When James Dobson told U.S. News & World Reports’ Dan Gilgoff he didn’t think GOP presidential hopeful Fred Thompson was “Christian,” that sparked a have-you-seen-Fred-Thompson-at-church contest and other blogosphere debates over Thompson’s religious beliefs. Though the former Tennessee senator was baptized in the

Church of

Christ, he married his second wife, Jeri Kehn, at a United Church of Christ, which, confusingly enough, has no relation to the

Church of


So what is the

Church of

? Some quick facts:

  1. Number of adherents in the United States: 1.3 million (2006)
  2. Other famous members: Lawyer and former independent counsel Kenneth Starr; Christian mega-author Max Lucado, and serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer
  3. Former U.S. presidents: James A. Garfield

To find out what the Churches of Christ are all about, ReligionWriter called up Kevin Youngblood, a professor in the

School of

Biblical Studies at Freed-Hardeman University in

Henderson, Tenn.

ReligionWriter: How would you describe the Churches of Christ in one sentence?

Kevin Youngblood: Churches of Christ are a group of Christians striving to be undenominational and as biblical as possible.

RW: So it’s a denomination that is undenominational?

Youngblood: Being undenominational is an ideal we strive toward. Every congregation is self-governing and self-supporting; we have no organizational structure beyond that. We lack the governing body that denominations typically have.

RW: Are the Churches of Christ related in any way to the United Church of Christ?

Youngblood: No, there is no connection whatsoever. We have completely separate histories.

RW: Are the Churches of Christ related to any other denominations?

Youngblood: The Churches of Christ grew out of the American Restoration Movement, which was part of the Second Great Awakening in the 1800s in the

United States. Several people who were disenchanted with their home denominations tried to form a group to be non-denominational. Up until the turn of the 20th century, those groups were united. But in 1901, they split off into two and later three streams: the Churches of Christ, the independent Christian Church and the Disciples of Christ.

RW: The Tennessean reported that Fred Thompson was baptized when he was nine or 10 years old. Is that a normal time to be baptized in the

Church of


Youngblood: We subscribe to the notion of “believers baptism.” A person is not a candidate for baptism until he or she can consciously place faith in Christ and express that faith in a verbal confession, saying, “I am trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for my salvation.” We want it to be an individual choice, not something imposed on a child by parents. We don’t have a set age for baptism; it could be anywhere from eight or nine on up.

RW: What kind of role do women have in the

Church of

? Can they be ordained?

Youngblood: We don’t have formal ordination of any kind. If a person is called by God to preach, that is sufficient. But we don’t believe women are called to preach to a mixed assembly of men and women. The apostle Paul tells us there are two roles women are not permitted to fulfill: one is to serve as preacher or teacher for a mixed congregation, and the other is to serve as spiritual leader over a mixed congregation. Those two roles are exclusively male in the Churches of Christ. There might be a rare congregation breaking away from that, but most Churches of Christ would hold fairly strongly to that New Testament requirement.

RW: How does the church view divorce?

Youngblood: Our church is not entirely theologically uniform; on this issue, you’ll get different views depending on who you ask. In general, however, we believe there are legitimate reasons for getting divorced and illegitimate reasons. The real question is: What kind of divorce gives you the right to remarry? If a spouse is sexually unfaithful, that is a legitimate reason for divorce, and it allows for the right to remarry.

RW: Is there a criteria for membership in the church? Or if you’re baptized in the

Church of

are you then always a member?

Youngblood: There is no criteria for membership in the Churches of Christ beyond what the New Testament itself requires, which is simply faith in Christ and the expression of that faith in baptism. Now, if one chooses to depart from the lifestyle of the New Testament, then a church may withdraw fellowship, which is a way of saying, “You have chosen a lifestyle that is not biblical, and we want to warn you to bring your life back into conformity with New Testament teachings regarding ethics and personal holiness.”

RW: Does that actually happen? Is it common for fellowship to be withdrawn?

Youngblood: It’s hard to say how common it is. Every congregation is responsible for encouraging its members to live a holy life in accordance with biblical teaching. I do know of instances where it has taken place, but it’s always done with love and gentleness. It is not intended to castigate a person; it’s just an attempt to protect the other members of the congregation from the negative influence of those who claim to be Christian but don’t live a Christian lifestyle.

RW: What about abortion and gay marriage?

Youngblood: It’s fair to characterize members of Churches of Christ as being pro-life. We would be opposed to any kind of government-sanctioned same-sex marriage. Most ministers would refuse to conduct a marriage of that kind.

RW: What about having a gay person in the congregation?

Youngblood: It would depend by what you mean by having a “gay person.” We have people within the Churches of Christ who struggle with homosexuality, but the key word there is “struggling.” They are attempting to avoid living an actively homosexual lifestyle, since that would be an illicit form of sexual behavior according to both the Old and New Testaments. We are supportive of people who struggle with it. A person who wants to be actively involved in a homosexual lifestyle, in most churches of Christ, would be dis-fellowshipped, as we call it.

RW: Is it fair to describe members of the Churches of Christ as “evangelicals?”

Youngblood: I would be hesitant to embrace the label “evangelical” hook, line and sinker. We agree with evangelicals that the Bible is the inspired word of God, without error; in that sense we resemble evangelicals a great deal. But typically evangelicals don’t believe baptism is the point at which a person receives the forgiveness of sins and becomes a Christian and we do. In that point, we differ from evangelicals.

RW: Anything else you’d like people to know about the Churches of Christ?

Youngblood: Frequently in the media, the Churches of Christ are portrayed as a cult. That’s not even possible, given our non-hierarchical structure. In fact, I would say Churches of Christ are the furthest thing from a cult because we have an organizational structure that specially discourages a cult-like following. Our structure helps us avoid having dominant personalities in center stage.

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8 Comments so far

  1. University Update on June 14, 2007 6:04 pm

    Fred Thompson’s Faith: Churches of Christ 101…

  2. GKB on June 27, 2007 2:21 pm

    Dear ReligionWriter,
    I don’t mean to disparage the good professor from Freed-Hardeman University, but I would recommend casting your net a little further. FHU has traditionally been part of the conservative (some would say ultra-conservative) side of our little fellowship of churches, and you might get a clearer picture of our beliefs and practices by searching out religion faculty at Abilene Christian University (one of the more progressive schools in our fellowship), or even Pepperdine University in Malibu. I’m confident they could provide more insight about our history, and our beliefs and practices that would give a more well-rounded perspective.

    Thank you,

  3. Andrea Useem on June 28, 2007 11:09 am

    Dear Kendall-Ball,

    Thanks very much for your insightful comment. You’re exactly right. I was interested in Freed-Hardeman because Thompson spoke at the school in 1997, and there is a scholarship in his mother’s name there, so he seems to have some particular ties. I picked a more conservative person for the interview in part because Mark Elrod’s blog posting was already so prominent. In any case, your point is well taken, and I look forward to speaking with others about the Churches of Christ.


  4. Jamie Suiter on July 7, 2007 5:51 pm

    Deer Ms. Andrea,

    If you would like to do some more research on churches of Christ you may check out gospelgazette online or Christian Courier,AudioEvangelism.com. Also, a book is online called Introducing churches of Christ, on the TheBiblenet. Hope you have had a good day!……………………….Jamie Suiter

  5. JGS on July 8, 2007 5:33 pm

    Uh, excuse me, but yes Greg, you did mean to disparage the good professor. I personally know Kevin Youngblood. The interviewer could not have picked anyone any better to interview regarding this than Kevin. GKB is making assumptions about Kevin whom he knows absolutely nothing about and is basing his comments on a limited, stereotypical knowledge of FHU. Kevin is a first-rate scholar, period. He is currently working on translation projects in conjunction with Oxford University. I can guarantee you that either of those other schools he mentions would be delighted to have someone on their faculties of Kevin’s academic pedigree and intellect. It is unfortunate that Greg did not bother to check on his facts before he made such an arrogant and ignorant post.

  6. GKB on July 9, 2007 10:14 pm

    Dear JGS,
    I recommend you re-read my comment. I’m sure the good professor himself would find nothing personally offensive in there.

    I merely mentioned what is a verifiable historical fact: Freed-Hardeman University has historically been aligned with the more conservative wing of the Churches of Christ. As the son of a graduate, I would know.

    And, no matter the intellectual or academic pedigree of a particular faculty member, the history of the institution is what is in question.

  7. JGS on July 10, 2007 12:52 pm

    Dearest GKB,

    The history of no institution was in question in regard to whether Youngblood was a good choice to interview on the topic at hand. Therefore, you are throwing up a red herring on that point. You said that someone from ACU or Pepperdine could provide “more insight” and a “more well-rounded perspective.” That is bogus and, as I said before, is not based upon anything you know about Kevin Youngblood because it is obvious you do not know one thing about him. If you did, you would not have said what you said. Your post implied Youngblood was not a good choice because he taught at Freed-Hardeman. I seriously doubt you would have suggested she interview anyone from FHU or Faulkner in order to cast her net a bit wider had she first interviewed someone from ACU or Pepperdine. Your post was elitist and arrogant toward the institution and written in ignorance with regard to Youngblood.

  8. larry on July 29, 2007 3:26 pm

    you mention Jeffrey Dahmer as being a member of the church of Christ. this is a little prejudicial to the casual reader. Jeffrey Dahmer was baptized after he was in prison. it is not unusual for prisoners to study the bible and to seek to put their religious life in order. i’m sure most religious people would assist a prisoner in his/her attempt to obey the bible’s teachings.

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