The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a denomination I have known about since I was a boy in Worth County, MO. One of the three churches in my home town back then was the Christian Church. My parents and I from time to time would talk with our neighbors, the Gates family, about the Christian Church, of which they were active members.
Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching in a Disciples of Christ church for the first time. Pastor Rob Carr of North Oak Christian Church (NOCC) in north Kansas City kindly invited me to speak in his absence, and I enjoyed worshiping with his warm and friendly congregation.
The primary founders of what became the denomination known as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) were Thomas Campbell (1763-1854) and his son Alexander (1788-1866). Both were born in Ireland and were Scottish Presbyterians. Thomas had become a minister before he immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1807.
Two years later Thomas launched a new movement for what he hoped would result in greater Christian unity, and the group he gathered became the Brush Creek Church in 1811. Alexander, who had come to the U.S. with his mother in 1809, was ordained by that church in 1812. But later that year the Campbells came to believe in believers’ baptism, so they were baptized by immersion.
With this latter emphasis, there was a clear similarity with Baptists, with whom the Campbells were associated for several years. With their re-baptism, there was also a clear similarity with the Anabaptists, now mostly represented by the Mennonites. Of course, there was a great difference between being re-baptized in 16th century Switzerland and in 19th century Pennsylvania. In the former there was no separation between church and state, and many Anabaptists were persecuted and even killed because of their re-baptism. But the Campbells did not have to suffer because of their rejection of infant baptism.
The title of my sermon yesterday was “Are You a Disciple of Christ?” I assumed most of the people I spoke to were Disciples of Christ church members. But the point of the sermon was about being a disciple of Christ with a lower-case d. The message was based on the first Lectionary reading for the day, Acts 4:5-12. I also used verses 13 and 20 from the same chapter as well as Acts 5:29, where Peter and the other apostles exclaimed, “We must obey God rather than humans!”
Being a disciple of Christ means to put allegiance to God above the claims of all human institutions and “isms,” above politics or recreation, and even above family or religion if, or when, any of those claim allegiance over commitment to God. Further, being a disciple of Christ means to love others as Christ loved us, accepting and nurturing others just as Christ did (see Matthew 11:28-29).
So, are you a disciple of Christ? I pray that God will help us all this week and in the years ahead to become better disciples of Christ with a small d. What do each of us need to do differently this week to make that come to pass?