The Disciples of Christ represents a mainline Protestant denomination within the larger Christian faith. With a polity that is decidedly Congregationalist, the Disciples of Christ continues to maintain a notable presence within the subject of modern examples of Christianity.
The history and current beliefs of this church can make for compelling reading, even if you are not a member. While the current incarnation of this church can be traced back to Kansas City in 1968, the true history of this denomination goes back a good deal further than that.
The History Of The Disciples Of Christ
By the dawn of the 1800s, denominationalism was in rough shape. Many leaders and members within the larger Christian faith felt that denominationalism had become too rigid. Through two distinct movements that nonetheless sought to establish and nurture Christian unity, the Disciples of Christ was born.
Thomas and Alexander Campbell represented the first group. They were furious with the limitations imposed by dogmatic sectarianism, particularly in regards to the Lord’s Supper. Barton W. Stone represented the second group. Utilizing creeds as fellowship tests within the church was a particular sore point with the fifth-generation American and Presbyterian.
The aims and ideals of these two groups, which sprung up in Kentucky (Stone) and Western Pennsylvania (the Campbell’s) were quite similar. It was only a matter of time before the two groups decided to come together for a greater good. They did this in 1832 in Lexington KY. Unfortunately, the desire to build a faith out of the teachings of the New Testament proved to be problematic. Differences of opinion created divisions and chaos. However, towards the end of the Second World War, reformation and restructuring seemed within reach. However, it wasn’t until 1968 that the Disciples of Christ took the form it largely continues to hold to this day.
Beliefs, Practices, And Current Status
The Lord’s Supper is a crucial component to the beliefs and practices of most members of the Disciples of Christ. Within most congregations, you can find members singing hymns, reading from both the Old Testament and New Testament that are found within Christian scripture, and listening to the word of God through sermons and other mediums.
Each congregation is given the ability to chart its own course, in regards to worshipping, studying, performing Christian services, and witnessing to the world. An interesting component to the Disciples of Christ involves the element of inclusion. Regardless of denomination, communion is granted to anyone. The only requirement that is consistent across virtually all congregations is that the individual must recognize Christ as Lord. The church has long since established itself as a branch of Christianity that wants to make itself available to all interested parties. This is regardless of their denomination, their race, their age, their economic background, or even their sexuality. It was in 2013 that the Disciples of Christ voted on a resolution to embrace sexual orientations and gender identities, a very progressive step for any organized religion.
Acceptance of Jesus Christ is essential, as is obedience to him in baptism. There is also no “official” interpretation of the Bible. Furthermore, the Disciples of Christ do not believe that creeds should be used as “tests”, in terms of determining whether or not someone is a true follower of Jesus.
In the present, the Disciples of Christ is home to over 3600 congregations. As of 2014, the number of members formally registered with the church is 497,423. While this number remains considerable, it is important to note that membership within the church has been on a significant downturn, going back to approximately the middle of the 20th century. Membership peaked in the 1950s with a little under two million members.