Churches of Christ

Churches of Christ are autonomous Christian congregations associated with one another through distinct beliefs and practices based on their interpretation of the Bible. Represented in the United States and one of several branches across the world, they believe in using only biblical precedents for their doctrine and practices, citing examples from the early Christian church as described in the New Testament. The churches of Christ identify themselves as being nondenominational.[10]

Churches of Christ
OrientationNew Testament, Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement
Congregations41,498 (worldwide)
11,790 (U.S.)[1]
Members2,000,000 (approx.) worldwide;[2] 1,113,362 in the United States (2020)[3]
  • Christian Courier[4]
  • WVBS (videos, educ. material)[5]
  • The Christian Chronicle (news)[6]
  • Apologetics Press[7][8]
  • House to House Heart to Heart[9]

More broadly, the Restoration Movement was a 19th-century, evangelistic, and Bible-based effort launched in various places around the world as several men sought a return to the original teachings and practices of the New Testament. Christian leaders including Robert Sandeman, James O'Kelly, Abner Jones, Elias Smith, Rice Haggard, Thomas Campbell, Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, and Barton W. Stone were trailblazers of similar movements that impacted the eventual phenomenon known as the American Restoration Movement.

The Restoration ideal was also similar and somewhat connected to earlier restoration efforts in Europe (such as those of John Glas, Robert Haldane, and James Haldane), as well as Puritan movements in colonial America. Though differing somewhat in details, each group consisted of like-minded Christians who, although often independent of one another, had declared independence from their various denominations and the traditional creeds, seeking a fresh start to return to their concepts of the doctrines and practices of the New Testament church. They were not establishing a new church but rather sought "the unification of all Christians in a single body patterned after the original church of the New Testament."[11]:54 The names "Church of Christ," "Christian Church," and "Disciples of Christ" were adopted by the movement because they are terms found in the Bible, rather than denominational.

Prior to the U.S. Religious Census of 1906, all congregations associated with the Restoration Movement had been reported together by the Census Bureau. But as the movement developed, tensions grew between those who emphasized unity and those who emphasized restoration, highlighting differences in the groups' underlying approaches to biblical interpretation. For the Churches of Christ, practices not present in accounts of New Testament worship were not permitted in the church. In contrast, the Christian Church may consider any practice not expressly forbidden.[12]:242–247

For example, the aforementioned Christian Church uses musical instruments in worship, whereas the Churches of Christ believe a cappella singing to be proper, although some Church of Christ congregations do use instruments. In addition, there was also disagreement over the appropriateness of organizational structures above the congregational level, such as those of missionary societies and funding orphanages.[13]

Though not officially recognized as distinct movements until 1906, the separation of the Churches of Christ and the Christian Churches had been taking place gradually for decades.

The Restoration Movement was not a purely North American phenomenon, and active mission efforts began in the 18th century.[14] There are now Churches of Christ in Africa, Asia, Australia, South America, Central America, and Europe.