Churches of Christ

Introduction | Disciples of Christ


    I. Group Profile

    1. Name: Churches of Christ

    2. Founder: Alexander Campbell, died in 1866.

    3. Date of Birth: 1788

    4. Birth Place: County Down, Ireland

    5. Year Founded: 1906

    6. Brief History: Alexander Campbell gathered followers in 1810 after he arrived in America preaching a new way of primitivism apart from any organized religion. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Thomas Campbell who had split from the Presbyterian church and advocated Christian unity based on the New Testament. Alexander reshaped some of his father's ideas, and in 1832 his followers joined with Barton W. Stone's and began the Stone-Campbell movement (Eliade, 1987: 34); however, this group stayed together less than a century before splitting. Those associated with Campbell denied Stone's ideas of premillennialism. (Hughes, 1996: 115) Tension rose in 1849 with the formation of the American Christian Mission Society. (Tyler, 1894: 161) Many Campbellites felt that this was yet another unBiblically structured organization that they needed to flee from and that should not be accepted. Finally in 1906 each was declared its own sect: the churches of Christ under Alexander Campbell's original ideas and the Christian Churches, or Disciples of Christ, under Stone. (Hughes, 1996: 115) The Churches of Christ were purposefully not capitalized in order to emphasize the fact that they are not a structured group with any kind of head organization. Divisions within the Restoration Movement over many different issues followed this initial split. (Melton, 1996: 477)

    7. Sacred or Revered Texts: Bible - specifically the New Testament

    8. Cult or Sect:

      Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.

    9. Size of Group: over 2,000,000 (

    II. Beliefs of the Group

      The Churches of Christ have been considered the conservative wing of the Restoration movement. Although postmillennialism was once an idea that set this group apart, this is just one of many topics that tends to create factions within the church. The churches of Christ have been split into different groups according to these varying beliefs. (Melton, 1996: 479) A major division is that between the Non-Instrumental Church of Christ and the instrumental Christian Church/Churches of Christ. While some argue that they should not use musical instruments in worship because they are not described in the New Testament, others feel they are at liberty to use them due to instrument use described in the Old Testament, such as the Biblical character, David, who danced with a tamborine. (Melton, 1996: 476-478)

      Another main division occurs between the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ regarding the use of missionary organizations. Many non-instrumental Churches of Christ believe that there should be no headquarters for missions, but that money should be raised individually. Their claim goes back to the idea of no formal organization. (Melton, 1996: 476-478)

      Views on women's roles in the church have varied across all the church boundaries as well. The more conservative churches, mainly the Churches of Christ, tend to exclude women from leadership activities during worship. For example, many churches do not allow women to lead prayers or serve communion. This is changing in some areas where churches are accepting women's involvement. This has potential to cause another division within the organization depending on the beliefs of the members in the specific congregations. Due to the extensive overlapping of beliefs among the schisms, it is difficult to make clear distinct boundaries between them.

      Although Alexander Campbell formed this group based on the idea of achieving unity among followers of God, the group has shaped into an exclusive branch due to the fact that they believe that all the denominations around them are incorrect in their teaching. The idea of no formal structure is still central to their thinking. They stand firmly to the idea to speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where it does so. (Jorgenson, 1989: 129)

      Currently, Tennessee has the most members in the Churches of Christ per capita.

      Go back to the Restoration Movement

    III. Links to Churches of Christ Web Sites

      Who are the Churches of Christ?
      This is a great site that offers brief answers to 19 questions about the Churches of Christ, including information on the structure and historical background of the church, and explanations of many of their beliefs regarding such issues as baptism, communion, predestination, and music.
      This site, available in eight different languages, offers information on current news in the Churches of Christ, including a description of all their supported missions, online Bibles, Internet Bible studies, discussion groups, and a directory of the Churches of Christ.

    IV. Bibliography

    Eliade, Mircea. 1987.
    The Encyclopedia of Religion. Volume 3. New York: MacMillian Publishing Co. p: 34.

    Hughes, Richard T. 1996.
    Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

    Jorgenson, Dale A. 1989.
    Theological and Aesthetic Roots in the Stone-Campbell Movement. Kirksville: The Thomas Jefferson University Press.

    Melton, J. Gordon. 1996.
    Encyclopedia of American Religions. Detroit: Gale. 5th ed. pps: 476-480.

    Tyler, B. B. 1894.
    "A History of the Disciples of Christ." The American Church History Series. Volume XII. New York: Scribner's.

    Created by Kelly Stewart
    For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
    Spring Term, 1998
    University of Virginia
    Last Updated: 07/23/01