Rochester Christian University explored its current identity and mission as rooted in its origins as part of a grant funded by the Council of Independent Colleges. This effort took place in 2022 and was called Rochester Retrospect. A steering committee commissioned the writing of eight essays, which will be summarized in this university blog. Links to each essay are included at the bottom of the post. 

 

photo of professor
Dr. Keith Huey

An essay entitled “American Origins of Churches of Christ” by Dr. Keith Huey, professor of religion, kicked off RCU’s examination of its heritage through the Rochester Retrospect effort. 

RCU was started in 1959 by members of the Churches of Christ, a heritage that originated in the early 19th century. Huey looks at the origins of the Stone-Campbell movement, which was started through the writings of “two erstwhile Presbyterians: Barton W. Stone (1772- 1844) and Alexander Campbell (1788-1866). At first, these movements were billed as the ‘reformation’ of Christianity, a corrective to clerical domination and unbiblical practices,” Huey writes.

 

Frontier spirit of religious liberty

Huey explains in detail how the work of Stone and Cambell merged in the winter of 1831-1832, and he explores various factors across the nation that formed this movement, including antebellum populism and a “broader frontier spirit of religious liberty and clerical disdain.” The Stone-Campbell movement eventually led to congregations bearing the names: Churches of Christ, Christian Churches or the Disciples of Christ.

Also as part of this movement, new preaching schools and colleges were established, particularly in the South. North Central Christian College (now RCU) was a “rare northern exception, a reflection of Detroit’s booming auto industry,” he writes.

 

Vibrant heritage and unique historical narrative

Huey concludes his essay by stating: “The Churches of Christ have inherited a vibrant heritage and a unique historical narrative, but their distinctive doctrinal identity seems to hang on a time-bound hermeneutical scaffold…. Traditionalists will surely continue to defend the old paths, and they will not be dissuaded by disapproval of the majority. Their mission, however, will be increasingly difficult, and their ranks seem destined to dwindle. Progressives will continue to press for hermeneutical changes, but it will be difficult to do this without a change of affiliation. Many congregations have already erased the ‘Church of Christ’ label from their stationery, and some are frankly indifferent about the historic ties they have severed. If they care about the past, they might salvage an ecumenical vision from the earliest days of the movement, or they might be inspired by the millennial ‘amelioration of society.’ These kinds of options, however, can be pursued in other contexts, and there are plenty of places more amenable than the Stone-Campbell heritage. The most one can say, at this point, is that the Churches of Christ are still producing innovative ministers, capable scholars, and creative forms of mission. They clearly constitute an important and unfinished chapter in American church history.”

 

Click on the links below to read Dr. Keith Huey’s full essay and the other Rochester Retrospect essays: