The sun sets behind the Stauffer Chapel on campus on February 18. George Pepperdine founded the school in 1937 and it has since been affiliated with the Church of Christ. Photo by Ashley Mowreader
Since its founding in 1937, Pepperdine has been affiliated with the Churches of Christ. University founder George Pepperdine was a “life member” of the Church of Christ, according to Pepperdine’s website.
Despite Pepperdine’s history and longstanding ties to the Church of Christ, most students are not members of the Church of Christ, and many said they didn’t know what it was or why the University was associated with it.
“Pepperdine is affiliated with the Churches of Christ because George Pepperdine wanted to establish a Christian college on the West Coast open to all, but retained a strong connection to the Church of Christ,” wrote professor of religion Dyron Daughrity, also a preacher in exercise. and a member of the Church of Christ, in a March 14 email to the Graphic.
The Church of Christ is unique in many ways, Daughrity wrote. One of the best-known practices that distinguishes the Church of Christ is the lack of instruments of worship, although there are now churches that incorporate instruments.
There are also larger-scale differences, such as the lack of formal ties between individual churches, which are specific to the Church of Christ.
“We have no denominational structure, no creeds, no hierarchy, no ordination system, no large gatherings, and very few platforms that even make us aware of each other,” Daughrity wrote.
While not entirely unique to the Church of Christ, there is a strong preoccupation with the Bible that is also characteristic of the Church, Daughrity wrote.
“We usually try to root our practices in biblical witness,” Daughrity wrote. “Many churches do this, but it is certainly something important for the Church of Christ.”
Another area of concern for the Church of Christ is education, Daughrity wrote. There are 20 accredited colleges and universities affiliated with the Church of Christ in the United States, reflecting the Church’s commitment to the education of its members.
Pepperdine is one such school, although the religious makeup of its students does not reflect this affiliation. Only 6% of students enrolled at Pepperdine in the fall of 2021 were members of the Church of Christ, according to data from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
“Pepperdine is probably the most well-known Church of Christ college in America, yet only a fraction of Pepperdine’s student body belongs to the Church of Christ,” Daughrity wrote. “Non-Church of Christ students, faculty, and staff far outnumber Church of Christ members on our campus.”
Junior Isa Armstrong is a third-generation member of the Church of Christ, but said she didn’t come to Pepperdine just because of her background.
While at Pepperdine, Armstrong said she met people who didn’t even know things like a capella worship existed — a traditional feature of the Church of Christ.
“Not only do I not see the influence of the Church of Christ at school, but I feel like most people around me don’t know what it is or they don’t haven’t heard of it or anything,” Armstrong said. “It was a really interesting experience.”
Despite feeling there is a lack of Church of Christ representation on campus, Armstrong said she has grown in her faith and redefined what it means to her to be part of the Church of Christ. at Pepperdine. She also bonded with other members of the Church.
“I’m finding the community of people in the Church of Christ,” Armstrong said. “It’s a small community, but we’re here.”
Pepperdine strives to maintain the connection between the University and the Churches of Christ, even though the percentage of students and faculty in the Church of Christ is low, Daughrity wrote.
“Over the past few years, several initiatives have been developed to try to nurture this connection, for example the hiring of Jeff Walling, who has done a tremendous job in revitalizing the relationship between the Church of Christ and Pepperdine,” wrote Daughrity.
Historically, there is a trend in which Protestant universities become secular institutions after about 150 years, Daughrity wrote. Schools like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were once religiously affiliated but eventually became secularized.
“Protestant universities generally move away from their religious heritage to appeal to more groups of people,” Daughrity wrote. “We call this phenomenon ‘mission drift’. And it reaches a point where the university’s religious heritage becomes, essentially, irrelevant.
Despite a historic precedent for Protestant colleges and secularization, Pepperdine remains true to her Church of Christ roots, Daughrity wrote, though it’s impossible to know how long this will continue.
“The Christian religion is central to our work here at Pepperdine,” Daughrity wrote. “We try to live the Christian values of hospitality, mercy, compassion, selfless love and trusting friendship.”
Pepperdine’s affiliation with the Church of Christ is rooted in the university’s early days and is still at the forefront of the school’s commitment “to the highest standards of academic excellence and of Christian values.
Daughrity wrote that he chose to teach at a Church of Christ college because he believes in giving students a rigorous education that is also influenced by the life of Jesus Christ.
“I hope people who choose to study at this amazing university will at least understand Jesus and the life he lived,” Daughrity said. “If we direct people to it, then we can consider ourselves successful, because that is the mark of a typically Christian university.”
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