Our Identity as Disciples of Christ

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.

We are disciples of Christ – this name has its origin in the earliest days of the revival and restoration movement that birthed our denomination. These early reformers sought to unite all believers by returning to New Testament Christianity. An early motto was “bible names for bible things” and since the followers of Jesus were called disciples, they chose that name for themselves.

Birth of a movement – And from the outset, they determined not to form a new denomination, but to unite followers of Jesus across denominations and traditions. They sought not to erase distinctions, but to find common ground upon which all believers could stand. All of this effort was seen as a way to answer Jesus’ prayer from John 17 that his followers might all be one as the Father and the Son are one. A unity of purpose and nature that still respects the distinctive character of each.

For many decades the tradition called itself a fellowship or a brotherhood (pardon the gender-specific language), resisting the notion of denomination. As I often tell folks who ask about us, “Anything that sticks around for 200 years is going to develop some kind of institutional life.” So here we are, a brother-and-sister-hood, a fellowship, a communion, a movement.

Seeking wholeness through unity – But what kind of movement? From that initial impetus, we have been a movement that sought to repair and restore, to mend the brokenness in the church and beyond among the human family and between humanity and God. Paul talks about the ministry of reconciliation that he/we received because we have been reconciled – that which God has done in and for us God desires to do through us in the world for others (2 Corinthians 5:18). This is wholeness – or what the bible calls shalom. I will create the right words: ‘Shalom shalom to those far off and to those nearby!’ says ADONAI; ‘I will heal them!’” (Isaiah 57:19)

We are Disciples of Christ,
a movement for wholeness
in a fragmented world.

The whole world is broken, fragmented – The first story in the bible to include humans is a story about fragmentation – inordinate longing – the desire to be more than we are – leads to grasping beyond ourselves. This leads to confusion and fear, self-loathing, greed, competition and jealousy. The Hebrew people understood that human beings and creation are in this together – that the struggle is shared, and that the rescue will be shared as well. This view is articulated by Paul in our text from Romans 8:19-25: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

In Christ we find restoration – The redemptive work of God through Jesus Christ and his church, his disciples, is toward the full expression of the “kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). The Hebrews knew that the revealing of God’s glory will be experienced by the earth and all that fills it – (Psalm 65:12-13; Psalm 98; Isaiah 55:12). The enmity between prey and hunter will come to an end (Isaiah 65). John in his revelation sees heaven and earth completely renewed and restored, as if born again (John 3; Revelation 21).

We are Disciples of Christ,
a movement for wholeness
in a fragmented world.

As Disciples of Christ, we understand that our unity in Christ calls us to this common purpose of seeking the restoration of all things through Him. In our relationships, our programs, our statements, our prayers, we witness to the fragmentation and the need for wholeness that the Spirit of Christ is working in the world.

There is brokenness among us. Even within a congregation, there is fragmentation. We are not all of one accord and one mind (Philippians 2:2) thus leaving incomplete the joy of the apostles and the joy of Christ that can be ours. Someone said several years ago, “What we have is unity in ambiguity” – a togetherness born of unfamiliarity wherein we can keep conversations at the surface and thus not bother with more difficult issues.

Diversity within unity – I do not suggest, nor does the bible, that we should or could agree on all things. The 12 apostles were as divided politically as anything we can imagine between this month’s political conventions. Yet Jesus brought them together based on their faith in him and their desire to follow him faithfully as they understood his call on their lives. (Luke 6:15 lists both Matthew the tax collector and Simon the zealot as among the original 12 – one could not find two people more politically opposed nor more likely to feel hatred toward each other and even desire to do one another physical harm. Yet Jesus brought them together – reconciling them through himself. This reconciliation he can and will accomplish in and among us all, if we will yield ourselves to him and see that our faith in him is far more important than any political view.

What is called for is that we learn to come together in faith, prayer and dialogue and learn mutual respect for our differences. Each view has something to offer to the other and to the whole. Part of our witness to the larger community can be this very kind of civility, a deep and abiding respect for one another born out of God’s love for us and our desire to see Christ in the other – even the ones we think of as ‘drunkards, tax collectors and sinners’ (Luke 7:34).

There have always been political differences among those who are called to follow Christ. Likewise, there are differences based on vision for the ministry of the church and one’s place in it. Just as Matthew and Simon, Peter and Paul would take their places together, so we are to see difference and seek understanding, and embrace one another in the love of Christ. Peter and Paul did not work side by side – they pursued different missions in different directions and took with them different followers. Peter understood his mission primarily to the Jews and Paul his primarily to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8). Paul planted while Apollos watered (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Different but not divided – What we cannot allow is for these differences to divide us, and thus wound the Body of Christ. We are called to model unity in the Spirit, and yet the world sees us divided, because we often are. How can they trust us when we say that we welcome them in Jesus’ name and love them with Jesus’ love when we fail to love an honor one another in our uniqueness.

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.

It was at the Table that the Lord prayed for us to the Father that we would be one, so that in our unity the world might come to know God’s love revealed in Jesus. So let it be at the table that we demonstrate this loving hospitality. Because God in Christ has welcomed us to this table, loving us while we are still sinners, let us welcome others in that same way. True, God does not want to leave us as we are – God’s vision is for healing and restoration of the broken world. But we don’t have to be whole before we come – indeed we cannot be. We cannot experience the wholeness that God dreams for us unless our sisters and brothers of difference are at the table together with us. It is in that unity in diversity that we are made whole.

We are to welcome others, and not only that but to go out, as the kingdom parables tell, into the streets and alleys and compel people – to live our faith and God’s love in such a way that it is compellingly attractive. What difference might this make in your life?

  1. Acknowledge our brokenness – Realize that a hidden wound cannot heal. If we deny our own brokenness, the wounds in our relationships, the sufferings of others, or the laboring of creation, then we will not see God’s renewal. We must be open to the light and healing of God’s love. You do this by confessing your sin and failure and accepting God’s forgiveness and forgiving yourself. You do it by providing a safe and welcoming place for other sinners to confess and experience mercy and grace. You do it by living in humble embrace of all people. We do not heal brokenness or overcome sin through distancing or rejection.
  2. Remain open to difference – Christ’s work on the cross is about restoring humanity and creation so that we cease rejecting ourselves, others and God. Rejection is rooted in difference. As we learn to appreciate what others have to offer, we move closer into God’s kingdom.

  3. Join God’s work – We are co-laborers in God’s salvation work as we welcome all. Christ did not turn anyone away who desired to find hope. There are people in your life who are scared. Others are numb. Some are just overwhelmed. Still others are lost in their search for meaning and purpose. You share their longings, hopes, fears and dreams. Welcome them to the table of healing that you have found, just as God has welcomed you.

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