Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.– Ephesians 4:2-7
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a community of witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By nature, we are a diverse yet unified group. One of our favorite quotes is “in essentials, unity. In non-essentials, diversity. In all things, love.” While each Disciple is their own, commonly our essentials are as follows:
- Jesus is the Christ, our Lord and Savior, the Son of the Living God.
- The Bible, when taken in context, is the sufficient witness to God.
- The Church is Christ’s Body on Earth, not divided by denomination or creed.
- Baptism is for believers, though we acknowledge other forms of baptism.
- Gathering around the table for communion is celebrated weekly in remembrance of Christ.
- All Christians are called to share and do the good news of the Gospel.
A History of Seeking Christian Unity:
You likely know of the Protestant reformation in the 1500’s, with names like Martin Luther and John Calvin. They sought to re-form the church with the Bible alone as their authority. However, years after the reformation, various denominations emerged. Each denomination had their own interpretations of the Bible and would all too often assert their interpretation was the only correct way. As the Protestants made their way to North America, this trend of division continued. By the early 1800’s, it was not uncommon to believe the only people in heaven were the people in your specific denomination. It was around this time that the founders of the Stone-Campbell (or restoration) movement independently broke ties with their former denomination in pursuit of a unified church.
In 1804, Presbyterian minister Barton W. Stone and several followers broke their denominational ties to enter into unity with “the body of Christ at large.” They called themselves, simply, “Christians.” Likewise, in 1811, a group led by Presbyterian minister Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander, began meeting independently of Stone, saying the church of Jesus Christ was one, open to all. Thomas Campbell’s passion for Christian unity is summed up in his proclamation that “The church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.” They referred to themselves simply as “Disciples of Christ.” In 1832, the “Christians” and the “Disciples of Christ” joined together with a formal handshake in Lexington, Kentucky, as one movement for unity.
Though it may be a while before we are all one, we continue to strive for a day when all Christians can see themselves as brothers and sisters together.
A History of Liberation:
Between 1926 and 1967, the Stone Campbell movement formally separated into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Church of Christ. While there is no universal consensus on the reason for the separation, it is generally acknowledged that the Church of Christ held to a stricter/more literal view of scripture whereas the Disciples has a call towards a more open, theistic reading of scripture. Following this split, the Disciples of Christ entered into a time of restructure. We saw that while we continue to seek unity within churches in all times and places, some of that work is best done by standing together as a more formal denomination.
It was during this time that the Disciples felt called to a faith that liberates. In other words, Christianity should make a difference for the most vulnerable in our world. Ordination of women and (later) LGBTQ folk, prioritizing bringing the Kingdom of God onto Earth through justice work, and following Rev Dr King’s lead to continue the Poor People’s Campaign became prominent focuses. As a denomination, we have seen these works to be vital implications of our Christian witness.