Posted by: naccm | January 27, 2010

A Movement…A Look Back at the Tradition of the ACM from the Present

When people typically refer to themselves as “non-denomination”, they mean generic, as in, “I belong to a non-denominational church/campus ministry”, a “church/campus ministry without a brand name/denominational affiliation”.

That was once also true of what historically has been called the Restoration or Stone-Campbell Movement, named after the theological intent and prominent spokesmen respectively from which the Association of College Ministries emerges.

To be non-denominational, in a traditional sense of the Restoration Movement today, is to be affiliated with a particular ecclesial tradition, with it’s own publishing houses, bible colleges and seminaries, conferences, churches, mission organizations and campus ministries.  We are non-denominational by matter of church polity, but associated and organized by a shared set of principles.

The history of the ACM and the Restoration Movement from which it emerges, may not be that compelling, unless we have a place to attach ourselves in the present.  So, in the weeks that follow, we’ll be taking a progressive look “backward from the present” to better understand the how the campus ministries of the ACM have been influenced by, associated with, and are still shaped by this historical tradition.

This tradition, is uniquely American.  It has roots in the soil of America and is grounded in both the enlightenment thinking that produced much of the framework of our constitution, but also a product of the independent spirit of the pioneer and of the westward expansion.  This movement began with a quest for a more unified and simple Christian unity in the late 1700’s, and today functions in three broad branches:  the Churches of Christ, the independent Christian churches, and the Disciples of Christ.

On campus, the Churches of Christ usually take on the name of the mascot of campus, like:  Huskies for Christ, Aggies for Christ, Bulldogs for Christ, etc.

The Disciples campus ministries vary in form, but often are linked with other mainline campus ministries to form the United Campus Ministries.

The independent Christian church campus ministries of the ACM are hard to pinpoint by name, though likely they are very active on your campus.  On a majority of campuses you will hear the names:  Christian Campus House or a variation of Christian Student Fellowship.  Or you are also likely to hear:  Campus Christian Fellowship, Christ on Campus or HIS House.  There are many campus ministries sprouting up reflecting names more like new churches like, The Shack, Sojourn, The Well, Impact, etc.

As a broader movement, the independent Christian churches have become more high-profile in contemporary church settings with more than 50 megachurches across the country, with leaders of growing influence.  And, at the last census, the independent Christian churches were the second fastest growing church affiliation after the Latter Day Saints.

Chances are you have attended a church, read a book, or heard someone speak from an independent Christian church tradition.  Churches like Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, Central Christian Church in Las Vegas with Jud Wilwhite (who also has written Stripped and Eyes Wide Open), or Shepherd of the Hills in California.  Rick Rusaw works with LifeBridge Christian Church in Colorado wrote The Externally Focused Church.   Dave and Jon Ferguson (who wrote The Big Idea together with Eric Bramlett) lead Community Christian Church and multi-site church planting through New Thing Network from Naperville, IL.   Mike Breax and Gene Appel formally at Willow Creek now at Hearland Community Church and Eastside Christian Church respectfully.  Jim Putman at RealLife Ministries in Idaho also wrote, Church is a Team Sport.  And Max Lucado shares the tradition within the Churches of Christ.

I’m sure I am missing some, and you can leave them in the comments below…point is…you’ve probably been affected by someone in this tradition!  And it might not be an understatement to say that the independent Christian church movement is the most influential movement in the US that you’ve never heard of!

The work of Central India Christian Mission led by Ajai Lall was featured this past year at the Exponential Church Planting Conference, and the work of G.O. Ministries and the Hands and Feet Project in Haiti were featured on CNN & MSNBC during the recent tragedy in Haiti.

I mention all of these to give those of you reading from outside the ACM or the tradition of the independent Christian churches a place a recognizable place to begin.

Those within our tradition realize, like other denominations, that this hardly tells the story.  There are countless churches, campus ministries, and mission organizations doing amazing work in communities around the world.

Chances are everyone reading this post has had an experience with one of the above.   And yet, none of these individuals or churches (at least I doubt), lead forward in their advertising that they are part of “Restoration” or “Stone-Campbell” movement (Hands and Feet, for example was started by the band Audio Adrenaline who’s members have ties in the independent Christian churches)   In many ways, that is because the “essence” of the movement is found local independence and autonomy, a sense of unity in the body of Christ, and a belief that the scriptures guide rather than creeds or tradition.

Like movements born throughout history, at points we have lost sight of those principles, and some of our guiding principles may bear a sense of naïveté about our dependence on rationalism to give substance to our language.  But, we are born from this tradition, whatever we may or have grown into.  And, I believe, the essence of our tradition is not bound by temporal cultural relevance, even if we find ourselves stuck there from time to time.

Mike Arstrong, veteran campus minister will say it this way in an upcoming post, “I’ve come to realize that our heritage as a part of the “independent Christian churches” is much like the skeleton of a healthy body. The skeleton is always below the surface. It’s not obvious. But it is always present.”

NEXT POST:  Ideas That Have Shaped Us, Dave Embree

TWO WEEKS:  The Shaping of Campus MInistry, Mike Armstrong

THREE WEEKS:  Forms on the Frontier, Tim Hawkins/Guest Blogger

FOUR WEEKS:  Common Themes:  Similarities of Practice between the Emerging Churches and Restoration Movement

FIVE WEEKS:  Answering Questions, Various

SIX WEEKS:  Personal Reflections, Various



  1. Sounds like this will be an interesting series. Look forward to reading.

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