The Christian Church
The term "Christian Church" denotes two separate religious bodies. Both evolved from a nineteenth-century division in the ranks of what is known as the "Restoration Movement." What we commonly think of, as the Christian Church is the liberal branch of this movement known officially as the Churches of Christ (Disciples), in a brotherhood sense as the Disciples of Christ Church, and congregationally as the Christian Church. The name of the group is not, as some believe, the first Christian Church. The term "First" designates the congregation; as a town might have a First Christian Church, Main Street Christian Church, and Central Christian Church. The other segment never uses the designation Disciples of Christ. They are sometimes referred to as the conservative or independent Christian Church.
There are approximately 1,900,000 members of the Christian Church in about 8,00() congregations. Conservatives and liberals are about equal in number. The liberals being represented by their International Convention and its auxiliary United Christian Missionary Society; and the conservatives have their North American Christian Convention.
Besides the major liberal-conservative cleavage in the Christian Church, the liberals are further divided over baptism. A majority holds to immersion as necessary for church membership, not necessarily for salvation, while a minority admits the pious unimmersed. However, this practice, known as "open membership" has not caused a rupture in their fellowship, for it is treated as a congregational matter.
The bulk of the membership is situated in the midwestern states of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri. Membership statistics still reflect the situation as it existed at the time of the original division. Churches in the South tended to be more conservative, and churches in the North more liberal. Some believe this was due in part to the endorsement given the northern cause by the missionary society during the Civil War. It may be noted that churches of Christ (those who took the most conservative position in the controversy) are increasing their numbers in the North, whereas Christian Churches have made no significant inroads in the South. The seeming justification to the liberals in 1849 for the society was the numerical growth it would bring about. However, history has disproved the claim that human institutions are conducive to growth. Since 1906 when the split was complete, Christian Churches have grown 93.170 while the "backward," "non-progressive," " anti-society" churches of Christ have increased 964.8%
History of Development
The history of the Christian Church is difficult to recount in specific terms. Like Catholicism it evolved gradually. Christian Church scholars admit and teach that the restoration movement from which they developed was not begun as a denomination. They teach that it was an effort to observe New Testament principles toward the end that the church of the first century might exist on earth again, unencumbered by sectarian creeds and traditional practices. But now nearly all among the liberal (Disciples) element will admit to being a denomination. The characteristics of a denomination are there: a headquarters in Indianapolis with a brotherhood publishing house in St. Louis, recognition of "sister-denominations," organization into districts with conventions, pastors-at-large, and brotherhood-wide institutions, etc. The question is: if they did not begin as a denomination, but are one today, when did they become one? The answer is not simple.
After the restoration movement had achieved great numerical and spiritual success for about fifty years, new attitudes among leaders resulted in several changes. The attitudes and the resultant changes smacked of denominationalism. Preachers became pastors and assumed the title of "Reverend." Instrumental music was added to the worship. Meetinghouses became sanctuaries. Various and sundry sub-church organizations sprang up with offices unknown to the New Testament. The church extended its domain to the areas of recreation, entertainment and social welfare. A brotherhood-wide society was established to facilitate the preaching of the gospel. Somewhere in the years spanning 1850 to around 1890 the modern Christian Church was born. By 1906 it was recognized as a body separate from the churches of Christ who had rejected these various innovations. The Christian Church to this day claims that churches of Christ broke off from the main body. Although fewer in number, the churches of Christ did not leave or break off from anything. They remained constant while the changes were made in the liberal element. It is unreasonable to assert that the churches of Christ did the leaving.
The conservative element of the Christian Church disavows the UCMS' but has developed a less tightly organized, less authoritative society of their own. They tend to include fewer denominational practices than their more modernistic brethren, but are united in favor of the mechanical instrument.
Creed and Government
The Christian Church claims to have no creed but Christ and the New Testament They make mention of the liberty each member has for himself to decide on his own interpretation of the Bible. "You may be as liberal or as conservative as you like," one of their pastors-at-large once said. However, this liberty is more restricted than some
of them realize by the influence of the International Convention and its policies. Churches are "autonomous" until they decide to leave the Convention or oppose its position. Preachers are at "liberty" to teach their own convictions until they accuse the Christian Church of error. In reality it would be more accurate to say that rather than the New Testament, the true creed is the general beliefs of the Christian Church as defined by their leaders in the conventions. If these statements seem a little harsh, I can gladly offer evidence to substantiate them from my own experiences as one of their preachers.
The division of the nineteenth-century centered about two major controversies: whether or not churches could build and maintain organizations separate from the local church for the purpose of preaching the gospel, and whether or not mechanical instruments of music could be used to accompany singing in worship. The missionary society was established in October of 1849. Its influence at first was not great, and it nearly died. Since church participation in this was not visible, it did not serve as the tangible symbol of a digressive attitude as the piano and organ did. With the advent of the instruments in the years following 1859, brethren began to line up and brand each other as "anti" (conservative) or "digressive" (liberal). These matters shall never be resolved by an appeal to how much may or may not be accomplished with them, or how good or bad they seem to us, or who does not endorse them. The real question is one of Bible authority.
Is it right to engage in practices not authorized by the God of Heaven? The liberals said that where the Bible is silent we may act. This attitude has led to the introduction of countless practices found in denominationalism but not in the doctrine of Christ. We note such recent matters as baby-blessing, candle-lighting, clerical vestments, local church organization along the lines of civil government, proposed mergers with denominations, and such like. Members of the church of Christ are highly misinformed when they think, "the instrument of music is the only difference." The introduction of unscriptural practices did not stop with the society and the instrument, but as the sound preachers of the day aptly foretold, have but opened the gates to a flood that knows no bounds.
The Bible treats of no super-organization to control preaching or benevolence. The local church is the only provision God made for collective activity among Christians. Through it and the pattern provided for it, Christians may work together to accomplish all of God's jurposes. Similarly no passage of the New Testament remotely hints at mechanical instruments of music in worship, but every verse having to do with music as worship specifies singing as the act acceptable with God. Authority has not been found to this day for the missionary society, the instrument of music, or for any other innovation of the Christian Church. But this body today is more concerned with denomination fraternizing, giant church plants, increasing efficient centralization, impressive ceremonies, and popular appeasement than with Bible authority, and has been for a hundred years.
The preceding article has not been written in a spirit of derision or bitterness. If such a spirit once existed in the writer, it has long passed. But if any reader of the article be a member of the Christian Church, I only ask that he investigate for himself to confirm the veracity of the statements here made. If such an investigation proves to you that the Christian Church is an apostate, digressive, and denominational body, won't you then leave it? As many truth-seeking souls through the years have done, including this writer, won't you renounce the errors of men, obey the truth to the purifying of your soul and be numbered among the Israel of God? Trust in Christ, his word, and his way!
TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 1, pp. 16-18 October 1965