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Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), sometimes called Campbellites, a Protestant religious body founded early in the 19th cent. in the United States. Its primary thesis is that the Bible alone should form the basis for faith and conduct, each individual interpreting the Bible for himself or herself. Thomas Campbell, preaching in W Pennsylvania, was censured by his presbytery for trying to gather into the church scattered groups of Christians. He made a plea for unity among all Christians with no other platform than the primitive and simple gospel. In 1809 he formed the Christian Association of Washington, Pa., but neither he nor his son Alexander Campbell, who joined him in the work, desired that a new denomination should be established. An independent church was built (1811) at Brush Run, Pa., with Alexander as the minister. The movement expanded rapidly. Another minister, Barton Warren Stone, had also broken away from the Presbyterian Church and formed a church whose members were known as "Christians." Similar separatist groups seceded, under the leadership of James O'Kelley, from the Methodist Church in North Carolina and, under Abner Jones and Elias Smith, from some of the Baptist churches in New England. Both Stone and Alexander Campbell had adopted immersion, and this brought them for a time into sympathetic relations with the Baptists. In 1832 practically all of Stone's group and many from the other two branches united with the "Disciples" led by Campbell. The remainder of the "Christians," who were subsequently organized as the Christian Church, merged (1931) with the Congregational Church (see Congregationalism). The merged "Disciples" and "Christians" developed strongly and rapidly after the Civil War, particularly in the central and western states, and missionary labors have extended the church throughout the world. A separation into two churches took place in 1906 because of a dispute over the use of instrumental music at the church service; the progressive group, which allowed it, became known as the Disciples of Christ, while the conservatives, who dissented, were organized as Churches of Christ. In 1968 the Disciples of Christ reorganized as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Membership in the church is c.850,000 worldwide (1999).

See W. E. Garrison and A. T. DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ, a History (rev. ed. 1958, repr. 1964); L. Cochran, Captives of the Word (1969).

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