Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Social History of the Disciples of Christ

In 1966, David Edwin Harrell, Jr. published Volume One of his social history of the Disciples of Christ. Entitled Quest For a Christian America: The Disciples of Christ and American Society to 1866. Looking at factors that would lead eventually to the rending of the Stone-Campbell Movement into Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ, Harrell shows how economic issues, slavery, and sectionalism led to church schism. Harrell argues convincingly that the division was "basically a North-South division (although rural-urban and other factors are important." (p. 132)

From Harrell's view and against many Disciple historians before him, the Civil War played a major role in the rupture of the fellowship. The church in the North (Disciples) following the war "committed to a more denominational and socially active concept of Christianity." The church in the South (Churches of Christ) emerged from the war "more strongly than ever committed to the extreme sectarian emphasis in Disciples thought." (p. 173)

1973 saw the publication of Volume 2, The Social Sources of Division in the Disciples of Christ, 1865 - 1900. Both volumes provide a wealth of information and illuminating insights into our heritage. Members of the Stone-Campbell tradition still have much to learn from Harrell's work.

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