A major group of American churches turns its most crucial corner this month. The move may eventually mean loss of nearly half the congregations previously associated with the once-prosperous International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ).

Forcing the issue is proposed restructure of the “brotherhood” begun by Thomas and Alexander Campbell in the early nineteenth century. Opposition to the plan has already prompted withdrawal of more than a thousand churches in ten months. A climactic vote on the “provisional design” for restructure is scheduled to take place in Kansas City during the Disciples’ annual assembly there September 27-October 2.

A few years ago the Disciples were one of America’s top ten Protestant denominations, boasting nearly two million members. They still list in their latest yearbook 7,965 congregations with a combined membership of 1,875,400. But 3,218 of these churches are described as “non-participating,” which means they turn over no offering to officially recognized causes. Only 1,061,844 members are counted as “participating.” and opponents of restructure claim the new denomination, to be known as the (singular) Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), will end up with no more than 700,000.

Restructure is feared by conservatives and cheered by ecumenists as a prelude to ultimate Disciple dissolution into the biggest of all American merger plans, the one now being written by the Consultation on Church Union.

Under the restructure plan, every church appearing in the present yearbook will be recognized as part of the new denomination. As a result, a drive is on among foes of restructure for a mass exodus of congregations. Disciples officials publicly admitted this month that 1,124 names ...

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