The Christians Church (Disciples of Christ) saw its membership fall below 400,000 in 2018. It is in rapid decline. Jeff Walton writes, “At the current rate, the denomination will shrink by another 50 percent within a decade” (Disciples of Christ on Track to Lose Half its Membership in Ten Years by Michael Gryboski, CP Church & Ministry August 25, 2019, christianpost. com). It may be the fastest shrinking church in the U.S.A.
The Independent Christian Church reported a membership of about 1.2 million in 2018. 42% of its congregations are in five states: Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Missouri. [By comparison, 46% of all churches of Christ in the U.S.A. are located in five states: Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Kentucky.] 46% of its members are located in five states: Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and California. [By comparison 54% of members of the church of Christ are in the U.S.A. are located in five states: Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma] (Non-Instrumental Churches of Christ Facing Uncertain Future by Kent Fillinger, October 13, 2021, christianstandard.com).
The two groups share a common history. The DOC and the ICC both have historical connection to the American restoration movement of the 19th century.
In 1906, a split was recognized between the Christian Church / DOC and the churches of Christ. The reality is this split had taken place decades earlier. Tension over the missionary society occurred before and after the Civil War. Tensions over instrumental music occurred mostly after the Civil War. By 1883, some were openly declaring that division was present (Earl Irvin West, The Search for Ancient Order vol. 2, p. 223). J.W. McGarvey wrote in 1883, “I would not hold membership with a church using one (an organ B.H.)” (West, vol. 2, p. 233). In 1906, S.N.D. North, the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, wrote to David Lipscomb, editor of the Gospel Advocate, to ask whether the churches of Christ should be listed separately from the Disciples of Christ/ Christian Church in the religious census. Lipscomb explained that each church is governed congregationally. In some places the differences had not yet resulted in division, but in other places it had. A few months later North visited the Gospel Advocate office and ask J.W. Shepherd, co-editor of the Gospel Advocate to compile a list of know churches of Christ for census purposes. The churches of Christ were listed separately in the 1910 census. Two major issues contributed to this split: The Missionary Society and instrumental music in worship (History of the Disciples, disciples.org). There were other issues, as well, for example – the role of women in the church (Fred Arthur Bailey, The Status of Women in the Disciples of Christ, 1865-1900). At the time of the split the Christian Church was much larger than the church of Christ. They had over six times the number of members, and over three times the number of congregations (Bill Humble, The Story of Restoration, p. 66, 79).
In 1926, another split began to occur, which some say was not complete until 1971. The Independent Christian Church (ICC) split from the DOC. One source says that the “due primarily to disagreements concerning liberal trends and development of denominational structure within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The split occurred as local congregations refused to take part in rapidly developing extra-congregational organizations that eventually evolved into a General Assembly. They were also disturbed by what they saw as liberal influences within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) concerning Biblical criticism and social justice. This came to a head at the 1926 DOC convention in Memphis, Tennessee” (Independent Christian Church/Churches of Christ, en-academic.com). There was also the issue of membership. In the 1920’s it was discovered that the missionary society’s missionaries were accepting the un-immersed as members, a practice known as “open membership” (Bill Humble, p. 68). Edwin V. Hayden (of the ICC) lists four reasons for the split: (1) Federation in interdenominational activities; (2) The acceptance of “the historical criticism advanced by modern scholars”; (3) Open membership; (4) The limitation of missionary activities through comity agreement (Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 625 ref. Edwin V. Hayden, 50 Years of Digression and Disturbance, p.6). The exact date of the split is disputed. Some say it occurred in 1926, at the Memphis convention. Some date it in 1927, when the conservative of the Christian Church formed the North American Christian Convention (NACC). Some date it in 1955, when a directory of ministers was published of the “Undenominational Fellowship of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.” Some date it in 1968, when the Disciples of Christ restructured under a General Assembly. Still others date it in 1971, when the Yearbook of American Churches was asked to list Christian Churches separately.
The DOC has continued to digress. “The leadership of the Disciples of Christ… has now abandoned the concept of restoring New Testament Christianity. They believe that in the light of modern scholarship it is no longer possible to accept the New Testament as a pattern for the church” (Bill Humble, p. 77).
Beliefs and Practices
DOC: “We believe in the importance of baptism. We see full immersion as the most symbolic mode and the way that baptism was practiced in the New Testament. However, we also freely accept members into our congregations who have been baptized by other means: infant baptism and confirmation, or adult baptism by sprinkling” [First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Rogers, Arkansas, fccrogers.org].
ICC: “The Bible shows the way that leads to salvation: (1) Belief and confession of Jesus Christ; (2) Repentance from sinful life; (3) Baptism (immersion) for the forgiveness of sins; (4) Receiving the Holy Spirit as guide and counselor; (5) Faithfulness to Christ” (Central Christian Church, Bristol, Tennessee, cccbristol.com). Ken Chumbley, who left the Christian Church, writes, “Many people assume that all of those involved with the Independent Christian Church baptize for the remission of sins. However, this is a fallacy. Common practice among Christian Churches in Australia, and I am persuaded in this country also, is to put off a baptism until the next Sunday or some special service. To say the least, this shows a light regard for baptism… Further, there was, and is, the practice of receiving anyone who has been immersed regardless of whether they have been immersed for the remission of sins… Mr. Henderson [Los Gatos (California) Christian Church – B.H.] states, ‘I do not teach that baptism is a necessity for the remission of sins, but that it is a public declaration of the inward work of the Holy Spirit…’” (Why I Left the Independent Christian Church by Ken Chumbley, ed. Terry Hightower, Denominationalism Versus the Bible).
DOC: “We invite all Christians to participate in the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper together” (fccrogers.org).
ICC: “The Lord’s Supper is the celebration of the New Covenant, in which the Christian community remembers Christ and celebrates the covenantal relationship they have with Him and with each other. Congregations in this fellowship typically celebrate the Lord’s Supper at least weekly” [Gillette (Wyoming) Christian Church, gillettechristianchurch.com]. Dan Goddard, who was once a preacher at the Bell Gardens Christian Church in Southern California but who left the Christian Church writes, “Partaking of the Lord’s Supper on days not authorized was another practice of concern. We partook of the Lord’s Supper on any night we chose with the logic, ‘The Lord is here, the Lord is near, so let’s acknowledge this by partaking of the Lord’s Supper” (Why I Left the Independent Christian Church #1, Seek The Old Paths, October 1995).
3. Instrumental Music
It is common for both groups to use mechanical instrumental music in worship. It is also common for them to use choirs. Dan Goddard writes of his time in the Christian Church, “We had our choirs, chorales, rock bands and orchestras – all during the worship services. Our philosophy was ‘The more you entertain them, the more people will come’” (Why I Left #1).
4. Women’s Roles
Both groups use women in public and to lead the church. The “Rev.” Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens is the current General Minister and President of the DOC. “Rev.” Yvonne Gilmore is Interim Administration Secretary of the National Convention. “Rev.” Lori Tapia is the National Pastor of Hispanic Ministries (disciples.org). Dan Goddard writes, “We had women choir directors, women of church boards, Women teaching mix adult Bible classes, women educational directors, women youth ministers, and women who filled in for their husbands in elders’ meetings” (Why I Left #1).
DOC: It considers itself in full communion with the United Church of Christ and The United Church of Canada. It is a member of ecumenical associations: World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches of Christ USA, and other interfaith groups. W.E. Garrison stated in 1952 before the Third World Conference on Faith and Order, a unit of the World Council of Churches, that there should be “union upon loyalty to Christ with full freedom of opinion in regard to doctrines and ordinances.” “Jesus is Lord” must be the only creedal or doctrinal test. There must be an interchangeable membership. There must be an interchangeable ministry. There must be equal freedom in forms of worship, with no established ritual for all congregations. Varieties of organization and structure must exist independently but harmoniously within one united church. There must be agencies of cooperation. (Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 719-720).
ICC: They tend to reject denominationalism and to consider themselves “Christians only” (4 Beliefs That Set Independent Christian Church From Other Denominations by Jocelyn Mackie, newsmax.com).
DOC: Since 1968 it has had three levels of organization: local (congregational), regional (there are currently 31 regions), and general (Frank Mead and Samuel Hill, Handbook of Denominations, p. 72-74; Our Structure, disciples.org). Each level has its own roles. e.g. The regional level provides leadership in such matters as standing and credentialing of ministers, and the relocation of pastors (Our Structure, disciples.org). DOC General headquarters are located in Indianapolis, Indiana (disciples.org).
ICC: “Every Christian Church is completely independent. There is no denominational control, hierarchy, or national headquarters… Each church is self-governed and determines its own affairs based on the word of God” (Atlanta Christian Church, What Kind of Church is This?, atlantachristianfamily.org; Handbook of Denominations, p. 75-76).
This is a bit tricky. DOC and ICC both may be referred to as the Christian Church. The ICC is also sometimes referred to as the conservative Christian Church. Further, some ICC are referred to as Church of Christ, also instrumental Churches of Christ. I experienced this once, years ago, while traveling in Michigan.
Very interesting. Thanks for all your research and an excellent article. 👍👍
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