Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ

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Description

The Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ are a part of the Restoration Movement and are in the theological middle ground between the Disciples of Christ and the Church of Christ (non-instrumental).

These churches are best defined as those in the Restoration Movement who have chosen not to be identified with the denomination styled as The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) but have also chosen not to make the use or lack of use of musical instruments in worship services a test of fellowship as it is in the Church of Christ (non-instrumental).

Congregational Nomenclature

The churches are independent congregations and typically go by the name "Christian Church," but often use the name "Church of Christ" as well. It is common for the church to be known as "City Name Christian Church," but in some areas they may be known as "The Christian Church at City Name." In recent history, individual congregations have made the decision to change their formal name to exclude traditional nomenclature and to adopt more generic names like "Christ's Church at Region Name" or "Region Name Community Fellowship". The tendency in Restoration churches to choose names such as "Christian Church" and "Church of Christ" can cause difficulties in identifying the affiliation (if any) of an individual church based solely on its name. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for churches outside of the Restoration Movement to use similar names.

Separation from the Disciples of Christ

The Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ (DoC) parted ways due primarily to disagreements on the denominationalization of the DoC. The split occurred as local congregations refused to take part in rapidly developing extra-congregational organizations that eventually evolved into a General Assembly.

Because of this separation, many Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ are not only non-denominational, they can be anti-denominational, avoiding even the appearance or language associated with denominationalism.

The official split from the DoC is difficult to date. Suggestions range from 1926 to 1971 based on the events outlined below:

  • 1926: Disillusionment at the Memphis Convention lead to first North American Christian Convention (NACC) in 1927.
  • 1930s - 1940s: Symbolic differences and disagreements flourished.
  • 1955: The Directory of the Ministry was first published listing only the "Independents" on a voluntary basis.
  • 1968: Final redaction of the Disciples Year Book removing Independent churches
  • 1971: Independent churches listed separately in the Yearbook of American Churches.

Identity

Because the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ are independent congregations there is no set creed, but The Directory of the Ministry contains the following general description:

"Members of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ believe in the deity and Lordship of Jesus Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, and the autonomy of local congregations. Following the basic principles of the 'Restoration Movement,' they accept and teach believers' baptism (immersion) into Christ for the forgiveness of sins; they assemble for worship on the first day of the week, making the observance of the Lord's Supper a focal point in such worship. They seek the unity of all believers on the basis of faith in and obedience to Christ as the divine Son of God and the acceptance of the New Testament as their all-sufficient rule of faith and practice."

Of the principles cited above, one characteristic marks most Christian Churches and Churches of Christ as distinctly different from other modern evangelical fundamentalist Christian groups today. That is the teaching that a person is ultimately converted to Christ and saved via the vehicle of baptism. They believe that baptism is:

  • by immersion,
  • for confessed believers,
  • submitted to through obedience and faith,
  • to receive the equipping indwelling Spirit of God as a seal and promise of heaven,
  • the only assurance of the hope of the resurrection of the dead,
  • not only an outward sign of an inward change, but is both simultaneously,
  • one baptism indeed, both physically in water and spiritually in the blood of Jesus,
  • the when and where one calls on His name for forgiveness of sin,
  • entry into the body of Christ at large, and
  • entry into membership in the local congregation.

The teaching that salvation comes by grace through faith at immersion into Christ and is the only New Testament example for Christians to follow today is seen by many groups as too similar to a salvation by works rather than a salvation by faith alone. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ would contend that true faith is not merely belief, but no less than a believing trusting and repentant obedience, and that it is Christ's redemptive work that they trust will save them as they obey on the way and by faith reach out to accept Christ's free offer of grace.

Slogans

The following are expressions typically used by such churches as an explanation and clarification of beliefs:

  1. "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent"
    - This defines a commitment to speak, teach, and preach on the contents of the Bible while avoiding additions to the scripture that come about from traditions or cultural developments.
  2. "In essentials unity, in opinions liberty, and in all things love"
    - Essentials include the direct teachings of the Bible, opinions refer to those areas not specifically defined in the Bible (such as musical instruments in worship), and love is held as the unifier that holds the congregation together in spite of differences in opinions.
  3. "No head-quarters but heaven, no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no plea but the gospel, and no name but the divine."
    - These churches hold the Bible as the direct basis for doctrinal statements rather than referencing any denominational creeds and believe that churches should take on no name other than the one that defines them as followers of Christ. Hence the name "Christian"
  4. "Christians only, but not the only Christians."
    - A recognition that the people of these congregations define themselves only as Christians (not Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc.), but they do not consider themselves to be the only Christians.

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