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Top 10 American Religions, part two

Updated on December 3, 2014

Religion in America

Part one of this series dealt with the two most significant American-born religious traditions, Adventism and Mormonism. In this part of the series, we will learn about the third, fourth and fifth most important.

3. Jehovah's Witness

In the 1870s Charles Taze Russell led a group of Bible students in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that eventually became the Jehovah's Witness movement. The movement was influenced by William Miller's thinking and Adventism. Russell expected the world to end in 1914, and for a time World War I seemed to confirm this prediction. Jehovah's Witnesses have held that the world is in the final days ever since. They made a number of end-times predictions during the 20th century, one of the more notable ones being 1975. Membership declined in the years after 1975 as the expectation failed to materialize.

Jehovah's Witnesses, like most other Christian denominations, see theirs as the true Christian religion. Accordingly they do not seek dialogue with other Christian sects or other religions. The leadership of the Jehovah's Witnesses exerts a strict authoritarian control over followers, and those who disagree with the Governing Body's policies, pronouncements and doctrine are subject to punishments including expulsion and shunning.

Other unique beliefs and practices include the rejection of blood transfusions (on Biblical grounds) and rejection of military service, with the rationale being that one's allegiance should be only with God. The Jehovah's Witnesses also do not celebrate birthdays or other secular holidays, again for fear of diluting loyalty to God. Today, Jehovah's Witnesses number about 7.5 million globally.

Jehovah's Witness meeting center in West Palm Beach
Jehovah's Witness meeting center in West Palm Beach | Source

4. Church of Christ

The "Churches of Christ" have their roots in the restorationist movement of the 19th century that sought to reestablish the original, true Christian church as founded by Jesus himself. The movement sought to get away from the man-made divisions in Christianity that had arisen since Jesus' time. The two dominant strains in the movement became the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. Today the Churches of Christ are far larger in membership than the Disciples. The Churches of Christ can trace their intellectual heritage to preacher Barton Stone in the Midwest in the 1820s and 1830s.

The Churches of Christ rely exclusively on the Bible to determine doctrine, avoid formal creeds, and consider the Bible the inerrant word of God. While individual congregations vary in their specific practices, all believe that the Bible is meant to be read and understood easily by a sincere believer. One distinguishing feature of the Churches of Christ is their position against the use of musical instruments in worship. This practice is based on the Biblical accounts.

Today total global membership of the Churches of Christ stands at over 5 million, among about 42,000 congregations.

Baptism by immersion
Baptism by immersion | Source

5. Disciples of Christ

The beginnings of the Disciples of Christ are found in the ideas of Thomas Campbell in the early 19th century. Thomas Campbell, like Barton Stone, was an early contributor to the restorationist movement within American Christianity. Soon after becoming organized, what would become the Disciples of Christ merged with the Churches of Christ and the two remained together into the later part of the 19th century.

However, as early as 1860, divisions between the two groups arose. The Churches of Christ prohibited any church practices not expressly cited in the New Testament, whereas the Disciples were open to any practice that was not expressly forbidden in the New Testament. In the early years of the 20th century, the two groups split.

One characteristic practice of the Disciples is baptism by immersion for adults. The Disciples of Christ generally welcome a variety specific beliefs and ideas, encouraging followers to read the Bible and pray as a way to discover knowledge. Today there are around 700,000 members, mainly concentrated in the US.

Part three of the series looks at the most significant American-born religions, numbers 6-10.


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