For the last few months, I’ve been following a blog called Via Media Methodists. The purpose of VMM is: 1.”To offer an alternative beyond the current polarization in The United Methodist Church; 2. To raise the level of discourse within The United Methodist Church; and 3. To practice what we preach.” After a few bit of chatter with one of VMM’s curators, Drew McIntrye, he suggested I write a post about my own tradition. I wrote the blog post and it now appears on the blog. Please read it when have the chance.
Fellow Disciples pastor Brian Morse was able to put in a few words what I’ve struggled to define. He responded to my posting of the article on Facebook this way:
I believe that we Disciples have difficulty discussing theology. I find our conversations to be personality-driven. Methodists have a stronger theological tradition to stand upon, even when critiquing it.
I think he is right and I think it has implications on the mission and ministry taking place in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). What can be done about this?
The picture used in this post is called Caliz Invertido (Inverted Chalice) by Hector Hernandez. Learn more about the significance of the Inverted Chalice by reading this article.
Dennis, we really appreciated your contribution to VMM and we look forward to more in the future. Here’s my two cents on this post: I am not that familiar with DOC, but my impression is that in some ways the early DOC were attempting to be “non-denominational” before it was cool. There are some benefits to that, but it seems to me a drawback is – as you describe – a difficulty in articulating one’s own theological tradition (because it mistakenly is taken to be “just the Bible” or some such). Just a view from the outside. Do Disciples recognize things like the ecumenical creeds? What or who sets the boundaries for DOC doctrine and belief?
Well, you’ve hit some the problem. We were a movement that sought ecumenism before it was cool. We were a movement that wanted to “restore” the church to the first century church where everyone was just “Christian” and not “Old Light or New Light Presbyterian. The Restoration Movement had two important parts to it: the belief that no creed should determine who belongs and who doesn’t and the belief that the common man can and should learn the Bible for themselves. Hence, there is more thought given about the Bible and theology in the more conservative corners of the movement (Church of Christ, Christian Churches-Independent) than in the Disciples. When it comes to ecumenism, the conservative churches are rather parachioal than the Disciples. So, we have the belief that all are welcome at the Table, but we really don’t have any way of understanding what the communion table is all about or why does it matter to God that all are welcome. The more conservative churches also rely more on the history of the Restoration movement than we Disciples, which means we not only don’t think theologically, we also have no reference point to ground us in our future endeavors.
What happens is that you get a whole lot of people who group more around say politics than they do on theology.
I think there are good things about being noncreedal (which is also being grounded in history), but if you don’t use creeds, you need to have something that guides you on your way and right now we don’t have anything.
I’m a person who ids exploring the Disciples of Christ and thinking about joining.
I’ve actually thought about joining your denomination for a while, but it seemed vacuous, without a compelling narrative or purpose. SO I ignored it. But this past Sunday, I decided to go to a disciples church after years of searching for a church to belong to, and I found the experience to be wonderful. It was the most loving, open and affirming congregation I’d been to. So I decided to take a look.
At first I was disappointed. I have a book on Disciples and Theology by Stephen Sprinkle, and I basically got the message that Disciples don’t HAVE any real theology or purpose, save not to be as fundamentalist as they used to be under the tutelage of Alexander Campbell. But then I looked on the Churches main website, and I found a “creed” (though you call it a “preamble”) and some basic beliefs. And you know what? It was pretty compelling stuff.
You’ve got a good foundation, now you need to build something on top. That probably means a stronger central governing body with more authority and say.
It also means explaining to people like myself why you matter. Not what makes Disciples different. But how does living like a Disciple make me better able to embody the kingdom of God as opposed to being something else? How does this community contribute to the spreading of the Gospel?
If the preamble and your principles of Identity are the core of what it looks like to follow Jesus authentically or a superior way of doing so, then say that. And if you guys don’t believe that it is at least a better way to be Christian, then don’t expect people to stick around or to come in the door.
And then flesh it out. Talk about the old chestnuts. Salvation, grace, redemption, fall, kingdom etc. and let us know how Disciples and their principles exist in relation to these topics and what it has to contribute to a better understanding of them.
From what I’ve read, it seems like Disciples see themselves as being a liberal alternative, some type of more intelligent or enlightened foil to conservative theologians. I’m choosing to believe that Disciples view their preamble and principles of identity as actual principles for living like a follower of Christ and becoming a member instead of being merely merely optional suggestions.
Balance this out with the extravagant welcome, commitment to social justice and Open and Affirming status and I think you’ve got something to live and die for.
And maybe that’s it. Maybe people want something to live, die, and sacrifice for, and you have to convince them (us) that Disciples and those principles are worth living and dying for.
And please excuse my grammatical errors, it’s pretty early in the morning so……