Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ)

“We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.”

“In Essentials,Unity, In Non-Essentials, Liberty, In All Things, Charity.”

These Identity statements form the ministry spirit and practice of the Disciples of Christ (DOC), with whom I have begun to journey with toward transfer of ordination in a couple of years. A number of you have asked for a bit more reflection on the DOC, and the place to start is their website, I am presently auditing a class on their history and polity and have met with their board of ministry and received a commission (license) for pastoral ministry until that time of ordination transfer.

The history of the denomination begins in the Second Great Awakening and the Cane Ridge Revivals the happened in Kentucky and Pennsylvania in the early 19th century, developing into what historians call the “Stone-Campbell” movement taking place on the American frontier.

I am excited to find so many wonderful similarities to our Covenant Church ministry and practice. Among them are:

Congregational Polity. Each local congregation is self-governing in the tradition of congregational polity. They call their own ministers, select their own leadership, own their own property, and manage their own affairs.

Scripture and Freedom. Through belief in theDisciples also practice freedom of biblical and theological interpretation among its members. Holding to the centrality of scripture, there is a recognized freedom and responsibility each member has to come to scripture in community. Only confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and baptism required for membership. 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. The website says it this way: “We are called to study and read scripture for ourselves. Rather than having tests of faith and creedal statements, we critically and thoughtfully study scripture, taking into account the history and background — the context — in which it was written.”

Open Communion. Communion is open to all who come with faith in Christ, or who desire life with him. Many Disciples congregations, but not all, share communion every week. The logo of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a red chalice with a white St. Andrew’s Cross.

Baptism. Most congregations practice primarily believer’s baptism by immersion, Disciples also accept other forms of baptism including infant baptism.

Ecumenical Efforts. Celebrating oneness with all who seek Christ, the Disciples place a high value on working together with other denominations and inter-faith organizations in mission and witness to the Good News of the Gospel. The Disciples belong to the National Council of Churches and have two full communion partners: The United Church of Christ (since 1989) and the United Church of Canada (since 2019).

Mercy and Justice. The DOC has committed itself to be a pro-reconciling, anti-racist church. “having deepened our understanding of systemic racism, Christ compels us to advocate for justice.”

All these wonderful things mirror very closely our own Covenant way of being the Church together. One notable difference, however, comes in the congregational posture extended to issues of Human Sexuality. In 2011, the DOC stated that “Disciples do not have a formal policy on same sex marriage. Different congregations have autonomy to discern on issues such as this one.” In 2013 there was a resolution affirming all members regardless of sexual orientation. After same-sex marriage was legalized in the US, the denomination reiterated that it leaves “all decisions of policy on same-sex marriage to local congregations.”

I hope this information is helpful. Please be in touch with further questions or wonderings you might have.

Finally, I want to re-iterate that IN NO WAY are the plans of Winnetka Covenant Church to end its Covenant Church Affiliation. I simply wanted to offer more insight into this church relative which will credential me for my next season of ministry.

About a month ago, meeting over zoom with the regional board of Disciples of Christ ministers, after the interview and prayer, one of the ministers said to me, “Your journey is fascinating. I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, because it’s what I celebrate about the Disciples. What I want to say is that I disagree with you biblically and theologically about a number of things, and, and….I’m so very glad you are here. Welcome!”

Love From Here,

Peter Hawkinson

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