Who are the Churches of Christ?
There are many Churches of Christ that do not fit into the beliefs and practices listed below, but these are characteristic of about one million members:
The Movement’s most conspicuous beliefs and practices are:
Believer's baptism by dunking under the water to be saved from one’s sins. Baptism is viewed as not only a symbol, but the moment of salvation.
Taking the Lord’s Supper (usually unleavened bread and grape juice) as a symbol, not a sacrament, every Sunday.
A capella singing (see * for exceptions). The more conservative congregations use songbooks with shaped notes (seven shapes: doh, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, each having a different shape).** Churches of Christ (south) split from the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ (north) during the Civil War over instruments of music used in worship and denominational organization. ***
No denominational hierarchy, even anti-denominational. Each congregation is independent. Communication with other congregations is facilitated by journals/magazines, bookstores and colleges, each associated with a particular wing of the Churches of Christ. Campbell, a postmaster, spread his beliefs by means of journals (magazines) which he edited. Churches of Christ are reputed to have the most religious journals per person of any religious group.
Each congregation is led by elders nominated by the congregation and appointed. The preacher is called a preacher, evangelist or minister (not a pastor, a term used by the Churches of Christ to describe an elder).
Salvation is by works and grace, not by faith alone, or grace alone.
It is sometimes described as Pelagian in doctrine. (The hard line Churches of Christ generally deny all five points of Calvinism and deny one or two of the points of Arminianism.)
* Children are born innocent of Adam's sin, only suffering because of the general fallenness of the world (as a result of Adam's sin).
* God's message is freely given to all.
* Each person has the free will to respond to God's message.
* Jesus atones for baptized believers' sins.
* It is possible to fall from grace.
(This emphasis on each person having a fair shot at heaven, and a partially works-oriented salvation, was a distinctly American bootstrap frontier attitude, loading up the wagon, moving west, establishing one's own independent farm that depended on one's own hard work, no-one else's.)
History of the Churches of Christ.
A list of what I believe are unbiblical doctrines in the more conservative Churches of Christ.
* There is a sizable instrumental Church of Christ group in the west, using instrumental music, associated with Midwestern School of Evangelism in Ottumwa, Iowa.
**Shaped notes date back to the late 1700s as a help for people to learn to read music. The conservative Churches of Christ, Primitive Baptist, Free Will Baptist, Independent Fundamental Baptist, theHoldeman Mennonites and a small Presbyterian group are among the last to still use shaped notes, (though some Southern Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal churches have been known to use shape note songbooks--7 shapes). Also Sacred Harp singers have clubs all over the United States to sing 200 year old songs a capella in four part harmony, using only 4 shapes for the notes (The scale is: fa, sol, la, fa, sol, la, mi). For an audio history of Sacred Harp Shape Notes from National Public Radio click here
(go to Dec 3, 2006).
***There is also a sizable group in Australia called the Churches of Christ that are similar to the Independent Christian Church/Disciples of Christ in the USA (though there are many congregations in Australia that are the same as, and closely connected to, the a capella Churches of Christ in the USA.)
More on Calvinism, Arminianism and Pelagianism
More on Politics in the Churches of Christ
This map shows how the Churches of Christ are part of the Appalachian and Deep South communities.