Disciples of Christ

Disciples of Christ or, as they prefer to call themselves, "The Church of Christ," a body of Baptists sometimes called by their opponents "Campbellites," assumed a distinct ecclesiastical organization about the year 1827. In 1808 Thomas Campbell migrated from Ireland, and settled in Western Pennsylvania as a minister of the "Seceders." He was a conscientious advocate of religious reform, and contended for a restoration of the Christian Church to apostolic practice and precept.: SEE CAMPBELL, THOMAS. In 1809 he was joined by his son Alexander, who heartily sympathized with him in his views of religious reform. SEE CAMPBELI, ALEXANDER. The first practical movement was to form a small association of disciples for the special study of the Scriptures, with the pledge that, rejecting all creeds and confessions of faith, they would strictly conform their practice to the teachings of 'the divine Word. This was a practical separation from the "Seceders," and resulted in the organization of a small congregation in Washington County, Pennslvania, known as the Brush Run Church, September 10, 1810. Thomas Campbell was one of the original elders of this congregation, and by it his son Alexander was first ordained to the ministry. It was not long till the question of baptism engaged their attention, and, after a thorough investigation among themselves, the father and son, with five others, reached the conclusion that the Scriptures taught the "immersion of believers." Accordingly, on the 2d of June, 1812, they were immersed by a Baptist minister. In 1815 they had increased to some five or six congregations, when they attached themselves to the Redstone (Baptist) Association, stipulating, however, in writing, that no "terms of union or communion other than the Holy Scriptures should be required." To many of the Baptist preachers this union was distasteful from the first, and it finally resulted in the withdrawal of these congregations, who then joined the Mahoning (Ohio) Association, which more nearly accorded with them, and which finally became thoroughly identified with the movement.

In 1823 Alexander Campbell established the "Christian Baptist." Through this monthly, and several public oral debates on baptism, and extensive tours of preaching, his views spread rapidly and widely among the Baptists. But personal opposition at last took the form of ecclesiastical action, and in 1827 the Dover Association of Virginia decreed the excommunication from Baptist fellowship of all who held and advocated the views of Alexander Campbell. This was the beginning of a general action among the Baptists; and the Reformers, as they were called, were compelled to associate in a separate organization, which rapidly increased, especially in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Virginia. Churches were also formed in .the British Provinces of North America, in England, Wales, Ireland, and Australia. They are increasing in all these countries, and in England are rapidly becoming numerous.

II. Principles and Practice. — The Disciples profess to reject all creeds and confessions of faith as of human origin and divisive in their influence, and to take the Holy Scriptures, and these alone, as the only authority in faith and practice binding upon Christians. "Faith in the testimony of God, and obedience to the commandments of Christ, are the only bond of union." The subtle speculations of theology are not to be forced upon the faith or conscience of Christians, and Bible themes are to be presented in Bible terms. For objecting to many of the terms of theology, such as "trinity," "eternally begotten," "co-essential," and "consubstantial," they have been by some charged with being "Unitarians." But on this subject there is now perhaps no respectable doubt of their entire "orthodoxy." They break the loaf, in commemoration of the sacrifice of the Savior, every first day of the week. This practice, they contend, has the warrant of apostolic example, and is therefore of divine obligation. It is claimed that it was the chief object of the meetings of the first Christians on the Lord's day, and its peculiar sanctification. They hold that faith and repentance are the divinely-appointed antecedents to baptism, and that it is the privilege and the duty of the Christian minister to say to all who believe and repent, "Be immersed, every one of you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." They are congregational in their organization, and recognize three classes of officers: 1, elders, presbyters, or bishops; 2, deacons; 3, evangelists. These last constitute the itinerating ministry or the missionaries of the Church, and are supported by voluntary contributions. The Disciples acknowledge the obligation to provide for the preaching of the Gospel to be of the highest kind, and are very active in evangelical labor. In questions of speculative opinion they allow the widest differences, but contend earnestly for the unity of a practical acknowledgment of one faith, one Lord, one immersion, one hope, one body, one spirit, one God and Father of all. On the subjects of the atonement, the resurrection, and the future judgment, they hold the common faith of evangelical Christians.

III. The Disciples, according to the U.S. census of 1890, numbered 641,051 members. They are distinguished for their interest in education, and have a large number of academies and seminaries, and several colleges of high standing. Among these the most prominent are Bethany College, founded by A. Campbell, and presided over by him until his death; Kentucky University, and the Northwestern Christian University, at Indianapolis; Eureka College, Illinois, and Hiram College, Ohio. They have 25 periodicals, viz. 9 weeklies, 15 monthlies, and 1 quarterly. Of these, two (monthlies) are published, one in Great Britain and one in Canada; all the rest in the United States. The most representative of the latter are The Millennial Harbinger (monthly), Bethany; M.E. Lard's Quarterly, Lexington, Ky.; The Review, Cincinnati, Ohio, and The Standard, Cleveland, Ohio (weeklies).

Literature. —

1. The writings of Alexander Campbell (see art.);

2. The Christian Baptist, 7 volumes;

3. The Millennial Harbinger, 38 volumes;

4. Jeter, Campbellism Examined (N.Y. 12mo), and Lard's Review of Jeter;

5. McGarvey's Commentary on Acts;

6. Milligan, Faith and Reason;

7. Lamar, Interpretation;

8. Christian Review, January 1855; and 1856, page 480; Princeton Review, 1845, page 183; American Bib. Repository, 2d series, 1:94, 295; 3:203.

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