The Christians were a small but vigorous group, a product of the religious revivals of the late 1700s and early 1800s. They united with the Congregationalists in 1931.
Decrying denominational divisions as fundamentally ungodly, Christians affirmed six basic principles:
1) Jesus Christ — and not any human person — is the true head of the Church,
2) the Bible provides all that was necessary for establishing rules of faith and practice,
3) Christian character is the only requirement for church membership,
4) true Christianity respects every individual's right to private judgment and liberty of conscience in interpreting the Bible,
5) the name "Christian" — not a denominational label — is all that's necessary to identify a believer, and,
6) Christianity's true goal is the unity of all under Christ.
The Christians had three separate beginning points. The first group formed in Virginia, gathered in 1794 by James O'Kelly, a Methodist preacher who chafed under that denomination's centralized structure. Abner Jones organized the First Free Christian Church in Lyndon, Vermont, in 1801, opening the Communion table to anyone who demonstrated an intention to follow Jesus Christ. He soon found an ally in Elias Smith, who organized a Christian church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and began publishing the Herald of Gospel Liberty in 1808. Smith's paper ultimately became a means of drawing the separate Christian movements together. In 1803 Barton W. Stone [pictured above] led a third group from the Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky, protesting Calvinist theology as well as the denomination’s more hierarchical structure. Stone's followers also took the name Christian, and spread through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Some of this group eventually united with followers of Alexander Campbell to form the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the rest identified with the Christian Churches led by O'Kelly in Virginia and by Jones and Smith in New England.
Divided over slavery, the Christian Churches of the North and the South suspended fellowship with each other until long after the Civil War was over, separating into a white-dominated Southern Christian Association and a Christian General Association in the North. With the coming of peace, many black Christian churches formed in the upper South, in the Afro-Christian Convention in 1892.
The Christians established several institutions of higher learning, beginning with a partnership with the Unitarians that resulted in Meadville Seminary in 1844. Next came the coeducational Antioch College in 1852, with Horace Mann its first president. The Christians later established a presence at Defiance College in Ohio and Elon College in North Carolina toward the end of the 19th century.
In 1931, the General Convention of the Christian Churches, representing about 100,000 members, and the National Council of the Congregational Churches, with about one million members, joined to form the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches. In 1957, this body united with the Evangelical and Reformed Churches to form the United Church of Christ.