When America was still in its infancy, a church was born on the frontier. Of course, the frontier in those days was Kentucky and western Pennsylvania. Two groups of Christians came to similar conclusions about their faith. One was led by the Campbells, Thomas and Alexander, at the Brush Run Church in Pennsylvania. They were Presbyterians from Scotland who believed that established churches were a bit too rigid about faith issues, thus causing division among God's people. The Campbells advocated for a restoration to New Testament Christianity where everything centered around Jesus as Lord and Savior. They called their followers "Disciples." The other group in Kentucky, led by Barton Stone (who spent his childhood in Port Tobacco, MD), experienced the multi-denominational revivals at Cane Ridge and came away with a renewed sense of Christian unity and cooperation. They called their followers simply "Christians." In Lexington, KY in 1832, the two groups met and shook hands to become one movement.
The church grew across the mid-section of America and south to Texas and west to California. Because of differences over how to handle mission work and over whether or not to allow instrumental music in worship, some departed the main group to form their own groups: The Independent Christian Churches of Christ (non-instrumental). For a century the church existed primarily as a movement or "brotherhood." Then in 1968, facing the realities of the times and the need for structure, the church constituted as a denomination known as The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which now has approximately half-a-million members in the United States and Canada, and is involved in mission work around the world.
Our beliefs can be summarized in this early frontier slogan: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; In all things, love. This is our overriding principle. Having said that, here are some of our prominent beliefs:
As Disciples of Christ, we put our trust in God and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior through our Confession that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. We practice believers' Baptism by immersion, while recognizing and accepting the validity of other forms.
Communion is central to our worship experience, and we invite all Christians to participate in the weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper together.
We believe in the integrity of each individual before God and allow for diversity of conviction and opinion. Every Christian should study Scripture and listen for the Holy Spirit him/herself, since we will each give an accounting for ourselves. We believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and is best understood when studied within a community of faith.
Diversity offers a rich context to fully appreciate and learn from scripture. We believe all persons have a right and responsibility to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. We recognize that because of background, experience, and the moving of God's Spirit, not all people will see things exactly alike. We do not regard this variety as wholly negative, but see our diversity as a true strength.
Finally, we believe in the Unity of all Christians, and seek to foster greater understanding and cooperation. We believe the Body of Christ is one. Therefore, we seek to bring people together, rather than divide, based upon differences.
We can be recognized by our symbol, which is a red chalice (or communion cup) with a white embedded X-shaped cross that can be traced back to St. Andrew who felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. It symbolizes the centrality of communion in worship and the importance of humble service in Jesus' name.
Our church was born as a dream and movement to unite all Christians into Christ's one Church. The divisions that have plagued our congregations are not born of God. We yearn to break down the walls that separate us into fractured and separated denominations. We work toward the common goal of spreading Christ's love together. Consequently, we eagerly cooperate with other churches and denominations whenever and wherever possible.
Our current identity statement as a church gives us a good handle on who we are and who we have been: "We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord's Table as God has welcomed us." This month we will celebrate Heritage Sunday on October 21. Our regional minister, the Rev. Allen Harris, will be with us to lead us in worship. As we prepare, let us look back and appreciate our story among God's people. It is a unique story, full of characters and events that have shaped us into who we are. My hope is that you will familiarize yourselves with this story and make it your own. I believe in these uncertain times that the Disciples of Christ have a lot to offer those who are disconnected and disengaged from organized religion. We've got a story to tell and a witness to make. Spread the word!