Historians convene to rewrite church history





Church historians from across the country convened in Indianapolis last week to start a monumental task: rewriting nearly 150 years of American religious history.
    
Their goal is to agree upon a single history that describes a 19th-century movement that tried to break down denominational walls but splintered itself into what became the Churches of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Independent Christian Churches.

Historians representing each of the branches hope a new version of the story that incorporates all three perspectives would do much to help heal lingering differences.

"We share a history in which each group has written their own account," said Newell Williams, a professor at Brite Divinity School, a Disciples school in Texas. "Of course, in those, whichever group is writing is the good guy and the other people are the bad guys." The three strains that spawned from what is known as the Stone-Campbell Movement today represent more than 4 million American Christians, including some of the largest churches in the Indianapolis area and the Disciples denomination, whose world headquarters is Downtown.

The scholars involved in the project, which could take six years to complete, hope a more balanced and rounded telling of their history could heal misunderstandings and end the occasional animosity that followed after the groups began to split in the 1870s.

"We are not just throwing it out there as another piece of history writing," said Paul Blowers, an Emmanuel School of Religion professor representing the Independents. "We do have an agenda. We want our churches to get to know each other across the divisions." Blowers' father, Russell, was the longtime pastor at East 91st Street Christian Church.

"We want people to begin to own responsibility again for Christian reconciliation."

The three groups span the theological spectrum, from the conservative Churches of Christ to the more liberal-leaning Disciples. So the scholars say that if they can succeed in bridging differences, it could offer hope for the larger fracturing of the Protestant landscape.


comments powered by Disqus