The family of churches known as “Christian Churches”, “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)” and “Churches of Christ” grew out of an early 19th Century movement with origins in both the UK and the USA. Today, there are congregations related to this Christian World Communion in over 170 countries.
What are the “characteristics” or “distinctives” of this global family?
In any Christian World Communion there is diversity in belief and practice. There are also many features of each family that are shared by the whole church of Jesus Christ. What follows is an attempt to create an overall but simple picture of who Churches of Christ and Christian Churches are and so it needs to be read as a whole. It also needs to be read in the context that no attempt is being made to separate this family from the universal Church but rather to describe our place within the whole Church.
So what are the marks of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ?
1. A concern for Christian Unity
In the 1809 Declaration and Address, Thomas Campbell wrote that the ‘Church of Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one’. Fellow pioneer, Barton Stone, spoke of Christian unity being the ‘polar star’. The ‘Disciples of Christ' or 'the Association of Christians’ was a movement for unity within the fragmented and often hostile and competitive church environment of that time. Today there are different understandings of how Christian unity might be understood and achieved, but at our heart we consider anyone who loves Christ to be a part of the universal Church, regardless of what denomination they attend.
2. A commitment to Evangelism and Mission
Unity is never an end in itself. Its desirability came out of the understanding ‘that the world could be won only if the church became one’. We take seriously Jesus’ prayer in John 17:23 'May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.' Today that commitment is shown both by emphasising the need for personal commitment to Jesus Christ and by a concern for peace and justice for all people.
3. A New Testament emphasis
Churches of Christ are ‘people of the Book’. They believed that ‘restoring’ the New Testament Church and stripping away the accumulation of traditions that had brought about division could achieve unity. Our ultimate authority is the Scriptures, not the traditions or hierarchies of the church. We are sometimes referred to as the ‘Restoration Movement’. Churches of Christ would describe themselves as ‘biblical’, but interpretation of that can vary from church to church.
4. A simple confession of faith
From Matthew 16:16 came the cornerstone question for church membership: ‘Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ and accept him as your Lord and Saviour?’ Answering ‘yes’ is all that is required for membership, though many congregations have membership classes. This simple question avoided the use of (often) divisive creeds. Many today will not make any use of creeds; others will use them as a means of expressing faith – but not a test of faith.
5. Believers’ Baptism
Only people who have reached an age where they can make their own confession of faith are baptised. The means of baptism is always immersion, believing that it best symbolizes being ‘buried’ and ‘raised’ with Christ (Romans 6:4).
6. Weekly Communion
Again believing that they follow the New Testament model, Churches of Christ celebrate communion or the ‘Lord’s Supper’ each Sunday. We believe in an ‘Open Table’, where all who love the Lord can participate in communion: “we are a people of the open table. We stay true to the spirit of New Testament practice and rejoice in the spirit of Unity symbolized by our radical sharing of the Lord’s Table.” (Kerrie Handasyde, The Open Table).
7. Biblical Name
Members of the emerging 19th Century Movement wanted to be known only as ‘Christians’ or ‘Disciples of Christ’. Slogans such as ‘Christians only – but not the only Christians’ and ‘Biblical names for Biblical things’ captured this emphasis. Congregations use names such as Church (or Churches or church) of Christ, Christian Church or Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
8. Congregational Interdependence
Members of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches live under the authority of Christ but this authority is seen as being worked out in the local congregation. Local churches are connected most closely to their State Conferences who make up the Council of Churches of Christ in Australia (CCCA). Decisions that most impact the local church are made at a local church level. State and national affiliation for churches allows them to partner together in theological training, ecumenical work, mission work (both overseas and in Australia), ordination and resourcing. The World Convention of Churches of Christ is a global fellowship, endeavouring to build up fellowship and understanding within the global family.
9. Lay Leadership
The ‘Priesthood of all Believers’ is a mark of all Churches of Christ. Participation by lay people in all aspects of the church’s life is a notable feature. Lay people conduct the sacraments. Women and men are seen as equal. Men and women can be endorsed and ordained for working among their local church.
‘In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love’ is the best-known slogan in our family. Churches of Christ have always allowed for diversity, and much of that diversity has been enriching. This will mean that if you turn up to a service at a Church of Christ one Sunday, it may differ significantly to a different Church of Christ you attended the week before! Churches of Christ are left with the challenge of finding for ourselves the unity-in-diversity it seeks for the whole church of Jesus Christ.
11. Ecumenical Representation
As part of our posture towards Christian unity, Churches of Christ are represented in many ecumenical forums working closely with our brothers and sisters from other Christian denominations. We have formal representation and affiliation with each states Council of Christian Churches networks, the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches we also have appointed representatives on task forces, boards and committees of these Councils.
Insurance We are pleased to be part of Churches of Christ Insurance. For more information, go to the CCI webpage. Should you have any queries with respect to your coverage, or alternatively require a certificate of currency, please don't hesitate to contact us.
Church Incorporation - What Does it Mean?
We have developed a helpful position paper to guide churches in the important area of church incorporation. This paper can be found under 'resources' in our site menu.
We have completed a template constitution which churches are able to utilise. Contact us on (08) 8443 7572 or email for further advice in this important area.
Accounting and Payroll Services We provide accounting and payroll services for a number of churches and ministry groups, and are excited to offer a new level of services to our churches. Contact us for more information as to how you can very cost-effectively manage these critical functions in your church. We utilise the latest accounting software Xero, which easily and effectively provides important reports for your church online.
Ministers' and Employees Benefits Scheme Churches of Christ Ministers’ & Employees’ Benefits Scheme delivers the wonderful service of facilitating a portable long service leave fund for ministers and staff of Churches of Christ organisations throughout Australia. As a national service the Ministers’ and Employees’ Benefits Scheme is operated by the Churches of Christ in Australia national body for use by any church or agency.
Ministers Salaries Each year, the State Board appoints The Ministers’ Salary Advisory Committee to consider Ministers’ Salaries and make recommendations. Please email us if you would like access to the latest recommendations.
Ministers' Appointment & Employment Handbook This handbook underwent a further revisions in 2016, and is an essential guide to understanding ministerial employment terms, exempt benefits, and compliance aspects relating to the employment of a minister. This handbook can be found under 'resources' in our site menu.
Conference Financial Statements Audited financial statements are prepared each year for Churches of Christ in SA and NT Incorporated, as well as the Building Extension Mutual Fund Incorporated. A copy of the audited financial statements can be obtained by contacting us on (08) 8443 7572 or email us
Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission The ACNC is the independent regulator of charities in Australia. The ACNC has been set up to achieve the following objects:
- maintain, protect and enhance public trust and confidence in the sector through increased accountability and transparency,
- support and sustain a robust, vibrant, independent and innovative not-for-profit sector, and
- promote the reduction of unnecessary regulatory obligations on the sector.
Charities, including churches, must register with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) before they can receive charity tax concessions from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
It is important that the church maintain its status with the ACNC. Ongoing reporting requirements are minimal, and can be found here. In short, you must:
- notify any key changes to the ACNC (eg. legal name, address for service, responsible persons and governing documents),
- maintain appropriate financial and operating records, and
- report annually.
Note that these requirements apply independently of incorporation status of the church.
Safety Management Online™ is an important online tool which is available to Churches to help manage people and programs involving Children, provided by ChildSafe Limited. You can login to the site at the link below.
In 2014, the State Board of Churches of Christ in SA & NT established a new Child Safe Work Group to provide resources and practical support for congregations as they work to ensure their ministry with children is conducted in the safest and healthiest environment possible. Many Churches of Christ in SA are already using the ChildSafe™ program, and the Child Safe Work Group is actively seeking to expand that number.
What Are Our Objectives?
• We want our churches to be communities in which children feel at home and in which they flourish.
• We want our churches to be communities in which children are valued and respected.
• We want our churches to be communities in which leaders set the tone for attitudes, policies and practices that foster respect and safety.
• We want our churches to be communities at the forefront of shaping environments and activities that are kid-friendly and child safe.
• We want our churches to be communities in which all adults accept and share the responsibility and privilege of respecting and caring for children.
• We want our churches to be communities in which any accusation or rumour of abusive or inappropriate behaviour towards children is taken seriously and responded to promptly, compassionately, justly and transparently.
Sadly, our churches have not always been safe places for children, or places in which children have flourished.
ChildSafe™ is not just about sexual abuse or exploitation. It’s also about:
• Not placing children in situations that may cause them to feel pressured or anxious.
• Not allowing children to participate in activities when there is risk of injury, coercion or social isolation.
• Building solid ‘risk management’ practices into all children’s activities, programs and facilities.
The long-term damage done to children who are abused or mistreated by adults is widely acknowledged. So too, is the harm that occurs when these children are re-abused by ‘authorities’ who fail to act appropriately, or collude to protect the reputation of their organisations.
ChildSafe™ is a widely used program that assists churches to take responsibility for ensuring they are communities in which children are safe, and in which they can flourish. It refers to a specific program of safety management for those working with children and young people.
Child Safe is the term used to refer more broadly to a commitment to the safety and risk management.
Where Can I Get Further Information?
The attached file offers a policy template. If you would like the editable version, send us an email inquiry to request our latest Childsafe policy and procedures document or any other information. Check our events section for the latest Childsafe training event near you.
We are part of a dynamic national movement, being one of five state conferences of Churches of Christ in Australia.
Churches of Christ in Australia is made up of state conferences in:
New South Wales & ACT
South Australia & Northern Territory
Victoria & Tasmania
More information regarding the national movement of Churches of Christ can be found at the link below