Disciples of Christ

The D in [D]mergent is Home for Me

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

The D in [D]mergent comes from the Disciples of Christ. The Disciples are part of that larger movement within the Body of Christ known as the Stone-Campbell Movement. It also includes the non-instrumental Churches of Christ and the Independent Christian Churches. The Stone-Campbell movement has its roots in the early 19th century American frontier (Of course, any movement can trace its beginning further and further back in time citing different events and ideas that influenced it.  My daughter recently took a course in American foundations and it took her a little while to understand why her class on American foundations began with the teacher talking about Greece and Rome.)    The hope of the Stone-Campbell effort was to overcome the stringent denominationalism that was present at that time and unite Christians through a simple confession of faith in Christ and obedience to him “in all things according to the scriptures.”  So in the beginning it was a unity movement.   Sadly it has developed into three distinct and separate bodies.  A unity movement that has split at least a couple of times. I put the phrase “in all things according to the scriptures” in quotation marks because if I was going to point to one matter that has influenced the division more than anything else it would be how the scriptures are interpreted.  (I would also argue that egos have had a lot to do with it . . . but that’s a different article.)  

I have spent the majority of my life, and my entire pastoral career, as a Disciple.  My undergraduate and seminary education, however, happened at schools that are more closely aligned with the Independent Christian Churches.  My only knowledge of the Churches of Christ have come through the study of the Stone-Campbell Movement and through parishioners who have come to the Disciples from a non-instrumental background.  It was during my seminary education that I made a conscience decision to return to the Disciples of Christ, the church of my childhood. I want to share why I made that decision.  But before I do, I want to tell you why I want to share it.  I presently serve as the Regional Moderator of the Christian Church in Indiana, which has about 170 Disciple congregations.  The Regional Moderator is like the Board Chair for a local church, but overseeing, in this instance, the structure that unites all the congregations in that region.  There used to be a lot more Disciple congregations in Indiana but over time congregations have voted to leave this body and become independent.  Usually, the reasons cited include the belief that the Disciples have become too liberal and the leaders “have an agenda.”   As the Moderator, I have had the occasion to travel with our Regional Minister to a couple of these congregations who are considering leaving.  To say the least, they are very interesting conversations.    

I have had my own struggles with my church at times – from the cumbersomeness of the bureaucracy that has been created over the last fifty years to the sometimes lack of focus on what I think our priorities should be, but I still love the church I call home and here is why. 

First, I believe in gender inclusive leadership at every level of church life.  This underscores one of my deepest theological convictions that God is neither male nor female and that all people are created in the image of God. Not too long ago, my family worshipped at an Independent Christian Church while we were on vacation.  When it came time for communion everyone who stood around the table was male.  I asked my teenage daughter if she noticed anything different from our church and she said, “They are all dudes.”  I asked how that made her feel and she said, “Not very good.”  I don’t want my daughter, who is told in school that she can choose any career she wants as long as she works hard enough, to be part of a congregation where she is told she can’t lead because of her biological make-up. 

Second, I am a Disciple because I believe very strongly in the idea of Christian unity and that unity is rooted solely in Christ.  It is not creedal nor doctrinal unity, it is a unity rooted simply in Jesus.  The Christian faith has never been monolithic.  There has never been a single, pure expression of the faith.  There has always been various understandings of the faith.  We are bound together not by correct belief, but by our hope that Jesus of Nazareth is someone we can trust now and for all eternity. 

Third, I have chosen to stay with the Disciples of Christ because of the commitment to social justice, which to me means that everyone gets treated fairly and has equal access to the bounty of this world.  I have a firm faith there is more to this world than what can be seen, touched or tasted.  I believe there is an eternity that awaits us all, but the faith I claim is one that is lived in this world and is concerned with the real world problems of people in the here-and-now.  The prayer we say together each week doesn’t ask for us to be taken out of this world, but instead asks that the ways of God be made known upon this earth as they are in heaven.  I have often said that the goal of our faith is not heaven.  Heaven is the hope of our faith.  The goal of our faith is to be like Christ – who was concerned with people’s hunger, their pain, their sorrow, their exclusion.  As incomplete and as faulty as our efforts might be as Disciples, I know I am in a church that seeks to move forward the best we can in caring for the real needs in our world. 

Finally, I am Disciple, because I don’t like anyone looking over my shoulder making certain I am “correct” in my belief about scripture, baptism, the atonement, etc. I think we are all on a journey of faith where we reason together what it means to follow Christ.  I happen to think it isn’t correct belief about different matters that saves us, it’s Christ.

So, I’m one of those Disciple leaders now.  One who believes in the foundation of Christ for our life of faith.  One who believes in inclusive leadership which recognizes the image of God in us all.  A leader who believes in the inherit unity of all who seek to follow Jesus – a unity not of doctrine, creed or structure – but of a way of life in which we are called by Jesus to love God, neighbor and enemy. A leader who believes that there is no more important witness to the love of God in this world than to care for the brokenhearted, to house the homeless, to provide food for the hungry, to embrace those who have been pushed to the edges.  I don’t want to just tell them about a heaven that awaits them, I want them to know the love of heaven now.

So that’s why I am a Disciple.  Now, if some folks want to call me a liberal I am absolutely fine with that.    And if others want to say that the Disciples have a fuzzy theology, I don’t know how much more clear it can be than saying it is all rooted in Jesus.  As our general Minister and President Sharon Watkins said recently, “Jesus is enough for us.” And if there are those who think there is “an agenda.”  There is.  I just spelled out my understanding of it. 

I think in this day and time, there is nothing our world needs more than a church that simply tries to love God, neighbor and enemy.  A church that seeks to follow Jesus.  And the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has the opportunity to be such a church for such a time.  I am at home.

Growing Peace

By Rev. Mindi

I lived in the Boston area for ten years, attending seminary in Newton, just blocks from the Marathon route on Comm Ave (Commonwealth Avenue for non-Massachusetts peeps).  For the first six years I could walk to the same spot where Centre Street crosses Comm Ave and watch for the runners I knew. One year the youth of my church and I made posters for one of our members running the race, staying until we spotted her and could give her our high-five blessings of encouragement.  My last four years, I lived in Framingham, Massachusetts, closer to the start of the race, and I would drive to downtown Framingham early before the road was closed, park my car at the Assembly of God church and meet my friend, Pastor Bob, and we would set up our chairs along Rt. 135, near the Dunkin Donuts.  But it was in my first visit to Boston in 1999, when I was checking out seminaries, that I first saw the small tortoise and hare statues that grace the end of the Boston Marathon in Boston on Boylston Street.

I am still recovering from Newtown, so I don’t feel like the weight of what has happened in Boston has fully hit me yet. A colleague remarked to me after Newtown that many of us were “walking around with PTSD.” With social media, 24/7 news coverage, instant photos (whether real or fake)—the bombarding of information so quickly, the plethora of connections we now have (many of us know someone now, perhaps through friends or family, or maybe a Facebook friend of a friend, for example), we all feel like we know someone there, whether we do in our day-to-day life, or not—more of us are experiencing closeness to these events, to these people who have suffered loss.  In turn, we are suffering collective PTSD.

Of course, whenever something like this occurs, there are reminders that many others in the world live with this kind of terror on a more regular basis. Whether its suicide bombers in Palestine and Israel, drone strikes in Pakistan, IED’s in Afghanistan, or car bombings in other parts of the world that barely register a blip on U.S. news, if at all, there are probably many more people around the world who suffer from collective PTSD on a more regular basis. 

And just like after Newtown, some of the first articles of advice on dealing with violence are geared toward how to talk with children about the events. Good stuff. We need those resources and I’m glad they are there, just as I’m glad that the quote from Rev. Fred Rogers keeps resurfacing about looking “for the helpers.”  We all need those reminders, not just children.

But we need more. We need to do more than just talk to our children about this. We need to do more for all of us. 

I believe, as followers of the Prince of Peace, we have got to live out God’s ways of peace. There’s just no other way.

We need to work on eliminating the language of violence from our vocabulary. We need to work on practicing peace in our daily lives, with our family, friends and neighbors. We need to live into the ways of peace by being aware of where the products we buy come from, how they were harvested or mined, and what happened to the people who worked for those products.  All of the little things we can do.

And then we need to get beyond ourselves. We need to grow our churches into peace churches. We need to say that in the name of Christ, we will no longer live into the violent ways of our world. We will no longer allow violence to have power, to have the final word.

By becoming peace churches, we have the opportunity to transform our communities through education, service and outreach—all the same things we always try to do for our own church growth, but instead, now we are doing it for God’s Shalom.  We have the opportunity to partner with other peace and justice organizations. We are doing this because we want the world to be transformed. 

So I urge you to check out the peace resources offered by the Disciples Peace Fellowship or the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America or other Christian Peace organizations, and work towards growing a peace church. Peace isn’t just something we teach to our children; we still have much to learn ourselves, and there is much for us to do in the work for peace, together.

Proclaiming the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) a People of Grace and Welcome to All

What follows is a copy of the resolution that has been submitted for consideration at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando, July 13-17.  It is a resolution Proclaiming the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ a People of Grace and Welcome to all . . . regardless  of "race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical ability."

Since there has been much speculation about what such a resolution might look like, we thought it might be helpful to release the resolution that has already been submitted, with the understanding that because of the process such a resolution must go through, it is fairly certain that some revisions will be made to the content.   However, this is the text of the document submitted by the congregations listed below.

Additionally, here is a link to a Description of the Need for a Resolution, along with some FAQs.  

~ (Derek Penwell)

Proclaiming the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) a People of Welcome and Grace to All

WHEREAS, we, the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) understand ourselves to be a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world, called to welcome others even as we have been welcomed by God [1] and to practice hospitality to one another,[2]  as well as to strangers;[3]

WHEREAS, Holy Scripture affirms that all people have worth and are created in the image of God and share with all others in the worth that comes from being unique individuals,[4]  which has been reiterated at past General Assemblies (2001, 2005, 2011);

WHEREAS, we affirm that as Christians we are many members, but are one body in Christ–members of one another, and that we all have different gifts.[5]  With Jesus we affirm that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves,[6] and that we are called to the ministry of reconciliation and wholeness within the world and within the church itself; 

WHEREAS, Disciples affirm baptism as the primary call to ministry, and offer baptism to all who profess their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior;

WHEREAS, Disciples profess that the nature of Christian discipleship is profoundly informed by a common table, which is central to the act of worship. This emphasis on communion calls attention to the radical nature of the hospitality extended by Jesus–an act that welcomes all to be received at the Lord’s table of grace. In centering our worship on the Lord’s table, Disciples cannot but remember that our very birth as a movement came at Cane Ridge in reaction to limitations being placed on this welcome, and later in Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address;

WHEREAS, Disciples emerged as a movement centered on a call to Christian unity as our “polar star,” who must recognize that cutting off anyone who seeks the hospitality of the Lord’s table is an act of disunity;

WHEREAS, Disciples have been engaged in a process of discernment on the question of the participation of all Christians regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the life and ministry of the church since 1997 with mixed results;

WHEREAS, we know there are people who are devalued and discriminated against within society, and more sadly within the church because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity;

WHEREAS it is also recognized that the people of God find our identity around the table, holding each other dear even when we disagree; and that the church from its beginning has understood that God’s Spirit leads congregations to differing interpretations of scripture, but that each are called to claim one another in unity, transcending our differences;

AND WHEREAS, it is understood that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) operates with a congregational polity whereby local congregations have final say in matters of conscience;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) declares itself to be a people of grace and welcome to all God’s children–inclusive of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical ability;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) affirms the faith, baptism and spiritual gifts of all Christians regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that neither are grounds for exclusion from fellowship or service within the church, but are a part of God's good creation;

FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that all expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as a people of grace and welcome, are encouraged similarly to declare their support for the welcome of and hospitality to all Christians, regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical ability.

[1] Mark 12:31 [Statement of Identity of the CC (DOC), Disciples.org]

[2] 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 Peter 4:9

[3] Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2

[4] Genesis 1:26–7

[5] 2 Corinthians 5:18–20

[6] Matthew 7:12

Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Louisville, KY)

Midway Hills Christian Church (Dallas, TX)

Chalice Christian Church (Gilbert, AZ)

Fireside Christian Church (Denver, CO)

Little White Chapel (Burbank, CA)

First Christian Church (Eugene, OR)

Tapestry Ministries (Berkeley, CA)

St. Andrew Christian Church (Olathe, KS)

Lafayette Christian Church (Lafayette, CA)

First Christian Church (Concord, CA)

University Christian Church (San Diego, CA)

First Christian Church (Vallejo, CA)

New Covenant Community Church (Normal, IL)

First Christian Church (Lynchburg, VA)

Central Christian Church (Indianapolis, IN)

First Christian Church (Orange, CA)

Open Hearts Gathering (Gastonia, NC)

Bethany Christian Church (Tulsa, OK)

Pine Valley Christian Church (Wichita, KS)

Foothills Christian Church (Phoenix, AZ)

GLAD-Pacific Southwest Region (Irvine, CA)

GLAD Alliance