What Disciples of Christ Believe
WHY WE BELIEVE AND WORSHIP AS WE DO For the past two centuries, Disciples of Christ have sought to live out their faith following the manners and practices of the New Testament community. Endeavoring to be “The People of the Book," Disciples have tried to "To Speak Where the Bible Speaks" and "To be Silent, Where the Bible is Silent," seeking neither to ‘add to’ nor ‘to subtract from’ the Biblical practices (Deuteronomy 4:2; Matthew 5:17-19; and Revelation 22:18-19). While statements of faith or doctrines may be excellent spiritual or theological "Cliffs Notes or Sparknotes" regarding the central truths of the Christian faith and for providing a hedge of protection for the faithful from erroneous beliefs and heretical practices, most Disciples still prefer to have “No Creed, but Christ; No Book, but the Bible.” Like the American Baptists, we argue that a better approach would be the Biblical examples of encouraging each Christian to read, know, and apply the whole counsel of Scripture for one's self (Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Peter 1:3-12, 2:17-18; and 2 Timothy 2:15). The goals are for everyone to know (1) the Lord personally and intimately and (2) the truths of God for one’s self (Jeremiah 31:31-34 and 1 Corinthians 13:8-12). Because Disciples share the same historical, orthodox, catholic (that is universal), and reform confession that (1) the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God, we also share the common, Protestant, Evangelical beliefs that (2) evangelism and discipleship are the primary mission of Christ’s Church and that (3) the primary tools and principles for understanding God's Word and for interpreting it correctly are found within the Bible itself (Luke 24:25-32 and 44-47; John 5:39-47; John 20:30-31; John 21:24-25; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; and 2 Peter 1:19-21): (1) Illumination of the Holy Spirit The Holy Spirit must illuminate our hearts and minds so we can perceive spiritual truths correctly. (Luke 12:11-12; John 14:26; John 15:26) (2) God Calls and Uses the Church and Individuals to Mentor, Shape, and Guide Us God regularly--and often--uses other human beings to edify, educate, and encourage us. Through the gifts (charisma) of the Holy Spirit, God provides mentors, coaches, and guides among whom are pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons. The Church is, therefore, one of God’s primary instruments to grow us into the image of Christ and to teach us how to apply the Bible to our individual and corporate lives. (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11; 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 3:10-15; Titus 1:1 and 1 Peter 5:1-4). (3) God Has Given Us Nature and the Sciences God has given us nature (and by extension the physical and social sciences) in which to seek out his goodness and glory. (Psalm 8 and 19:1-3; Acts 14:8-18; and Romans 1:20 and 24-25) (4) God Has Given Us Reason and Logic We also believe that God has given us the tools of reason because: a. We were created in the "Image of God" to rule and to subdue the world as God's stewards. (Genesis 1:26-30; Genesis 2:15-20) b. God invites us to reason with Him and to enter into dialogue and covenant with Him. (Isaiah 1:17-19 and, for example, Adam and Eve--Geneses 3; Moses--Exodus 4:2-17; Job 4--Job 38; the religious lawyer--Luke 10:25-27; and the disciples--Matthew 16:13-20) c. We are told in 1 Peter 3:15 to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect." And in Acts 17:2, 16-24 and 18:19, Paul is said to have reasoned with the Jews, God-fearing Greeks, and other Gentiles. WHAT WE BELIEVE AND PRACTICE Besides the Disciples' refusal to create doctrines and creeds, we can be distinguished from others by our peculiar constellations of beliefs and practices of which some are found in both liturgical and Episcopal governed and non-liturgical and congregationally governed denominations. (1) Celebration of Baptism by Immersion like the Baptists. The Bible describes Jesus commanding his disciples to baptize new believers in His name or in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (See Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-17; Acts 2:37-42.) And because baptism by immersion is the only method explicitly narrated in the Bible as having been practiced by John the Baptist and by Jesus' disciples, most Disciples congregations continue to practice only “believers" baptism. (John 3:22-24 mentioned the need for plenty of water which you don't need for sprinkling or pouring; Matthew 3:16 mentioned Jesus coming up out of the water, while Acts 8:36-39 mentioned Philip and the eunuch going down into and up out of the water.) (2) Celebration of the Lord's Supper or Communion Every Sunday like Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says that whenever we take communion we proclaim Christ's death and return and says that we are to celebrate communion in remembrance of Christ. Most Disciples, therefore, make it a practice to remember and to proclaim Christ's death, resurrection and return every Sunday. (3) The Open Celebration of the Lord's Supper or Communion like Most Protestant, Mainline, and Evangelical Denominations Because of our emphasis on the essential unity of the Body of Christ, most Disciples' congregations celebrate an open communion where all believers and their dependent children are invited and welcomed to participate in the Lord's Supper on Sunday. (4) Lay Persons Sharing in the Governance of the Congregation like the Evangelical Covenant Church and the Baptists. In Acts 6:2-7, Acts 20:17-38, 1 Timothy 3:1-10, and Titus 1:5-9, there is mentioned a plurality of deacons and elders that were appointed to serve in the leadership of a congregation. In addition, Acts 6:2-7, 15:6-35, and 21:17-26 make it clear that governance in Jerusalem was done by council or assembly and not by a single Apostle, elder or bishop. Consequently, each congregation is a self-governing body and chooses its own clergy and its own lay representatives to serve on local church councils or boards. (5) Our Emphasis on the Unity in the Body of Christ like All Members of the National Association of Evangelicals. Based in part on John 13:34-35 and 17:20-24, Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-17 and 12:4-31, and Ephesians 4:1-16, Disciples feel compelled to promote joint fellowship, worship and humanitarian mission work with other denominations at the local, state, national and international levels. We have been founding members, therefore, of the National Council of Churches (NCC), the World Council of Churches (WCC), and Churches Uniting in Christ CUIC). While recognizing the differences we have regarding doctrine and practices, Disciples believe that these material and theological differences do not negate the Spiritual reality of our unity nor Jesus' command that we love one another. (6) Immediate Acceptance of New Believers as Members upon Their Confession of Faith Like the New Testament Believers. Disciples do not require individuals to take a "new members class" to learn and to accept a list of faith statements, doctrines, or creeds as a prior condition to becoming a member of Christ’s Church. All that we require of an individual is to confess that they have done wrong, that they needs to accept the gift of forgiveness from Christ, that this gift is without merit on their part and a free gift from God, and that they acknowledge Jesus as their personal ruler (Lord and King) and Savior. Those who do so are immediately accepted into Christian fellowship–and, if they have never been baptized, scheduled for baptism. (Acts 2:32-42; Acts 3:11-4:4; Acts 10:34-48; Romans 10:1-12; Galatians 2:1 Corinthians 15:1-20) (7) Lay Persons Sharing in the Duties of the Priesthood and Clergy: e.g., Preaching, Leading Communion, Pulpit Prayers, and Baptizing. Most Disciples radically interpret 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10 as meaning that lay persons, usually deacons or elders, may perform baptisms, preside over and institute communion, preach from the pulpit, and officiate at worship services even when a minister is present. Disciples’ ministers and lay members alike zealously guard the rights of lay people to serve alongside of clergy in those ministries. Everyone has direct access to and authority and call from God.