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Title: History of the British Churches of Christ
Author: Watters, Archibald Clark
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1940
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The first congregations of the body known as "Churches of Christ" came into existence in Great Britain and Ireland early in the nineteenth century. At the same time similar congregations were being formed in America, where they have become best known by the term "Disciples of Christ". The origins and the subsequent history of the British and American groups have a good deal in common, and yet show a considerable degree of diversity. The American "Disciples" (who have developed into the largest Christian denomination claiming American origin) have had numerous historians; this is the first attempt to write the British history. There will of necessity be references to the American movement, but only in so far as is required to shed light on the development in Britain. The earliest congregations in Britain sprang up, without knowledge of each other, in various parts of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales; nor did they know, for more than twenty years, of the similar churches in America. This suggests that the times must have been ripe for such a religious movement. This is borne out by a study of the religious and philosophical thought of the centuries after the Protestant Reformation; and especially of the ramifications of Presbyterianism and of the origin and development of Independency in Scotland, and of the influence thereof in other parts of the British Isles and in North America, during the eighteenth century. On both sides of the Atlantic the pioneers were inspired by the desire to achieve Christian re -union on the basis of a return to New Testament principles of organisation and worship. They were distressed by the increasing number of Protestant sects and by the spirit of intolerance generally shown by one sect to another. They believed that Christian re-union was possible if each sect would abandon its written creed and agree to accept as binding on all Christians only those essentials which were clearly taught or implied in the New Testament, allowing individuals liberty of opinion in non -essentials. They were not the first to desire re- union. The Roman Catholic Church had always been willing to receive back into her fold those Protestants who would recant and conform to her authority. The Council of Trent was planned and called with a view to re-uniting all factions. Calvin, Melanchthon, Cranmer, and others of the great Reformers made earnest efforts to find a basis for Protestant union. The Hampton Court Conference was an attempt to bring together the English Episcopalians and Puritans. Authors, such as Richard Baxter and Edward Stillingfleet (afterwards Bishop of Worcester), pleaded the necessity of a united church. Neither were the "Disciples" the first to plead for the restoration of New Testament Christianity. The Waldensians, Wyclif and Hus all took up this position. Chillingworth's famous book, "The Religion of Protestants a safe way to Salvation "(1637), argued that the Bible was the sole authority in the matter of salvation; and his conclusion, "The Bible, I say, the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants", represented truly the claim of most of the Protestant bodies. Calvin, for instance, frequently and forcefully asserted the absolute authority of Scripture in all matters of faith and practice. Most of the Protestant divisions were due to conviction on the part of those seceding that they were thereby conforming more closely to the instruction of the Scriptures. Nor was the idea of demanding only a minimum of common belief within a united church a new conception. Stillingfleet, in his "Irenicum "(1659), had stated the position thus: "For the Church to require more than Christ Himself did, or make the conditions of her communion more than our Saviour did of discipleship, is wholly unwarranted." And Rupertus Meldinius, in these terse words, had stated the principle: "In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity." That were the factors, then, which caused small groups in different parts of Britain and North America to attempt to put into practice in the nineteenth century principles which had been already enunciated, though not extensively practised, several centuries earlier? And why should the nineteenth century effort have survived, whereas sporadic efforts on similar lines in various parts of Europe in the previous centuries had not survived? And why was the new movement so successful numerically in America (now having a membership of nearly two million) and so slow in growth in Britain (with a membership still under twenty thousand)?
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
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