By Mike Smith
As the Disciples of Christ prepared to celebrate the centennial of Thomas Campbell's "Declaration and Address" in 1908, Johnson County had several Christian churches, including Liberty, Centerview, Walnut Grove, and Mount Carmel. These churches followed the doctrine of the main body of the Disciples of Christ. Several people in the Mountain City area were interested in the "Disciples" movement but found it difficult to travel by wagon to these more distant churches.
Thus, H.C. Hendrix, J.M. Wilson, Simon P. Miller , and other citizens contacted A. I. Myhr, an evangelist. Myhr held a revival in the Johnson County Courthouse in May 1908. As a result of this meeting, twenty-five people agreed to form a local church. On August 6, 1908 the trustees of the newly organized church bought a lot on Main Street on which to construct a church building.
Although construction of the building began in 1909, meetings were still held in the courthouse monthly. Members began to solicit funds for the building and by June 1912 construction was completed and the church building dedicated. An organ was placed in the church as well as a baptistry. Sunday School was established as part of church services and the Ladies Aid Missionary Society was formed. In supporting instrumental music and missionary societies, First Christian had positioned itself in the main body of the Disciples of Christ.
After the movement from the courthouse to the newly constructed building, a series of ministers of whom little is known served at Fist Christian. Apparently most of these early ministers came from Johnson City or Elizabethton. Church membership slowly increased to forty-seven.
On May 15, 1941, the trustees of the church purchased a lot adjoining the church in order to build a parsonage. Two couples, however, lived on the property, so the construction of the parsonage was postponed until accommodations were found for these couples. With the completion of the parsonage in 1942, First Christian would subsequently have "full-time" ministers, which contributed to the growth and direction of the church.
From 1942-1964, the membership of First Christian rose from one hundred to two hundred and fifty, mainly because of the efforts of minister H. T. Mabry. Mabry initiated youth programs, successfully encouraged more support of missionaries, stressed the need for support of "centrist" Bible colleges, and urged the local board to adopt a plan whereby the congregation would select elders and deacons.
The growth of the church in Mountain City during these years was congruent with the phenomenal growth of the central or main body of the Disciples of Christ. This body still held to the basic Biblical principles set forth in Thomas Campbell's "Declaration and Address," and Alexander Campbell's Christian System. They believed that the basic pattern for the church "is revealed in the New Testament and that it is the duty of every faithful follower of Christ to restore and maintain that pattern."
First Christian adhered to these principles and adhered to the main or center body of the "Disciples." The "leftists," now called the Disciples of Christ, had apparently abandoned the authority of the New Testament. The Churches of Christ or the "rightists" remained apart from the main body in refusing the accompaniment of instrumental music in services and in other matters. Although attempts were made to reconcile the differences between these three divisions of the Disciples of Christ, none were successful.
Many of the churches, including First Christian, which made up the "center" of the movement became "Independents," who refused to align themselves with the liberal Disciples of Christ or the fundamentalist Churches of Christ.
On May 14, 1968 the board of elders and deacons voted to disassociate First Christian from the Disciples of Christ. Subsequently, on October 3, 1972 the board officially named the church and set forth its position.
The name of the organization shall be the First Christian Church of Mountain City, Tennessee. It shall be governed by the fundamental principles as set forth in the New Testament of the Holy Bible.
This act officially positioned First Christian as an "Independent" Christian Church and distinguished it from the Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ.
Since 1972, the leaders of the First Christian Church have attempted to clarify the church's philosophy. In 1978 minister Richard Marshal began a program of studies in the Restoration Movement, Apologetics, personal evangelism, and basic church doctrine. Growth has remained steady, with periods of upswing and decline. It is hoped that in its current position as an Independent, First Christian will strive to follow the teachings of the New Testament.