Churches of Christ in Australia
The Churches of Christ in Australia are made up of State Conferences which are an association of independent churches who choose to relate at a state and national level. Within this conference structure, individual churches are largely autonomous and operate on a congregational and democratic form of government. Leadership varies in local churches and where there are ministers or pastor they may or may not be formally ordained. Lay people usually play an important part in the worship, mission, governance and management of the church.
Key features of the church's worship are the weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper presided over by a lay person and believer's baptism. This Christian movement claims to "concentrate on the essential aspects of the Christian faith, allowing for a diversity of understanding with non-essentials." It is active in community services and supporting Christian unity, although this emphasis was stronger historically.
Churches of Christ is one of the smaller Christian groups by affiliation in Australia. The 2001 Census showed 61,335 identifying, falling to 49,687 in the 2011 Census, which represents 0.2% of the population. This is compared with 61.1% of Australians who indicated religious affiliation with any Christian denomination. The National Church Life Survey 2001 showed that Churches of Christ had the highest attendance-to-affiliation percentage. This survey showed a regular estimated attendance of 45,100 (74%). Average weekly attendance figures in 2013 were 38 500, although a larger number of people would be expected to have a connection to a Church of Christ.
Worship and devotion
Ministry and mission
National cooperative ministries include Global Mission Partners (formerly the Australian Churches of Christ Overseas Mission Board), Stirling Theological College, Indigenous Ministries Australia, the Defence Force Chaplains Committee, and Youth Vision Australia.
Theology and values
The denomination claims to "concentrate on the essential aspects of the Christian faith, allowing for a diversity of understanding with non-essentials."
Theological education and formation occurs at the:
- Stirling Theological College, located in Mulgrave in South-East Melbourne, is the movement's national theological college. Stirling is a College of the University of Divinity. Stirling was formerly known as the Churches of Christ Theological College and before that the College of the Bible. It has students completing coursework and research from across Australia and Asia.
- Australian College of Ministries is owned New South Wales Churches of Christ Conference, and provides training across Australia. Its courses are taught as part of the Sydney College of Divinity.
Ordination, which is bestowed by the State Conferences, is open to both men and women.
History and heritage
It is part of the Restoration Movement with historical influences from the United States of America and the United Kingdom dating from the early 19th century. The Churches of Christ in Australia are more similar to the Christian Church in the United States (most Churches of Christ in the United States sing a capella, whereas most Churches of Christ in Australia use musical instruments, as does the Christian Church in the United States).
A small group met in Albion, Brisbane in 1871, however it was not until 1 August 1882 that C.M. Fischer and T Geraghty established the first Church of Christ in Queensland at the Zillman Waterholes (now Zillmere, Queensland). The Ann Street Church of Christ was established in 1883 and moved into its present building in Brisbane's central business district in 1898.
In March 1839, Robert Lawrie, Margaret Mailey (Robert's fiance), Archibald & Marion (née Lawrie) Greenshields and daughter Jane aged 2; Thomas Neill and family; all of Kilmarnock and Newmills, applied the same day with the same agent for free passage to South Australia, departing from London on the ship Recovery May 21, 1839 and arriving September 17, 1839. In 1836, John Lawrie, older brother to the above-mentioned Lawries, had joined the Kilmarnock Scotch Baptist church, believing it to be the “true” church. But by 1837 John had become so influenced by the writings of Alexander Campbell that he commenced Disciples meetings at Newmills. All the above had been influenced by the Restoration movement; the Lawries (including James) and the Greenshields accepting its Biblical teaching. The coming to South Australia was due to Andrew Warnock of Paisley. Warnock was a manufacturer, but like other businessmen in Glasgow he was keen to invest in the new free colony of South Australia. Property was purchased for his son John, but as he did not know anything about farming James Lawrie and William Wilson were employed to establish it. They arrived in S.A. on the ship Ariadne August 13, 1839. The Kilmarnock party, which included more than those listed above, set out for S.A. in May. The journey was hazardous. There were 223 persons crowded onto the ship besides the crew, and apart from all the dangers of illness, of storms, of rounding the Cape of Good Hope, a fire broke out on ship. Finally they arrived and were given or attained positions in the colony. Thomas Neill had been in business as a grocer in Kilmarnock and before that he had been a farm servant. It was intended that he should work on the Warnock property but on arrival it was discovered that the dry climate required many more acres to support a family than it did in Scotland. Fortunately for him he was immediately given a job as Storekeeper with the South Australian Company by the manager, his old friend David McLaren. Neill had relations in Glasgow, Paisley and Kilmarnock. The Neills attended the Hindley Street Scotch Baptist church where McLaren was the unofficial pastor, and later, Thomas, his wife Jean, and Agnes their daughter were listed as members in 1844 when the Scotch Baptists were meeting in Morphett Street.
Upon arrival, James Lawrie went immediately south to Mertin Farm at Noarlunga; land that adjoins the Onkaparinga River. He was later joined by his brother Robert. William Wilson looked after another section of Mertin Farm. Another Scotch Baptist family from Glasgow arrived on the day before the Recovery. This was the Wauchope family, John, his wife and two sons, George and William. They settled on the property named Allandale in the Morphett Vale area. William worked for James and Robert on Mertin Farm. The major part of Mertin Farm lay not far below the Craig and Murray properties on the Onkaparinga River. In 1841 when David McLaren returned to England, the Adelaide congregation split over the question of "open communion." A new group was formed at North Adelaide with Samuel Gill as minister. Alexander Murray with seven others were dismissed to form a church at Noarlunga.
It is probable that the Noarlunga group consisted of Alexander & Jane Murray; James & Janet Craig; Archibald & Marion Greenshields; Robert & Margaret Lawrie; James Lawrie & William Wilson. Most of the above were connected through family relationship. This group could very well have been the source of some of Campbell's writings referred to as being in the Adelaide Scotch Baptist congregation and perhaps originally coming from John Lawrie. At the end of 1841 John Warnock arrived from Glasgow, Scotland, to take over Mertin Farm. The Lawrie brothers worked for Warnock for a time while he settled into the management of the farm, then moved out. James Craig and Alexander Murray, Scotch Baptists from Glasgow, arrived in the ship India, February 25, 1840. They moved on to properties south of Adelaide. In October 1840 Craig bought a second section not far from his home property and made arrangements for Archibald Greenshields to manage it.
In mid-1842 James Craig, caught in the financial crisis, was forced to sell the property that was managed by Greenshields. Greenshields became a labourer. Alexander Murray was able to survive for a time by accepting Robert Lawrie into joint occupancy of his property.
Although the financial crisis of the colony had changed the fortunes of this little group, they managed, for a time, to remain in close proximity with each other. It is likely that the little southern congregation existed up until 1845 when Murray left for England and the Lawries shifted to Lonyunga in the Myponga Hills. It wasn't long after this that John Lawrie became concerned about the brethren "scattered over the wild prairie." It was then that Lawrie persuaded his fellow elder, John Aird, to come to S.A. to take charge of the "little flock" in the south. John Aird and John Watson arrived in S.A. on the ship Lady McNaughton, October 16, 1847. They met with the brethren at Franklin Street and then travelled to Noarlunga where Aird called his fellow restorationists together. They celebrated the Lord's Supper on October 31 and formed into a church on November 7, 1847.
Thomas Magarey moved to Noarlunga after he was married to Elizabeth Verco on March 10, 1848. He worked in the local flour mill at the Horseshoe and for the 18 months to two years they were at Noarlunga, worshipped with the little group of disciples led by John Aird. Others in the congregation were: Watsons, Browns, Greenshields, Robert Lawries and Scotts. At the beginning of 1850, two years later, the Magareys returned to Hindmarsh, where Thomas wrote glowingly of the time spent with John Aird and the church at McLaren Vale.
Alexander Lawrie came to live in the Myponga Hills in 1851. He married Jane Watson, daughter of John Watson.
John Lawrie arrived in the Myponga Hills November 1853. His wife and family arrived in November 1855.
The church in the south had close links with the disciples in Adelaide. James Craig and John Brown represented the McLaren Vale church at the opening of the Hindmarsh church, June 10, 1855. Subscribers from the McLaren Vale church to the Grote St. building fund were: Aird, Brown, Craig, Jones, Greenshields, John Lawrie, Robert Lawrie, Watson, Scott. The Grote St. building was opened January 1856. As a number of families lived in the Myponga Hills John Lawrie decided mid 1856 they should meet locally as the Willunga congregation.
Members of the Willunga church appointed as Trustees of Grote St. June 27, 1856:- John Lawrie and James Craig. John pointed out difficulties of country members acting as Trustees and so at a meeting on August 30, 1856, the previous country appointments were cancelled and Adelaide members appointed in place of those from Willunga and Milang. Late in 1857, John, Robert, Alexander Lawrie and families, sold their properties and moved north to farm the land at Alma Plains. Archibald Greenshields followed 3 or 4 years later and the Airds later still. A chapel was built at Alma Plains in 1862 which doubled as a school room. This chapel became too small and a new chapel was built 10 years later in 1872. "Messrs. T. J. Gore of Norwood and John Lawrie of Alma conducted the opening services. The audiences were large. On Monday between 300 and 400 persons had tea and Mr. Lawrie afterwards presided over a meeting which was addressed by Messrs. Kidner, Colbourne, Woolcock, and Gore. It is estimated that over 500 people were present." <[Register 27 Jul 1872]>
The Churches of Christ Provident Fund was established to support paid ministers. Most of its role has been handed over to the non-denominational Christian Super fund.
- MCD University of Divinity
- National Council of Churches in Australia
- Sydney College of Divinity
- World Convention of Churches of Christ
Other groups called Churches of Christ
In Australia there are at least four distinct groups known as "Churches of Christ". As well as this organisation, there are also the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, the International Churches of Christ, and the non-denominational Churches of Christ.
- "About Churches of Christ". Living Faith Church. Retrieved 11 October 2015.
- Haigh, George (1983). 100 Years Venturing in Faith. Brisbane: E K Williams Pty Ltd. p. 9. ISBN 0-909116-38-5.
- A century of witness, 1883-1983 / by Norman Watson
- Brisbane Travel Guide
- Register 27 Jul 1872
- Peter Gray & Klesis Institute, 2013 survey of non‐denominational Churches of Christ in Australia, October 2014, p. 21
- "H. R. Taylor's History of Churches of Christ in South Australia, 1846-1959". Retrieved 2012-06-11.
- Global Mission Partners
- Youth Vision Australia
- National Youth Ministry Convention
- The Australian Christian
- National Church Life Survey