Bible Class Curricula - Denominational Doctrines (Part 2) - Lesson #1 - The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Religion

  1. History of the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ
    1. When did this movement start? This movement started with a desire in the early 1800s to go back to the Bible. The churches of Christ and the Christian Church officially split in 1906.
    2. Where did it start? North America
    3. Where is their official headquarters? Their headquarters are located at 130 East Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204.1
    4. Who founded this movement? The original movement had good intentions as a result of men like Barton W. Stone, Thomas Campbell, and Alexander Campbell – men who wanted to restore the New Testament church. The Disciples of Christ soon abandoned that mission, and have since lost their desire to return to the original pattern of pure New Testament Christianity. The following statement from their official website helps us understand that the Christian Church recognizes itself as a denomination. "The Disciples have a long heritage of openness to other Christian traditions having come into existence as a 19th-century protest movement against denominational exclusiveness. … The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a North American denomination" (emp. in original).2
    5. What is their authority? They would claim that it is the Bible. However, they have turned a deaf ear to Scripture and have sanctioned many denominational trends. They now have a General Assembly that makes decisions on matters such as functionality, "matters of conscience," and effectually Scripture; also, the many churches’ ministries report to this centralized voting body.3
    6. Who is the head of the Christian Church? While Jesus may be Head in name, it is evident that there are other people running the Disciples of Christ movement. For example, the Disciples of Christ boast about their new general minister and president – who is a woman:

      Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins serves as General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. …

      As General Minister, she is general pastor of the denomination, responsible for representing the wholeness of the church, for reconciling differences, and for helping the church retain its clarity of mission and identity. Her work includes interpreting The Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and convening tables for cooperative work.

      As General President, she is the chief executive officer for the denomination, responsible for overseeing the work of the church's various structures. … Upon her election in 2005, she was the first female head of a mainline denomination. At the 2011 General Assembly, she was re-elected to a second six-year term, which will extend to July 2017.4

    7. How do churches of Christ, Independent Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ differ? The first started with Christ – and not too long after they gained much popular momentum in America, the latter two began, starting off with a desire to return to the Bible. However, the Disciples of Christ and the Christian Church separated from the church of Christ over the issue of instrumental music in worship to God. Since then, the Disciples of Christ have become extremely liberal in their theology while the ICC is somewhat less so.
  2. Doctrines of the Christian Church Examined
    1. The Christian Church uses an unscriptural name. While it is true that the New Testament church is composed of Christians, it is never named after Christians (1 Corinthians 12:27). There is a significant difference in the designations, “church of Christ” and “Christian Church.” The latter designation puts the emphasis on Christians rather than on Christ. Where is the authority for calling the Lord’s church the “Christian Church”? We do not find any example of such in the New Testament. Instead, we find only descriptors of the church that honor God and Christ (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; 1 Timothy 3:15; Acts 20:28).
    2. As demonstrated earlier, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) openly claims to be a denomination – a sanctioned division – of Christianity. However, it is sinful – not sanctioned – to divide the one faith of the one body which is the one church (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:3-6).
    3. The main point of separation between Christian churches and churches of Christ began with the matter of biblical authority, especially as it relates to instrumental music. The Disciples of Christ see nothing wrong with using instruments of music in worship to God. The churches of Christ find no authority for bringing instrumental music into worship. There is not a single passage in the entire New Testament that authorizes the use of instrumental music (see Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16-17). Renowned Christian Church scholar (and editor of The Christian Evangelist) J.H. Garrison admitted, "There is no command in the New Testament, Greek or English, commanding the use of the instrument. Such a command would be entirely out of harmony with the New Testament."5
    4. Another difference between the Disciples of Christ and the Lord’s church has to do with baptism. You might think that this would be the one thing on which we agree. While that might have been the case at one time, it certainly is not now. The Disciples of Christ do believe in baptism for members, but they have relaxed their standards on this issue and have nullified the importance and essentiality of baptism. Their current view is:

      Another group began a separation [from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)] in 1926 over what it felt were too-liberal policies on the mission field in the practice of baptism. More than 40 years later ( 1967 – 69 ) some 3,000 of those congregations formally withdrew at the time of Disciples restructure. …

      The Disciples have a long heritage of openness to other Christian traditions having come into existence as a 19th century protest movement against denominational exclusiveness.6

      This stance – that a person may become a member of this religion if the person affirms he or she was previously baptized by any other denomination for any reason, scriptural or not – is exemplified by the Creston Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)’s guidelines also found on the Disciples of Christ’s official website. They staunchly rule that a person should only be baptized if one has not already been baptized for any reason in any other religion:

      Therefore, it will be the Creston Church’s expectation for anyone seeking baptism in the Creston Church to … affirm, with all honesty, they have never been baptized before, whether as an infant, child or adult, within any church community, Protestant or Roman Catholic.7

      If baptism is for the remission of sins (and thus necessary for salvation) and must be obeyed from the heart (which necessitates a person to learn the biblical reasons for it) as the Bible teaches (Mark 16:16-17; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:16; 10:17), then how could it be acceptable to consider someone a faithful Christian who has not been baptized correctly? Also, the question needs to be asked: If a person had been sprinkled as the mode of “baptism,” would that be acceptable?

    5. Another area in which the Disciples of Christ have exhibited liberal tendencies has to do with women filling the roles of preachers, elders, and deacons. As already shown, the Disciples of Christ elected and re-elected a woman for their denomination’s most general minister, pastor, president, and chief executive officer. Furthermore, Sara Harwell, Vice President and Chief Archivist at the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, co-wrote the following statements:

      Clara Hale Babcock ( 1850 – 1924 ) is considered to be the first woman ordained to preach by the Disciples of Christ in 1888 or 1889 , followed by Jessie Coleman Monser ( 1891 ), Bertha Mason Fuller ( 1891 ), and Sarah (“Sadie”) McCoy Crank ( 1892 ). These women were remarkably effective evangelists. Clara Babcock baptized more than 1,500 people during her ministry. Sadie Crank baptized even more and organized over 50 rural congregations. …

      Paul [wrote] in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:1-15, where the apostle admonished women to be silent in the church, not to usurp male authority, and to talk privately to their husbands if they had questions or comments.

      … [In contrast,] The Disciples of Christ … generally accepts that Paul was speaking to a particular situation and that it is important to utilize the gifts of all Christians, regardless of gender.8

      The Scriptures indeed do not permit women in positions such as that of preachers, elders, or deacons (1 Corinthians 14:34ff.; 1 Timothy 2:11-12; 3:1ff.; Titus 1:5ff.).

Study Questions

  1. According to the Christian Church’s official website, how do they feel about themselves now? Are they striving for New Testament Christianity, or do they admit to having become a Protestant denomination?
  2. Does the Christian church have a General Assembly that decides on matters of functionality and Scripture? Is this authorized in Scripture?
  3. Does this denomination have a president and general minister?
  4. Is the name “Christian Church” authorized in Scripture?
  5. One of the original areas of separation between churches of Christ and the Christian Church was the matter of authority as it related to playing instrumental music in worship. Where do we find authority for using instruments as such in the New Testament?
  6. Has one of the Christian Church’s own scholars admitted that there is not one shred of evidence in the New Testament authorizing playing worship music?
  7. The one thing that the Christian Church and churches of Christ used to agree on is the importance of baptism. According to their statement, how do the Disciples of Christ now feel about baptism?
  8. Do the Disciples of Christ allow women to preach and serve as elders or deacons? What do the Scriptures teach about women preaching or being in places of authority?
  9. Why do you think this movement is allowing women to serve in areas the Bible does not authorize?
  10. In what other areas have the Christian Churches or Disciples of Christ departed from the authority of Scripture?


  1. 1Online: (, retrieved June 15, 2014 .
  2. 2Online: (, retrieved June 15, 2014 .
  3. 3Online: (, retrieved June 16, 2014 .
  4. 4Online:
    retrieved June 15, 2014 .
  5. 5Online: (, retrieved June 16, 2014 .
  6. 6Online: (, retrieved June 16, 2014 .
  7. 7Online: (, retrieved June 16, 2014 .
  8. 8Online: (, retrieved June 16, 2014 .
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