This denomination was a reaction to a need of Christian unity between people from various denominations in the early 19th century. The Christian churches were spawned from revivals in Pennsylvania and Kentucky. After the American Revolution, many people traveled west. This caused the frontier to be a melting pot of various denominations. Survival was more important than concern for the denomination of one’s neighbor. As the Second Great Awakening hit America, preachers were concerned that people would be split because of denominations. In an effort to unite them and restore the church to its 1st century roots, the Christian church movement spread under various leaders.
Two prominent leaders were Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander from western Pennsylvania. They were both Prebyterians, but were criticized for not making Presbyterian creeds and confessions the basis for communion and fellowship. They were also criticized because Thomas had given communion to non-Presbyterians and felt that creeds led to division. He felt that anyone could understand the Bible, and did not need creeds. He believed that church membership should be based upon New Testament Christianity. In hopes that unity would be sought under Christ’s lordship and Scripture’s authority, Thomas decided to found the Christian Association of Washington County. Their motton was,
“Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.”
Alexander started a new church at Brush Run, Pennsylvania – causing the Christian church to move westward. Members were known as “Campbellites”, although they referred to themselves as “Disciples of Christ”.
Another prominent leader, Barton Stone, from Kentucky, had also separated from the Presbyterian church. He started a separate church called “Christians”, mainly because he felt that should be the name of all believers. He also believed the Bible should be the rule of all faith and practice, rejecting creeds. In 1832, Stone’s 10,000 followers met with Campbells 12,000 followers in a historic union in Lexington Kentucky. Despite the theme and desire for unity, they could not agree on whether to use the names “Disciples” or “Christians”, so they decided to keep both. The Christian churches spread rapidly throughout Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, and Tennessee after the Civil War. Between 1832 and 1900, it had grown from 22,00o to 1,000,000 members.
source: “The Complete Guide to Christian Denominations” by Ron Rhodes