Identity and Beliefs

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Disciples of Christ
Identity Statement And Principles


Who do we say that we are? Identity is a vital concern for all parts of the church. Many long-time Disciples worry that we may be losing crucial characteristics of our common life. New Disciples want to know about the distinctive gifts of this community of faith. All of us need to have clarity about who we are in order to be faithful and effective witnesses to Jesus Christ.

A church’s identity must be firmly rooted in scripture and yet flexible enough to adapt to changes in culture and the shifting demands of mission without trying to change the message of Jesus or His Gospel. Early Christians in Jerusalem had to learn what it meant to be faithful in Antioch and Rome. The forebears of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as they moved from the frontier to the city, had to rethink such matters as congregational autonomy and the goal of “restoring” the New Testament Church. Today, we wrestle with what it means to be disciples of our Lord in a world that is increasingly pluralistic, globally connected, and yet so often violently divided while being faithful to our Lord and His Word.

And so, we offer a succinct statement of identity, under girded by twelve distinct principles of what it means to be Disciples of Christ.

Statement of Identity

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.

Principles of Identity

  1. We confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and proclaim Him Lord and Savior of the world, requiring nothing more – and nothing less – as a basis of our life together.
  2. We hold the centrality of scripture, recognizing that each person has the freedom – and the responsibility – to study God’s Word within the community of the church.
  3. We practice the baptism of believers, which emphasizes that God’s grace demands a response of faith and discipleship, while also recognizing the baptism performed in other churches.
  4. We gather for the Lord’s Supper, as often as possible, experiencing at this table the gracious, forgiving presence of Jesus Christ.
  5. We structure our community around the biblical idea of covenant, emphasizing not obedience to human authority but accountability to one another because of our shared obedience to Christ.
  6. We participate in God’s mission for the world, working with partners to heal the brokenness of creation and bring justice and peace to the whole human family.
  7. We hear a special calling to make visible the unity of all Christians, proclaiming that in our diversity we belong to one another because we commonly belong to Christ.
  8. We witness to the Gospel of God’s saving love for the world in Jesus Christ, while continuing to struggle with how God’s love may be known to others in different ways.
  9. We affirm the priesthood of all believers, rejoicing in the gifts of the Holy Spirit – which include the gift of leadership – that God has given for the common good.
  10. We celebrate the diversity of our common life, affirming our different histories, styles of worship, and forms of service.
  11. We give thanks that each congregation, where Christ is present through faith, is truly the church, affirming as well that God’s church and God’s mission stretch from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth.
  12. We anticipate God’s coming reign, seeking to serve God – Creator Redeemer, and Sustainer – whose loving dominion has no end.

    ~from: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Office website

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Basic Beliefs of the Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ)

How do you describe our church to others? As members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) we do not have the “brand name” recognition of some other denominations, and to some degree that is good. We never set out to be a denomination in the first place, but rather to be a movement to foster the unity of the church for the sake of Christ’s mission. Nevertheless, we evolved into a distinct group within the universal church and as such have our own identity and culture.

How do you explain this in your evangelistic outreach? Here is a list of ten attributes that identify and clarify the combination of things that are unique to the Disciples.

Note that combination is used above. There is no single thing true about our church that is not also true of others. We practice a form of Christianity that is linked with the practices of other fellowship of Christians, but the combination is a distinctive one and a healthy one that we believe. The things that together identify the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) include these:

The weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper

Disciples’ life is centered at the table. Through communion we are connected to one another and to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Believer’s baptism by immersion

Following the earliest tradition of the church, we demonstrate our commitment to God by dramatic action, letting the waters of our baptism give witness to God’s grace upon us.

Open membership

Recognizing that the traditions of the whole church are many and varied, we do not insist that our baptismal practice is the only one that is valid. We know that baptism is God’s action far more than our own.

An attitude of tolerance and a rejection of creeds as tests of faith

We celebrate diversity as strength rather than weakness, and do not expect everyone’s interpretation of the Bible or the Christian life to be identical.

The importance of scripture

We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and is best heard and understood within the community of faith with the diverse insight that context provides.

Congregational yet voluntarily connectional

We give the local congregation authority over their own life and ministries, and yet encourage them to share resources freely with a connected church, our denomination, knowing that the mission of the church is not just local.

The inclusion of the leadership of women

We believe that God provides spiritual gifts to all and do not restrict any office or role in the life of the church by gender.

An emphasis on lay leadership

Aside from performing weddings which is regulated by the state, lay persons in our church are permitted and encouraged to do all things, including presiding and offering the prayers at the Lord’s Table as an act that is often restricted to ordained clergy in other denominations.

An educated clergy

We set educational and professional standards for ministers – licensed and ordained, and hold our clergy to ethical accountability through denominational oversight.

A priority on ecumenical life

Disciples earnestly pray and strive for the unity of the church and attempt to work in the ways that bridge the separation of Christ’s body.

It would be difficult to find this combination of characteristics anywhere but within the Disciples. We hope these ten attributes are valued by you, and that you too, will use them as you attempt to describe our church to others, inviting them to join us in serving Christ.