A LITTLE HISTORY…
Washington Christian Church has been around a LONG time. Established in 1832, WCC is over 180 years old. But while we have considerable history, we strive to be a culturally relevant, mission-minded body. To give you an idea of how we got here, let’s back up a little bit.
In 1517, a German cleric, Martin Luther, discovered that the version of the church presented by the institutional church was not the one presented by Jesus and the first-century disciples. Luther publicly denounced the Catholic church and began what is commonly called the Great Reformation.
From the Reformation sprung the many Protestant (those in protest of the Catholic church) denominations – Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, etc. While the overt oppression of the church of Rome was weakened, it was replaced by the exploding proliferation of denominations.
By the early 19th century (c. 1803), the denominations were so fragmented, they were barely intelligible. One man, a member of the Old Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian Church (whew!), decided to leave the church and form a new fellowship. Alexander Campbell insisted this new tribe call themselves simply “Christians” in an effort to be “Not the only Christians, but Christians only.” Campbell believed unity could be achieved if the church returned to first-century practices and hoped that by keeping it simple and clear and biblical the whole church would eventually reach full communion. Later, his son, Thomas, would continue his work.
Simultaneously, in another part of the country, Barton W. Stone also abandoned protestant denominationalism. His new fellowship experienced a crazy, wildly charismatic movement of the Holy Spirit, later called the Cane Ridge Revival. Even though his new tribe and Campbell’s were quite different, they also had some startling similarities. Both movements were occurring in different regions of early America, and both were a response to the denominational divisions of the day and the “anti-intellectual” attitude that resulted in splinter sects like Seventh-Day Adventism, Christian Science, and Mormonism. They believed that the church should shed all of its baggage and return to the biblical model of The Way.
Also both coincidentally desired a stronger focus on the Eucharist (communion) and baptism and Augustine’s entreaty, “In matters of doctrine, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things, charity.”
These circumstantial similarities ended up leading both movements to converge into what some call the Stone-Campbell Movement, more commonly known as the Restoration Movement. The churches formed from this tribe are often referred to as Independent Christian Churches.
A mere 29 years later, the founding fathers of Washington, Illinois, including William Holland, established a new worship gathering – only the second church meeting in this growing new central Illinois community – called Washington Christian Church.
Unfortunately, even though the Restoration Movement is essentially a unity movement, our tribe eventually began to fragment as well. The church of “Christians Only” became three separate streams: Christian Churches, Churches of Christ, and Disciples of Christ. All three have distinctive qualities, but are still closely related.
While we may have lost our way in the area of “unity,” we have remained essentially “non-denominational.” We have no central hierarchy dictating our vision and mission, but remain autonomous, elder-led fellowships. We are connected with others in our tribe through three annual national conventions (the North American Christian Convention [NACC], the National Missionary Convention [NMC], and Exponential [previously called the National New Church Convention]) and the fact that our pastors are generally trained at the same schools (Lincoln Christian University, Johnson University, Ozark Christian College, Nebraska Christian College, Great Lakes Christian College, etc.).
Our first building burned down, and the second, looking very much like the first, is still located on High Street across from Brecklin’s BP. In 1964, WCC built our current facility, and it was substantially updated in 2008.