Where we live at present, some of our dearest friends had been unfamiliar with the American Restoration Movement (Church of Christ, Christian Church, etc.). This unfamiliarity is certainly understandable.
A quick check of a couple of Wiki articles places Churches of Christ, the group of my own heritage, much higher on the denominational demographics charts than I had thought, but still, relatively unlikely to be noticed by many others in Christendom. I’ve recently had connections with the Wesleyan branch of Methodism, for instance, and I knew that the CofC had many more adherents and congregations than the Wesleyans, but I didn’t know how great the difference was.
- In 2000, the Churches of Christ were
- the 12th largest religious group in the U.S., based on number of members
- the 4th largest group, in terms of number of congregations
- a geographically concentrated group, with 70% of the U.S. membership in 13 states¹
- The percentage of members attending assemblies appears to be high, compared to other Christian groups
- Churches of Christ are sixth in terms of presence in counties — behind the United Methodist Church, Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Southern Baptist Convention and Assemblies of God. The average number of adherents per county was low at 677.
With more than 5 million members reported, it is reported that the CofC is somewhat larger, worldwide, than the main Lutheran organization, and than the two main Presbyterian groups in the U.S.² It is also more than twice as large as the Episcopal Church of the U.S.
For any regular readers who have not been associated historically with the RM or the CofC, I thought the above might be of interest. Personally, I’m not energized by such stats — i.e., about where “my” group falls at this or place on the charts. I don’t really believe in congregational membership per se, and I don’t “place membership,” but I do believe in hearty participation in local church work. My primary “membership,” then, goes beyond CofC walls. I’m much more enthused by Godly disciples, sound principles, and solid exegesis, and I’m grateful for the good examples I’ve had from within my church associations — and from without. I’m also grateful for some of the longstanding, biblically substantiated scruples of the CofC — for instance, the lack of supra-biblical creed.
A couple of years ago, an acquaintance mentioned that he didn’t understand any church’s holding forth the sola scriptura principle. “Everything is in the creeds,” he said. (He’s a nice guy, and now a friend, but I believe he’s misguided on that point.) It is said that this principle of intentional, singular reliance on scripture was a major cause of the 16th-century Reformation, in that it devalued supposedly infallible “ex cathedra” pronouncements on which Roman Catholics insist. The church groups who continue in the RM tradition (not the Disciples of Christ, anymore) are among those who continue to press the sola scriptura point, and this is but one area in which I am grateful for CofC influence. The application is sometimes shallow, but it is good-hearted and on-target at its core.
It appears Jack Reese, an author, preacher, and professor from a CofC/RM university, has similar feelings about our shared heritage. . . .
“My church experiences, and therefore my point of reference . . ., are broadly within the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement and specifically within a cappella Churches of Christ. I share this without defensiveness or apology. I recognize as well as anyone the flaws in this fellowship, but I believe in its greatest impulses. I share its devotion to scripture as God’s authoritative word and its commitment to baptism as the powerful and redemptive work of God. I believe in . . . the Lord’s Supper and affirm the high view of church that has been reflected throughout the restoration tradition. I have been profoundly shaped by this heritage and these beliefs. I write, think, worship, and live within its deepest instincts.”
– Jack R. Reese, The Body Broken, p. 3
Jack Reese is Dean of the College of Biblical Studies Dean of the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University.
¹ Mac Lynn’s Where the Saints Meet (a well-known CofC population tabulation, 1987-88 ed.) reports that states with the largest numbers of Church of Christ congregations were Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas (in decreasing order). Other states with ~300 or more congregations (in no particular order): Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. My somewhat informed guess is that, in the last four states listed, the size of the average CofC congregation is relatively small, and the nature of the congregation, generally more narrow and isolated from other religious groups. This guess relates to the history of, e.g., Daniel Sommer (IL) and the Christian Church’s strength (KY).
² Presbyterians may have more inner strife and factions that the RM. I might have missed the 2nd largest Presbyterian group in my scan — there are so many more than I knew of!