There are three major groups (and many smaller ones) that have developed out of the Restorationist movement of the nineteenth century: the Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and independent Christian churches (many of which are members of the North American Christian Convention). These three groups have a common heritage and many similarities, and they are easy to confuse with each other.
The Restorationist movement began when Presbyterian ministers Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander Campbell taught that only what was specifically sanctioned in the New Testament should be included in Christian practice. (The term Restorationist refers to the Campbells’ teaching that church practice should be “restored” to what it was in the New Testament.) This restoration included what names Christian groups could be called. The Campbells preferred the name “Disciples of Christ.” They rejected denominational names such as “Baptist” or “Methodist,” as those labels are not found in the New Testament.
At the same time, a former Presbyterian minister, Barton Stone, was also promoting a form of Restorationism. His followers became known as the Christian Church. Eventually the two movements combined, forming the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). This church continued on until it divided in 1906, when the Church of Christ was formed. This group rejected the use of musical instruments in church worship, because musical instruments are not mentioned in the New Testament in conjunction with worship.
Then in 1927 some became dissatisfied with the liberalism of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). They were also bothered by the fact that the organization had by then clearly become a denomination, which was seen to be unbiblical. These dissenters formed a separate group of completely independent churches, but kept the name “Christian Church.”
Independent Christian Churches carefully maintain their individual autonomy and are fiercely autonomous. As a result, there is some diversity in doctrine among individual churches. Generally speaking, there is an emphasis upon the necessity of water baptism by immersion for salvation. Independent Christian Churches also usually reject the doctrines of predestination and eternal security, and are usually amillennial and non-charismatic. Unlike the Churches of Christ, musical instruments are normally used in worship.