Apostolic Christian Church
||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (February 2014)|
Though similar in name, the Apostolic Christian Church is not affiliated with the Pentecostal Apostolic Church or New Apostolic Church denominations. Also,the Apostolic United Brethren is a sect within the Latter Day Saint movement and is not related to the Apostolic Christian Church.
The origins of the Apostolic Christian Church are found in the dramatic conversion experience of Samuel Heinrich Froehlich (1803–1857) of Switzerland. Froehlich was baptized in 1832 and soon founded the Evangelical Baptist Church. The first American church was formed in Lewis County, New York in 1847 by Benedict Weyeneth (1819–1887), who had been sent by Froehlich at the request of Joseph Virkler, a Lewis County minister in an Alsatian Amish-Mennonite church. In 1848 a church was formed in Sardis, Ohio. The church experienced primary growth in the midwest, where many congregations formed first as part of a schism in the Amish and Mennonite churches. Though sometimes referred to as the New Amish, these believers generally called themselves Evangelical Baptist. In 1917, the church adopted a uniform name - Apostolic Christian Church.
There are currently at least five main divisions of this church in America. In the early 1900s a disagreement arose over the practice of some European customs (namely, the wearing of a mustache) and the church split into two bodies (from 1901 to 1911). In 1932 a second schism originated from a letter sent by elders in Europe asking for greater adherence to traditional teachings and practices. Those adhering to the request of the letter separated themselves from the Apostolic Christian Church of America and became known as the Christian Apostolic Church (later the German Apostolic Christian Church). The Apostolic Christian Church of America did not retain German language preaching. It is a common misconception that German language preaching was a primary issue in the division. *The German Apostolic Christian Church has several congregations in the United States and Europe. There are something over 100 members in the United States, primarily in Illinois and Oregon.
- The Apostolic Christian Church of America has about 94 congregations in 23 states, including 1 church in Canada, 5 in Mexico, and 2 in Japan. The total number of members is approximately 13,000. This church has a national missionary committee, a humanitarian aid program called World Relief, eleven retirement communities / nursing homes for the elderly, a home for the handicapped in Morton, Illinois, Apostolic Christian Counseling & Family Services in Morton, IL, and a children's home in Leo, Indiana.
- The Apostolic Christian Church (Nazarean) has 50 congregations in the United States, with 2756 members, 14 congregations in Canada with about 850 members, 6 congregations in Australia with roughly 200 members, 16 congregations in Argentina with about 1200 members or so,one congregation the Republic of Hungary with roughly 1,000 - 2,000 members as well as congregations in Brazil and Mexico. They have mission work in New Guinea, Argentina, and Paraguay. Though the minority of the split, this body remained in fellowship with the European churches. There is also a small congregation of Nazareans in Israel.
- The Nazarene Christian Congregation is the result of a split during World War II which had to do with disagreements in caving to Communist demands in Yugoslavia. This church also split into two sides during the early 2000s. The NCC has churches in Yugoslavia, Australia, US, and Canada, with more members in Yugoslavia than anywhere else. In North America the church has shrunk considerably.
- The German Apostolic Christian Church is the result of a relatively small group splitting away from the Apostolic Christian Church with currently four congregations: Cissna Park, IL; Fairbury, IL; Peoria, IL; and Silverton, OR. These four churches have a combined membership of about 150. The German language is still predominantly used in worship services.
- The Christian Apostolic Church (formed in 1955 from a split with the German Apostolic Christian) has three churches in Forrest, Illinois; Salem, Oregon; and Sabetha, Kansas with approximately 75 members. Members have retained traditional teaching on divorce and remarriage, birth control, and higher education, whereas the Apostolic Christian Church of America and Apostolic Christian Church (Nazarean) have departed somewhat from earlier practice in these areas.
- The Apostolic Christian Faith Church (formed in 2012 from a split with the Apostolic Christian Church of America) has two churches in Canada, and about 20 churches in the United States with approximately 1000 members. Members have retained what they believe are the church's traditional teachings. Their manner of worship and fellowship is currently identical to the church they withdrew from.
The European bodies have also faced divisions. Although once united throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland, there are now two sides. During the 1980s members were pushing for more liberties, which resulted in a vast majority of churches leaving the more conservative congregations. They formed their own branch and adopted the name Evangelische Täufergemeinden. They currently have churches in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France. The small fraction that stayed call themselves Gemeinde Evangelische Taufgesinnter (Nazarener) with churches in Germany and Austria and about 400 members. The latter maintain strong ties with the rest of the Nazarene congregations. There are also three congregations of German Apostolic Christians in Germany, and one in the Emmenthal in Switzerland.
The remainder of Europe is made up of independent congregations in communion:
- Nazarenes - in Sweden, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Romania, Ukraine and Slovakia
- In Hungary their official name is Krisztusban Hívő Nazarénusok Gyülekezete (Congregation of Nazarenes Believing in Christ)
Members seek to obey the Bible, which they hold to be the infallible Word of God. Many of their practices, however, are not explicitly derived from the Bible. Rather, some of them are biblically inspired traditions derived from the writings of Froehlich (who was strongly influenced by early church writers such as Tertullian) and some are past practices found to be beneficial. These traditions are passed from one generation to the next and are held in high esteem, but never meant to approach the level of Biblical commandments. Members are disciplined out of love, and the degree of discipline varies on the degree of sin. If the member commits a sin unto death, as laid out by the Bible, he or she will be excommunicated, but never shunned. Members are disciplined because of sin and not, as commonly misconceived, because of adherence to traditions. Traditions within the Apostolic Christian Church help encourage believers in their commitment to serving the Lord, help to knit generations together, and provide close harmony among the various congregations.
The conversion experienced by each member varies in timing and detail, but all include repentance for one's sins, making restitution, confessing sins to God while in the presence of an elder of the church, and finding peace with God. The word "convert" is used throughout the denomination to describe anyone who begins repentance but has not been baptized into the church; it does not imply conversion from another denomination or religion, but from the carnal to the spiritual state. Once converts "receive peace from God," this is announced to the church and a baptism date is set. Converts give a testimony before the members of the church prior to the public baptism service, telling the story of their personal conversion experience. This testimony, commonly referred to as a "proving", typically takes place the night before the baptism and is a closed member meeting. Because baptism is identified with a "death to sin" in Romans 6 and other New Testament writings, congregational recognition of the convert's repentance and death to sin is desired prior to baptism. The baptism service is open for anyone to attend and is performed before the entire congregation. Before the baptism takes place the convert makes a covenant with Christ in the presence of the entire congregation. Once the covenant is made, the convert is fully immersed in water (unless they are physically unable to do so). After the baptism service, there is a laying on of hands by one or more elders and an accompanying consecration prayer. This laying on of hands and prayer of consecration places the seal of the Holy Spirit on the life of the newly baptized.
Worship, biblical practices and tradition
- The Authorized Version (King James Version) of the Bible is the English translation used for church services in North American congregations.
- Worship services are held on Sunday while various churches also conduct additional mid-week services.
- Sunday services in the ACCA (the Nazarean order of services is similar in a few churches but widely vary in others, the order of worship in the Christian Apostolic Church and German Apostolic Christian Church are essentially identical—this is basically the same order of worship used in old order German Baptist, Mennonite and Amish churches) are as follows:
- Public worship services in the morning and afternoon, usually of the following format:
- The congregation sings several songs before the service starts
- The congregation prays together in silence asking for the Holy Spirit's leadership
- A minister opens to a random Old Testament passage, and sometimes discusses it briefly
- The minister selects a hymn to be sung by the congregation, the congregation sings, and then the minister prays out loud
- The minister opens to a random passage in the New Testament - this passage serves as the basis of most of the sermon, although the Old Testament passage (or fore-reading) is often referred to as well
- A second minister provides some closing or summarizing thoughts and either selects a closing hymn or asks the congregation to suggest one
- A minister gives the opportunity for a male member of the congregation to lead the group in prayer
- A minister "takes greetings". Members stand up and announce other AC churches that they have recently traveled to or are traveling from
- A final hymn is sometimes sung following the afternoon service.
- A light meal is generally served between the morning and afternoon services
- Public worship services in the morning and afternoon, usually of the following format:
- Midweek services consist of a single service, generally of the same format as the Sunday services
- Some congregations conduct Bible studies and classes as part of the routine church schedule. In addition, some local fellowships have outside study groups and classes among members. However, there is no standard format for these bible studies across all churches. Some congregations do not encourage Bible studies among groups of members. Personal Bible study is always encouraged and expected.
- Female members are expected to wear a Christian headcovering during prayer and worship. Wearing of a head covering when praying outside of church, when with other believers, and at other times is encouraged to varying degrees among the congregations, but the Biblical basis is somewhat universally recognized.
- Within the Apostolic Christian Churches (Nazarean), singing often includes instrumental accompaniment.
- The Zions Harfe (Zion's Harp) is the primary hymnal used during worship services. The Zion's Harp was assembled in the 19th century by a European elder and includes numerous hymns written by that elder, along with other hymns not generally used in other American denominations. Most of the hymns are either traditional Amish/Mennonite hymns or from the 19th century Swiss state church. It is a good source for English metrical translations of Amish Ausbund hymns. Because the Apostolic Christian Church of America and the Apostolic Christian Church (Nazarene) were separated before both sides began using English in worship services, the Zion's Harps used by the two denominations have lyrics somewhat differently translated from the German. A slightly different translation is also used in the Christian Apostolic Church.
- Another hymnal used in church services, the Hymns of Zion, includes arrangements and lyrics more commonly used in other denominations, but also includes several written by members of the American congregations. This book was originally envisioned as a Sunday-School hymnal, but gained popularity with the church as a whole. Beginning in 2012, some ACCA churches have transitioned from the Hymns of Zion to the new "combined hymnal" which is a combination of the Hymns of Zion and the Tabernacle Hymns. The latter has long been used in Sunday Schools.
Biblical practices and tradition
- Communion is served once (to several times) a year at varying times, usually near Easter. Communion services are a closed service, with only members and converts present. Communion is typically preceded by a period, typically around a month, of self-examination and restitution, if needed.
- The Holy Kiss is the greeting used in Apostolic Christian churches (practiced as in German Baptist, Amish, Mennonite churches, and other churches with Anabaptist roots), based on the epistles of Paul and the general epistle of 1 Peter. Men greet men and women greet women. Men and women just shake hands and say "Greetings Brother" and "Greetings Sister."
- Marriage between "a man and a woman of like mind, faith, and fellowship" is encouraged for all members where God leads. In the Apostolic Christian Church of America, Christian Apostolic Church, German Apostolic Christian Church, and the Apostolic Christian Church (Nazarean), dating is discouraged.
- Members of the Apostolic Christian Church of America are somewhat discouraged from visiting churches of other denominations. In the Christian Apostolic Church, it is forbidden except for funerals. In the German Apostolic Christian Church, visitors are requested to obtain an elder's permission before attending services, and members do not visit other services, even for wedding or funerals.
- In all traditional AC groups, permanent lifelong excommunication is practiced in certain cases.
- Television and radio are not permitted in the Christian Apostolic Church or German Apostolic Christian Church. The use of television in ACCA churches varies considerably by congregation and family.
- In 1932 all Apostolic Christian groups required a beard without mustache (except the Nazareans), but by the 1950s it was discouraged in all groups.
- In the ACCA and ACC Nazarean, members are encouraged to wear modest attire that provides gender distinction.
The leadership of an Apostolic Christian church consists of the "elders" of local congregations. The term "elder" has a somewhat different meaning than in other denominations. Most congregations have one elder, however some have none and in rare instances a congregation may have more than one. The office of elder is seen as equivalent to that of a bishop as described in the epistles of 1 Timothy and Titus. The elder of each congregation has the oversight of the local congregation but is subject to the authority of the other elders throughout the denomination. Once put in place, Ministers, Deacons and Elders can only be removed of their position by death, voluntary retirement or in extreme cases by the national elder body.
- Elders of local congregations are ordained by the Elders of the other congregations, usually after a ballot is taken from the local congregation. Elders are almost always selected from the current ministers serving in the local church. Elders perform both religious rites and also conduct ministerial duties.
- Congregations who do not have a locally residing elder are assigned a "Counseling Elder" by the national elder body. Day-to-day business in these congregations is usually handled by an Ordained Deacon, Deacon or "Lead Minister"; depending on the specific situation of each congregation.
- Each local church Elder serves as an equal member within the collective "Elder Body" of all elders who make decisions regarding the denomination.
Deacons and ministers
- Ministers' duties include both preaching and teaching in their home congregation and in other Apostolic Christian congregations. They also assist the Elder or Deacon as the need arises in their home congregation.
- Ministers (including elders and deacons) do not pursue seminary or other education in preparation for the ministry and serve without compensation. An unpaid lay ministry is not considered a doctrinal issue, but a preference for it is recognized in Paul's writings.
- A minister who is ordained as a deacon may assist the local elder with meeting with new converts, performing baptisms, and other duties usually carried out by the elder alone. Most congregations do not have a Deacon, rather they are ordained mostly in very large congregations where the elder needs assistance, or in very small congregations where there is no local elder.
- Handbook of Denominations, by Frank S. Mead, Samuel S. Hill, and Craig D. Atwood
- Marching to Zion: A History of the Apostolic Christian Church of America, by Perry Klopfenstein
- Profiles in Belief: the Religious Bodies in the United States and Canada (Vol. II), by Arthur Carl Piepkorn
- Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States, 2000, Glenmary Research Center
- "Froehlich" is for all intents and purposes an anglicization of Fröhlich, although use of "oe" (or a similar digraph with a smaller "e" atop the "o") to denote the same sound actually predates the use of the umlaut in written German.