Question: "Who are the Disciples of Christ, and what do they believe?"
Answer: The Disciples of Christ (DOC), officially called the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a denomination emphasizing Christian unity, inclusiveness, and social action. Their official identity statement, from their website, says they are “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.” As of 2010, the denomination reports approximately 691,000 members with over 3,700 churches in North America.
The Disciples of Christ movement is actually part of the larger Restoration Movement, begun in the early 19th century by two men, Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone. These two men were leading their own religious movements in two separate states in the U.S. before they met in Georgetown, Kentucky, in 1824. Realizing that they shared many of the same beliefs and desires for the church, they combined their groups, and the Restoration Movement began. Later, in 1906, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was formed as part of a schism, which also produced the Churches of Christ (Non-Instrumental) and the Independent Christian Church.
As with other churches in the Restoration Movement, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) believes that a Christian can lose his salvation. The DOC teaches the priesthood of all believers and is therefore not hierarchical in church polity. They teach believer’s baptism by immersion and therefore do not baptize infants. The church also places a heavy emphasis on communion, symbolized by the chalice they use as their denomination’s logo; most Disciples of Christ congregations observe communion every week.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) uses a lectionary, a collection of Scripture readings pre-selected for worship and study. Many congregations also follow the liturgical seasons, beginning with Advent and including Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. No congregation is required to follow the liturgical calendar, however.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) dislikes denominational labels and avoids putting Christians “in a box.” They believe that Christians can have a variety of doctrinal differences. “Unity, not uniformity,” is one of their sayings. The denomination’s official confession is short and simple, avoiding detailed assertions about doctrine beyond stating that Christ is Lord and Savior. They are a very fluid group, connecting many people of vastly different beliefs.
There is no “test of faith” to join the Christian Church. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) lets individual congregations and individual Christians believe and practice what they want. Their lack of defined doctrinal boundaries has resulted in the denomination becoming one of the most theologically liberal churches in America today. The DOC ordains women as pastors. In July 2013 the General Assembly of the Disciples of Christ passed a resolution affirming that openly homosexual individuals were welcome as members and leaders in their church. Their church has also consistently supported legalized abortion. The doctrines of heaven and hell are considered “speculative,” and the DOC takes no official position on either.
First Corinthians 15:58 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” In their emphasis on community involvement, members of the Disciples of Christ seek to fulfill the latter half of this verse, and their commitment to Christian unity is certainly commendable. But we must not overlook the command in the first half of the verse, to “stand firm” and be immovable in our doctrine. Eschewing doctrinal statements, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has moved away from sound doctrine. How can a church “stand firm” if it doesn’t know where it stands on important issues? How can a church “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) if there are no theological tests?
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