West Side Christian Church

How do disciples understand Christianity?

People who participate in the life of a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are commonly referred to as "Disciples."  The Disciples are a Mainline Protestant Christian denomination.  In many ways, we are like Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, or UCC's. 

One thing we believe strongly is that there is only one true church -- and that is the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.  All people who believe in and serve Jesus are a part of the one great church.  We are not judgmental; if a group of people is comparatively orthodox in theological understandings and organized to serve our world through their commitment to Jesus Christ, they are indeed a part of Christ's church.  Unfortunately, humans are by nature divisive, and therefore Christ's Church has been divided into several main branches (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox) and many small branches.  Whenever we can come together across ideological and denominational lines in love and mutual harmony to serve Jesus, it is good.

We are not the only church, and we are not the one true church.  But we are the church in one specific manifestation.  We Disciples are always puzzled by rigid Christians who think they are the only people with the correct understandings, the only true church, the only avenue to salvation.

No one congregation is right for every person.  Even as people vary greatly, so do the types of churches out there in today's American "church market."  Maybe there is too much variety.  The following description of what "Disciples of Christ" are like, for the most part, may help you to decide if you would be comfortable and challenged in a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). 

There are all sorts of Disciples.  Disciple congregations encourage the mixing of people of many types, backgrounds, and understandings.  Some Disciples are conservative religiously and politically; many are moderate; quite a few would characterize themselves as liberal Christians.  Somehow or the other, we manage to get along and to respect one another.  A Disciple congregation can be an interesting and challenging laboratory for people of diverse backgrounds to work at living together in harmony in the Christian community.  There can be interesting disagreements in Disciple churches, but our disagreements are lived out in a spirit of love.

Disciples honor Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God.  Because most of us are "orthodox" Christians, we see Jesus as God expressed in human flesh (the incarnation).  Upon accepting Jesus as Messiah and Son of the Living God, submitting to God humbly in Christian baptism, and entering into the life of the church, God gives to a person the gift of salvation and claims a person as daughter or son in a very special way.  It is our Disciple practice to baptize persons who are old enough to believe and make a decision to be baptized.  Often children decide to confess their faith between the  ages of nine and thirteen.  Other people make that decision only later in life.  However, Disciples generally accept people who were baptized by other methods from other church backgrounds into their membership without a re-baptism.   "Sprinkling," "pouring," and "christening" all represent time-honored modes of baptism in the Christian community -- and Disciples honor those traditions.  Re-baptism is unnecessary and not to be encouraged.

We affirm and embrace diversity!

Disciples tend to be very tolerant.  Whatever your ethnic or racial heritage, whatever your educational level, however immature or mature you may be as a Christian, whatever your  "-ism" or "ideology," if it is your purpose to be a responsible member of the worshiping community, you will be embraced in a Disciple church.

Disciples are not Pentecostals; they are not Fundamentalists.  There is no official interpretation of the meaning of Scriptures.  Each church member is invited to study scripture, engage in thoughtful dialogue with others, and develop a personal understanding of the meaning of scriptures.  Of course, leadership within the local church gives leadership and direction in teaching the Christian faith.  Church school teachers teach; classes engage in dialogue and build new understandings; ministers preach and teach; a congregation learns and grows in faith and knowledge.  Most Disciples will see the Bible as divinely inspired by God, but not delivered through robots who simply recorded what God told them to say.  Rather, scripture is a record of the interaction between God and his human children.  The Bible is a beautiful and perfectly adequate revelation of God's will for our race, but it reveals a progressive revelation worked out as men and women have interacted with God and come to know him better and better.  It is not, at every point, to be taken literally.  For instance, Disciples understand that in our day, women must have full equality with men in the leadership and ministry of the church.  We believe that Jesus himself and the leaders of the early church carried the status of women far ahead of what it had been.  Jesus worked among and with women in his ministry.  Women undergirded his work financially, and Jesus relied on their help and provision.  Paul realized there was really no difference between male and female and carried marriage to a new status.  Such women as Lydia and Priscilla were central in the life and work of the early church.  Therefore, women serve as pastors of congregations and elders of the church, and do so with dignity and honor.  Women are not relegated simply to cooking meals, preparing communion, or teaching the children.  They are in full partnership with men and youth.

Disciples certainly believe in "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ" and "being saved."  For some people, their faith is a warm and emotional matter, and very personal.  For others, it is more rational and intellectual, less heartfelt.  However faith may be experienced, Christian faith is a good thing.  We believe that everyone needs to honor God, relate to Christ, and be a part of Christ's church.  That means worshiping with the Christian community, studying and fellowshipping with Christian people, engaging in Christian service, and giving generously to undergird God's work.  But Disciples also put emphasis on the importance of human life here in this world.  After all, God did place us here for a reason.  It is a rare Disciple who does not believe strongly that every Christian must work for fairness and justice in society.  What has been called "the social gospel" is an important and authentic expression of the Christian faith.  We Disciples are greatly impacted by Jesus' announcement of the nature of his ministry found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4.  We work with others to feed, clothe, and house the poor and hungry and to bring reconciliation between groups where there is hatred and animosity.  God calls us to be at work in his world to bring blessings and improved life circumstances.  We Christians are the great light and hope of the world.

Guilt and shame will not ordinarily be the focus of a Disciple worship service.  We Disciples realize that we are sinful humans in need of God's love and grace, but in worship we come together to praise God, affirm our faith, and encourage one another to do our best in leading the good life and in spreading the Good News of Christ.  We encourage one another to mutual love and Christian service.  We like to leave our place of worship with smiles on our faces, joy in our hearts, and resolve to be God's caring community and servant people.

How about the Disciple of Christ minister?  The minister is looked upon as "first among equals" and is a partner in ministry with the congregation in building program to serve congregation and community.  Lay people are also conceived of as Christian ministers and are equal partners with the pastor.

To summarize, Disciples are, for the most part, middle-of-the-road to liberal Christians, with a nice mix of conservative folks, all of whom manage to live together in a dynamic and creative church society.  We emphasize ministering to our fellow human beings.  We are orthodox Christians and believe it is vital for all people to be drawn to Jesus so that they may claim his gift of salvation.

If this material appeals to you, please come and visit.  You may find a church environment that will nourish you in the Christian faith.