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BELIEFS AND PRACTICES differ in Churches of Christ — with issues such as institutional support, Sunday school, multiple communion cups and full-time preachers causing divisions in fellowship.
Non-institutional churches make up the largest segment of non-mainstream groups, with about 2,000 congregations. They broke with the mainstream primarily over whether a congregation can fund institutions such as orphanages or participate in missionary cooperatives that make use of a “sponsoring church.”
Mark Copeland, an evangelist at the non-institutional Fortune Road church in Kissimmee, Fla., said the non-institutional churches are “sometimes disparagingly called ‘anti’ and often lumped together with other churches that are anti-class and anti-multiple cups.”
But Copeland said that representation is not accurate. “Where I preach, we have Bible classes, women teaching the women and children’s classes, and use multiple containers in the Lord’s Supper,” he said.
Copeland said he could not place membership with an “institutional or sponsoring church” because it would violate his conscience. But he said, “I believe it is important to maintain contact and association with any brother in Christ who is open to discuss and study whatever differences there might be. … So I will on occasion visit institutional churches and seek to maintain cordial interaction with brethren … that I believe are open to study.”
Other churches that embrace non-institutional tenets became isolationists earlier, with a major focus of concern the development of “Sunday school” with its individualized classes, said Carl Royster, who compiles the directory.
Today, nearly 1,100 congregations remain non-class churches. These congregations are divided themselves over whether individual cups may be used to serve the fruit of the vine during the Lord’s Supper. About 510 of these congregations use individual cups.
The non-class churches also are divided over the use of located preachers. Many non-class churches refuse fellowship with non-class churches that use a located preacher or fellowship with churches that offer Bible classes.
Thomas Langford, a former elder at the non-class Quaker Avenue church in Lubbock, Texas, is among those who have worked to restore fellowship with differing brethren.
“In 1993, our elders proposed an end to the division between our congregation and the Broadway church, from which we separated 75 years ago,” he said. Desite their differences, the two congregations now enjoy fellowship.
More than half the non-class churches — 554 — oppose individual communion cups. The majority of these one-cup churches use unfermented grape juice, but others insist on wine.
Carl Johnson, evangelist at the Southwest 32nd Street church in Ada, Okla., said: “Speaking in an unofficial capacity for one-cup churches, the use of more than one cup … would be a violation of the divine pattern for the communion and a violation of the consciences of our members.”
Mutual edification churches comprise the smallest segment of non-mainstream congregations. The directory lists 124 of these congregations, mostly in the Midwest. Like many one-cup and non-class churches, mutual edification churches believe in allowing the men of the congregation to preach and lead singing, rather than hiring exclusive “preachers.”
But unlike the non-class and one-cup brethren, the mutual edification churches believe in Sunday school and multiple cups.
“Mutual edification or ministry to us means involving the members in an active ministry,” said Barry Poyner, an elder at the Kirksville, Mo., church and author of the book One Another Christianity: Mutual Edification. “I’m persuaded we are happier when active.”
He added: “I find that many churches cannot afford a full-time preacher even if they wanted one. The book is designed to get people to think about different models. … Mutual edification is a Bible-centered practice that could free up our ‘full-time’ ministers to do the work of evangelizing — reaching lost souls.”

  • Feedback
    I am looking for a any histories in print (preferably online but not necessary) of the non-Sunday school churches of Christ. I’m interested in general histories, but especially of the congregations in the state of Georgia.
    If anyone knows of any material online or otherwise that covers the non-Sunday churches, I would deeply appreciate hearing from you.
    Thank you for your consideration.
    Tom Atkinson
    Tom Atkinson
    Community church of Christ
    Union City, Tennessee
    September, 4 2011

    Literature written by “mutual edification” brethren over the past 115 years can be downloaded at: www.apostlesdoctrine.us.
    Other information (directory, etc.) regarding these brethren may also be found there.
    Murray Road church of Christ
    Grain Valley, Missouri
    September, 26 2009

Filed under: Are We Growing

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