Back to OWR Homepage Back to Christianity Flowchart

Back to
Continental European Protestantism

Churches of Christ

Doctrines In most respects the Churches of Christ adhere to the ideas of the 19th century Restoration Movement as expressed in the early Disciples churches from which it parted in 1906. In brief there is a principled rejection of creeds and systematic theology, the conviction being that church unity can only be built upon Christ and the Bible. Yet it was a dispute about the authority of scripture within the disciples' churches that brought the Churches of Christ into being. Progressives within the former took the view that whatever was not expressly forbidden in scripture and seemed good was lawful; conservatives held that only what scripture commanded was legitimate as regards church order and personal conduct. The Disciples' innovative use of liberal interpretation and historical criticism widened this fundamental division. Conservatives objected to the introduction of an order of pastors, above the traditional rule of elders; disapproved of open communion and instrumental music in worship; and were opposed to the new mission societies. These differences were enough to drive conservatives to form separate Churches of Christ. Despite these differences there is little enforcement of belief or practice in what are congregationally run churches, which allows much more autonomy to individuals. Where pastoral guidance, or shepherding, is evident it is concerned more with conduct than belief. Disciplers are commonly used to oversee spiritual development.

History The Churches of Christ came into being as a distinctive movement in 1906 when a group within the Disciples of Christ broke away because they objected to the use of instrumental music in church and the presence of organised mission societies. The church enjoyed sustained growth in the 1920s and up until the 1970s when growth reached a plateau. In spite of the church's early opposition to organised missionary activity, individual churches do in fact support missions in a number of countries throughout the world. Some churches also sponsor radio and television stations, as well as providing funding for orphanages and homes for the elderly.

Symbols Both baptism and the observance of the Lord's Supper play a central role in the symbolism of the church. The Churches of Christ observe the Lord's Supper on a weekly basis. This practice is based on the verse in Acts 20:7: "And on the first day of the week . . . the disciples came together to break bread . . . ." The church practices believer's baptism (as opposed to infant baptism) because baptism is regarded as involving the deliberate rejection of sin.
Both church architecture and church worship avoid all forms of ostentation. There are no musical instruments to accompany worship on the grounds that the early church itself did not use musical instruments during its first five centuries.

Adherents It is difficult to estimate with accuracy the number of members of the Churches of Christ since the movement is highly decentralised and official statistical figures are not kept. Estimates of the numerical size of the church vary between 2.5 and 3 million (

Main Centre
 The Churches of Christ do not have a headquarters or main centre. The church is particularly strong in the southern states of the United States.