As a minister who is new to the Disciples of Christ, I want to share with you the most important things I learned from my first ever General Assembly this week in Indianapolis. It was an inspiring and hoped-filled week for me. (Hopefully you’ll accept the picture above as proof I was here!)
But first, a bit of background would be helpful, I think, because many of you (like me) are new to the Disciples of Christ.
General Assembly is the National gathering of Disciples of Christ (DOC) churches. There are about 3,200 DOC churches in the United States, with about half a million members. We gather every two years to worship together, learn from each other, and make decisions about the general priorities of the movement.
The highest value all Disciples’ churches share is that the gospel unifies people across boundaries. The gospel is literally the good news that in Christ, God has embraced everyone, not just Jews. This is what Paul meant by, “Therefore there is no longer any Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for we are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
This is not a uniquely Disciples value. For the last 500 years a common slogan embraced by many Christian groups the world over has been, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”
In other words, we should treat each other with love, even if we disagree. What unites us is not our common pet beliefs about this or that, but our common need for God’s grace as revealed in Christ.
But the Disciples are unique in that we are the only Christian movement who has made this particular value our highest priority. For us, being unified with other believers, despite our differences, is the fullest expression of the gospel because it is an expression of shalom – the ancient Jewish notion of peaceful human flourishing, or wholeness. That wholeness for the whole world is what the gospel is meant to accomplish one day (Check out Isaiah Chapter 2:1-4 for an ancient poetic depiction of that vision).
This is why the theme of the 2017 General Assembly was “One.” It’s also why, across the movement, we express that purpose in this way:
“We are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”
I love that slogan, and I think this is an especially timely message! I am convinced our culture – indeed, our whole world – is desperately in need of healing from undue judgement, political fragmentation, hateful speech, and violent actions toward one another.
Jesus said, “I know you’ve been told to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but what I’m saying is this: we need to love our enemies too – even to the point where we are praying for their well being” (John 10:10). Perhaps more pointedly, Jesus also said, “People will know you are my followers because of your tremendous love for each other!” (John 13:35).
That last saying is especially cringeworthy because Christian so famously hate each other. Never mind loving our enemies, we often can’t seem to muster the moral courage to love fellow Christians who think differently, act differently, and worship differently than we do.
If that frustrates you, then you are in good company. In the late 18th and early 19th century, the founders of this movement were convinced that petty divisions among Christians was seriously damaging the gospel. They hoped to see the restoration of Christianity into one unified movement.
So, how are we – the spiritual descendants of those frontier restorationists – doing in our pursuit of unity 200 years later? Well, that’s what I travelled to Indianapolis to find out.
Tomorrow, I’ll share with you what I learned.