Our Beliefs

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination in North America. It is often referred to as The Christian Church, The Disciples of Christ, or more simply as The Disciples. The Christian Church was a charter participant in the formation of both the World Council of Churches and the Federal Council of Churches (now the National Council of Churches), and it continues to be engaged in ecumenical conversations.

The Disciples' local churches are congregationally governed. In 2008 there were 679,563 members in 3,714 congregations in North America.[1] As of 2011, their website claims 661,544 members in 3,646 congregations. This difference indicates a decline of 18,019 members and a loss of 68 congregations across those three years The name, Disciples of Christ, is shared by two groups, The Churches of Christ and the independent Christian churches and churches of Christ. They emerged from the same roots.[3] The Stone-Campbell movement began as two separate threads, each without knowledge of the other, during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. The first of these two groups, led by Barton W. Stone began at Cane Ridge, Bourbon County, Kentucky. The group called themselves simply Christians. The second, began in western Pennsylvania and Virginia (now West Virginia), led by Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander Campbell. Because the founders wanted to abandon all denominational labels, they used the biblical names for the followers of Jesus that they found in the Bible

As an integral part of worship in most Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations members celebrate the Lord's Supper. Most congregations also sing hymns, read from the Old and New Testaments of Christian Scripture, hear the word of God proclaimed through sermon or other medium and extend an invitation to become Christ's Disciples. As a congregational church, each congregation determines the nature of its worship, study, Christian service, and witness to the world. At the Lord's table, individuals are invited to acknowledge their faults and sins, to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to remember their baptism, and to give thanks for God's redeeming love.[39] The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) believes that it is in the local congregations where people come, find, and know God as they gather in Christ's name.[40] Because Disciples believe that the invitation to the table comes from Jesus Christ, communion is open to all who confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, regardless of their denominational affiliation.[41]

For most Disciples, communion is understood as the symbolic presence of Jesus within the gathered community. Most Disciple congregations practice believer's baptism in the form of immersion, believing it to be the form used in the New Testament. The experiences of yielding to Christ in being buried with him in the waters of baptism and rising to a new life, have profound meaning for the church.[42]

"In essentials, Unity; In non-essentials, Liberty; and in all things, Charity."
19th Century slogan of the Stone-Campbell Movement

For modern Disciples the one essential is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and obedience to him in baptism.[43] There is no requirement to give assent to any other statement of belief or creed. Nor is there any "official" interpretation of the Bible.[44] Hierarchical doctrine was traditionally rejected by Disciples as human-made and divisive, and subsequently, freedom of belief and scriptural interpretation allows many Disciples to question or even deny beliefs common in doctrinal churches such as the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the Atonement. Beyond the essential commitment to follow Jesus there is a tremendous freedom of belief and interpretation. As the basic teachings of Jesus are studied and applied to life, there is the freedom to interpret Jesus' teaching in different ways. As would be expected from such an approach, there is a wide diversity among Disciples in what individuals and congregations believe. It is not uncommon to find individuals who seemingly hold diametrically opposed beliefs within the same congregation affirming one another's journeys of faith as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Members and seekers are encouraged to take being disciples seriously, meaning that they are student followers of Jesus. Often the best teaching comes in the form, "I'll tell you what I think, but read the Bible for yourself, and then study and pray about it. Decide in what ways God is calling you to be a follower of Jesus."

Modern Disciples reject the use of creeds as "tests of faith," that is, as required beliefs, necessary to be accepted as a follower of Jesus. Although Disciples respect the great creeds of the church as informative affirmations of faith, they are never seen as binding. Since the adoption of The Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),[45] in 1968, Disciples have celebrated a sense of unity in reading the preamble to the Design publicly. It is as a meaningful affirmation of faith, not binding upon any member. It was originally intended to remind readers that this Church seeks God through Jesus Christ, even when it adopts a design for its business affairs.

". . .the church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one;
consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ
and obedience to him in all things. . ."

Thomas Campbell — Proposition 1 of the Declaration and Address

The Disciples celebrate their oneness with all who seek God through Jesus Christ, throughout time and regardless of location. That oneness is symbolized in the open invitation to communion for all who have professed faith in Christ without regard to church affiliation.[46]

In local communities, congregations share with churches of other denominations in joint worship and in community Christian service. Ecumenical cooperation and collaboration with other Christian Communions has long been practiced, by the Regions.

At the General Church level, the Council on Christian Unity[47] coordinates the ecumenical activities of the church. The Disciples continues to relate to the National Council of Churches, of which it was a founding member. It shares in the dialog and in the theological endeavors of the World Council of Churches. The Disciples has been a full participant in the Consultation on Church Union since it began in the sixties. It continues to support those ongoing conversations which have taken on the title Churches Uniting in Christ. The goal of these endeavors is not the merger into some "Super Church", but rather to discover ways to celebrate and proclaim the unity and oneness that is Christ's gift to his church.

[edit] Congregations

Congregations of the Christian Church are self-governing in the tradition of congregational polity. They select their own leadership, own their own property, and manage their own affairs.

In Disciples congregations, the priesthood of all believers finds its expression in worship and Christian service. Typically, Lay Elders, rather than ordained ministers, preside at the Lord's Table in celebration of Communion. The lay Elders and called Pastors provide spiritual oversight and care for members in partnership with one another.[48]

[edit] Regional ministries

 

The Regional Churches of the Christian Church provide resources for leadership development and opportunities for Christian fellowship beyond the local congregation. They have taken responsibility for the nurture and support of those individuals seeking to discern God’s call to service as ordained or licensed ministers. Typically, they organize summer camping experiences for children and youth.[49]

Regional churches assist congregations who are seeking ministers and ministers who are seeking congregations. Regional leadership is available on request to assist congregations that face conflict. Though they have no authority to direct the life of any congregation, the Regional Churches are analogous to the middle judicatories of other denominations.

[edit] General Ministries

 

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at the “General Church” level consists of a number of self-governing agencies, which focus upon specific Christian witnesses to the world that have emerged in the dialog within the movement since before the first convention in 1849. Typically, these ministries have a scope that is larger than Regional Ministries, and often have a global perspective. The church agencies report to the General Assembly, which meets biennially in odd numbered years. The General Minister and President (GMP) is the designated leader for the General Church, but does not have the administrative authority to direct any of the general church agencies other than “The Office of General Minister and President.” The GMP has influence that derives from the respect of the church much as the pastor of a local church leads a local congregation.

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