America was a fast-growing country after the Revolutionary War, and still largely rural. Numerous churches and religious beliefs had been brought to the New World. We became known as a “Christian Nation” because of such founding claims as:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — Declaration of Independence
Many had come seeking freedom to practice their own religious beliefs, but they were often intolerant of the practices and beliefs of others. Religious differences frequently caused tension between neighbors and friends.
This new land was hard in many ways. People had to depend on helping each other in order survive, especially on the frontier. Sometimes, though, religious tensions interfered. There were even branches of major denominations that would not permit members of other branches in the same church to join in their communion.
As the 1800s began, a few Christian leaders rose above these differences. They sought religious peace and unity based on commonly held core beliefs — in order to evangelize the Gospel. They came from the four corners of the new country – New England, Virginia and the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. Stepping away from their denominations, these men and women were “just Christians” and “Disciples.” They tried to minimize differences, avoid being judgmental, and unite Christians around the basic teachings of the New Testament. They proclaimed their intent to “Speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where it is silent.” Other mottoes were:
- We are Christians only, but not the only Christians.
- In faith, unity; in opinion, liberty; in all things, love.
This was the beginning of the American Restoration Movement. It has also become known by many religious historians as the Stone-Campbell Movement after prominent early leaders. It was an effort to unify by restoring the fundamental practices and beliefs taught in the New Testament to churches of that day. There was no desire to start another denomination. Rather, they were trying to be non-denominational and to promote greater cooperation among believers in the many churches that already existed. Early documents illustrated their hope to unify Christians:
- We will that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.
— LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF THE SPRINGFIELD PRESBYTERY. (KY) 1804
- The Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else.
– DECLARATION AND ADDRESS OF THE CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION OF WASHINGTON, PA. 1809
The idea caught like wildfire across our young country, largely through revival preaching. Many whole congregations severed ties with their denominations and joined in. Movement ministers came to be among the most respected preachers in their regions. Some became known nation-wide.
Unfortunately, the goals of reforming Christianity and restoring the New Testament church were not to be fully realized. Instead, the network of congregations eventually came to be regarded as a new denomination, which was far from the original intent. This resulted partly from mainline denominations resisting and preserving their doctrines and organizations. But it was also because some groups of Restorers lost sight of the unity goal and became separatists, confident that they had uncovered and restored detailed patterns of Biblical truths. They insisted that everyone should practice a Christianity that conformed to the ways they understood the Bible. Hence, divisions occurred.
Today, three major churches, totaling about three million people in the U.S., trace their heritage to the American Restoration Movement. Churches of Christ [about 1.2 million adherents] are in every state and most foreign countries. Numerous universities, publications, radio and TV broadcasts, evangelistic and benevolent projects are coordinated by members of Churches of Christ.
Christian Churches (many also known as Churches of Christ) [1.2 million], and The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) [.8 million], also evolved from the Restoration Movement. They, too, are nationwide and have many schools, ministries and foreign missionaries. Believers’ baptism by immersion, weekly communion, and congregational autonomy are commonly held beliefs by all three streams. Since each local congregation is independent, one may encounter considerable diversity in practices. Some smaller networks or sub-groups exist within each stream.
The Greater Portland Church of Christ recognizes members of Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as our brothers and sisters – kinship in our faith heritage as well as in the church universal. We share a valuable heritage worth preserving. We have a strong bond on the basis of our roots and common beliefs and practices, despite differences that have developed historically. One does not have to be a twin to be a brother or sister.
GREATER PORTLAND CHURCH OF CHRIST
684 Highland Ave. [P.O. Box 2245] South Portland, Maine 04106
This congregation traces its history back to World War II. The present building in South Portland was built in 1956. Church membership has been cyclical, rising and falling a number of times as folks have come and gone. Current members represent about a dozen and a half family units.
Our hope and plea is the same as that of the historical Restoration Movement — to be as undenominational as possible. We practice and teach many of the beliefs that have developed within Churches of Christ over the past two centuries. Yet, we freely chart our own course as we feel led by the Spirit though our own congregational and individual study of God’s Word, the Bible.
We do not judge the faith or commitment of any other church, congregation or individual. We will participate in worship and service with any group who claims to follow Jesus Christ and who honors the Bible as God’s word. As opportunities present, we will humbly share our particular understandings of Scripture that may differ from others. We urge everyone to seek guidance from the Scriptures for how to live a life of faith in response to God’s grace.
If you might be interested in joining this journey to restore the life and spirit of New Testament Christianity, please visit the church, contact us by phone (207-799-6451), or send an e-mail.
Jesus prayed for unity:
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
— John 17: 20
The Core Message of the Gospel:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
— John 3:16
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
— Matt. 22:37-40
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures
— I Cor. 15:3, 4
We…know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
— Galatians 2:15, 16
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
— Ephesians 2:8-10
…for in Christ Jesus we are all children of God by faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
— Gal 3:27, 28
The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
— Galatians 5:14
Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.
— Eph. 6:23, 24