The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is part of what was called the Stone-Campbell movement. We trace our beginnings to a place called Cane Ridge, Kentucky in the year 1801. By 1809, the movement was official (splitting off from the Presbyterian Church). During the years from 1866 until about 1917 the movement was growing very large and diverse. The original founders of the movement had set the church on a course to “restore the ancient order of things and to build Christian unity.” These were the two main focuses of the movement.
During these years (late 1800’s and early 1900’s) there became a division of thought amongst the churches in the movement. At the heart of the division was that some congregations wanted to focus on returning to the ancient order of things, and the other congregations wanted to focus on Christian unity. This led to a split in the movement. For the first time in 1906, these branches listed themselves as separate from one another. The Churches of Christ (mostly concentrated in the former Confederate states) chose for themselves to pursue the ancient order of things, while the Disciples of Christ (mainly concentrated in the upper Midwest) continued on their way toward pursuing Christian unity.
As you know, we the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are still talking about unity as our “polar star.” Our focus on Christian unity is an exciting part of our history and still defines who we are and what we are about. During these same years (late 1800’s and early 1900’s) along with this passion for unity came four distinct characteristics that began to define the Disciples of Christ movement. Journalism was a defining part of the movement (publishing articles, books, weekly periodicals and then a monthly magazine called The Disciple (later called Disciples World). For nearly 100 years there was always a magazine or periodical published. I received the last edition a few years ago (sadly, the denomination no longer publishes periodicals). Secondly, three major missionary movements emerged and became vital ministries within the movement (The Christian Women’s Board of Missions and the Foreign Christian Missionary Society and the National Benevolent Association). Thirdly, the Disciples committed themselves to higher education. We started more than 400 higher education institutions including colleges, universities and seminaries. Finally, the fourth defining characteristic was that we began working with Christians from other denominations on a regular and intentional basis (ecumenism). Our leaders participated in creating organizations that united Christians across denominational lines.
These commitments were very attractive to Christians at the time. In 1909, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) counted 1,250,000 members. Today we have about 400,000 members. I took this information out of a book called: the Disciples: A Historical Sketch by Duane Cummins. As I write this, I am wondering how historians might write about the church today. What all has changed over the past 100 years? What might they say we are committed to? What might they say we are about? Our congregation’s new vision is about remaining a church that welcomes everyone (unity); it’s also about becoming a deeply spiritual church and continuing our passionate pursuit of service to others in the name of Christ. I just thought you’d like to know.
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