Church Of The Disciples, a religious body, designated as "Disciples of Christ," "Christians," the " Church of Christ," etc, resulting from an effort to effect union among the Protestant denominations in western Pennsylvania. In the beginning of the present century several independent religious movements for this purpose occurred in different parts of the United States. The one which gave immediate origin and distinctive character to the body now known as "Disciples " was initiated in 1809 by Thomas Campbell, aided by his son Alexander, to whose ability and energy its successful progress is mainly attributed, and by whom it was chiefly directed. The original purpose was to heal the divisions of religious society, and to establish a common basis of Christian union. It was thought that these objects could be attained by taking the Bible alone as a guide, and its express teachings as the only authoritative standard of faith and practice, allowing meanwhile entire liberty of opinion in relation to all matters not fully revealed. Upon these prin-ples a considerable society was formed, consisting chiefly of members from Presbyterian churches.
After some time the questions of infant baptism and the use of sprinkling as baptism became matters of investigation, and it was finally decided by a large majority that there was no Scripture warrant for either practice. Becoming then a society of immersed believers, they were soon after united with the Redstone Baptist association, stipulating, however, in writing, that "no standard of doctrine or bond of church union, other than the Holy Scriptures, should be required." By means of this union with the Baptists, the principles and views of the Disciples, developed and defended by Alexander Campbell in his writings and public discussions, were widely disseminated. Meanwhile the study of the Scriptures led by degrees to the discovery and introduction of several characteristics of primitive Christianity which, as the Disciples held, had been long overlooked and neglected. Among these, a prominent one was "baptism for the remission of sins." As the apostle Peter, in reply to believing penitents who asked what they should do, said, " Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit," it was believed that the same answer should still be given to such inquirers, and that it was the divine plan thus to impart through the institution of baptism an assurance of pardon.
This became therefore a distinguishing feature of the reformation urged by the Disciples. Another characteristic was the practice of weekly communion, after the example of the primitive church. In pressing these matters upon the acceptance of the Baptists, a spirit of opposition was at length aroused in various quarters, especially in Virginia and Kentucky, and a separation to some extent ensued, many of the Baptists remaining connected with the Disciples. At the close of 1831 their numbers were still further augmented by a union between them and a numerous body which had originated in Kentucky and some other western states, under the labors of B. W. Stone and others, who, some years prior to the movement led by Thomas and Alexander Campbell, had separated from the Presbyterian communion, and in like manner attempted to effect a union of Christians upon the Bible alone. These persons, adopting baptism for remission of sins, and the ancient order of things as practised by the Disciples, became entirely assimilated with the latter. - Although the Disciples reject creeds as bonds of fellowship, and disapprove of the technical language of popular theology, they do not materially differ from the evangelical denominations in their views of the great matters of Christianity. The following synopsis by Alexander Campbell is a fair expression of their sentiments on the points involved: "1. I believe that all Scripture given by inspiration of God is profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect and thoroughly accomplished for every good work. 2. I believe in one God, as manifested in the person of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, who are, therefore, one in nature, power, and volition. 3. I believe that every human being participates in all the consequences of the fall of Adam, and is born into the world frail and depraved in all his moral powers and capacities, so that without faith in Christ it is impossible for him, while in that state, to please God. 4. I believe that the Word, which from the beginning was with God, and which was God, became flesh and dwelt among us as Immanuel or ' God manifest in the flesh,' and did make an expiation of sin, ' by the sacrifice of himself,' which no being could have done that was not possessed of a superhuman, superangelic, and divine nature. 5. I believe in the justification of a sinner by faith without the deeds of law, and of a Christian, not by faith alone, but by the obedience of faith. 6. I believe in the operation of the Holy Spirit through the word, but not without it, in the conversion and sanctification of the sinner. 7. I believe in the right and duty of exercising our own judgment in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. 8. I believe in the divine institution of the evangelical ministry; the authority and perpetuity of the institution of baptism and the Lord's supper." With the Disciples the Christian faith does not consist in the belief of these or any other tenets as intellectual conceptions of religious truth, but in a simple trust or personal reliance on Christ as the Son of God and the Saviour of sinners.
They hence require of candidates for baptism no other confession of faith than this. As to government, each church is independent, but the churches cooperate with each other in sustaining Bible societies and missionaries at home and abroad. Two classes of officers are recognized, elders or bishops and deacons, who are chosen by the members of each church, and to whom the interests of the congregation are confided. - According to a denominational almanac for the year 1867, the number of members in the United States was estimated at 424,500, chiefly in the southern and western states, the largest numbers being in Virginia (15,000), Missouri (22,200), Kentucky (75,000), Ohio (52,000), Indiana (70,000), Illinois, (33,-000), and Iowa (15,500). In 1872 their number was estimated at 500,000. The denomination had in that year one university, the Kentucky university, at Lexington, Ky.; colleges at Bethany, West Va.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Eureka and Abingdon, 111.; Oskaloosa, Iowa; Wilmington, Ohio; Franklin, Tenn.; Woodland, Cal.; and Jeffersontown and Eminence, Ky.; female colleges at Columbia, Mo.; Versailles and Harrodsburg, Ky.; and Bloomington, 111.; and 12 academies and seminaries. The periodicals of the denomination were 6 weekly, 2 semimonthly, 16 monthly, 1 quarterly, and 1 annual.
The number of Sunday schools was 2,450 with 253,290 scholars. Churches have been established in Canada, the British islands, the West Indies, and Australia; and the establishment of a mission in Germany was resolved upon in 1871.