus of interpretation through Bible colleges and trained ministers. Divergent views remain as to the natures of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, and how these relate, even though there is general agreement about human nature. Disciples adopt an Arminian and semi-Pelagian doctrine. Unlike Methodists their idea of personal transformation involves an intellectual, rather than emotional, response to God. Salvation is gained through faith and obedience. Accordingly, the rites of baptism and the Lord's Supper convey no salvific grace, being simply acts of obedience which Christ has commanded.

History The Disciples of Christ began as one of six groups that constituted the Restoration Movement in America during the first half of the 19th century. In time it came to symbolize the entire movement. Inspired in part by a failed vision of a reunified Christianity on the basis of its foundational creeds, the Restorationists instead sought a unity that was non-denominational and non-credal. Their indifference to doctrine and their concern for virtuous living and piety, were true to the spirit of the period: the American Revolution and Religious liberty; French rationalism with its challenge to all received truth claims; the independence of frontier life and the struggle to create moral communities.
Five figures deserve mention at this early stage in the movement: Abner Jones headed the New England Restoration Movement; Barton Stone led the Kentucky revival; Thomas and Alexander Campbell - to many the spiritual figureheads of the Disciples; and Walter Scott. Thomas Campbell composed and published a Declaration and Address in 1809, which laid down the thirteen propositions the Disciples would follow. To him too they owe their name, chosen deliberately to avoid the suspicion that a new denomination was in the making. His aim was to draw together existing separate churches. Nevertheless, when Stone's 'Christians' and Campbell's 'Disciples' merged the result bore all the hallmarks of a new denomination. Its first national convention was in 1849. Once established, the Disciples' method of evangelism enabled the church to expand. In the course of its evangelistic activities it produced publications which made direct intellectual appeal to reason based on a Lockean approach to belief , as well as a populist emphasis on the Bible rather than theology. Liberal theology and historical critical methods of interpretation did bring division within the Disciples. Progressives embraced the new ideas, while conservative became more committed to their traditions. The latter finally split away in 1906 to form the Church of Christ.

Symbols Like other Christian traditions, the Disciples of Christ take bread and wine in commemoration of Christ's death. Baptism is by full immersion since the act of full immersion both recalls the manner in which baptisms occurred in the New Testament and symbolises the act of dying with Christ and rising to new life.
The church's logo is a red chalice on a white background with a white cross over the chalice.

Adherents The church has almost 1 million members in the U.S.A. and Canada (http://www.disciples.org/)

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 Office of Communication, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), PO Box 1986, Indiana 46206.