Sunday, September 27, 2009

That’s some great communion…

Surveys, books, and personal experience all point to something that seems relatively universal these days: many Christians no longer care about denominations. Why that is is a topic for another letter, but I suspect that’s not terribly shocking to read.

For worshippers in this denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), this might be taken as good news. Indeed, we began as an anti-denominational movement in the early 1800’s, and grew faster than any other American Christian tradition through the remainder of that century. Our distinctive, and liberating, message was simple: No Creed but Christ, No Book but the Bible. This slogan reflects the basic principle of our movement- Unity. To this day, we understand our church as a “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world,” something that happens most fully and frequently for us at the Lord’s Table every week during communion.

The irony, of course, is that in the two hundred years of the Stone-Campbell Movement’s existence (so named after our most influential founders), we’ve splintered twice. The first came in the aftermath of the Civil War, when the “Christians” broke with the “Churches of Christ.” The second splinter occurred more slowly, though it began when the “Christian Churches- Independent” first emerged as a distinct group in the first decade of the 20th Century. Our two fellowships grew further apart in subsequent decades until, in 1967, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) intentionally covenanted to become an ‘denomination’ (previously, we were a movement of autonomous, but related churches). Because of that decision, some 700,000 Christians in thousands of churches did not follow.

Sad as these divisions may be, nevertheless all three branches in the Stone-Campbell family still profess an abiding commitment to Christian Unity. We take our cue from Jesus’ great prayer at the end of John’s Gospel, 17:20-21, “I ask...on behalf of those who will believe in me…that they may all be one…so that the world will believe that you have sent me.” In fact, you may know this is why I joined the Disciples. As a teenager, people would ask, “What is your religion?” I always responded, “I’m Christian.” “Yeah, but what kind of Christian?” And I would answer, “Christian is enough for me.” I still believe that, as deeply as I love my particular family of faith. So when it came time for ordination, I learned about these weird folk named “Disciples”, who were a denomination that thought denominations were less important than Unity. I said, “That’s exactly the place for me.”

I share all this because on October 4th,folk from all three branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement from around the country are getting together to declare to one another and the world that Unity is still our Polar Star. We will do this, here in Minnesota, at Valley Christian Church in Lakeville at 4 PM, and I’m helping with the service. The occasion for getting together is the 200th Anniversary of our Movement’s founding moment, when Thomas Campbell signed his groundbreaking Declaration and Address, something I wrote about a couple weeks back. There will be preachers and worship leaders from representatives of all three branches at the service, which will culminate in our celebrating Communion. In fact, the nation-wide commemoration is called The Great Communion.

This excites me. Our three entities still disagree over much, and it’s not likely we’ll merge anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean we’re not one already. All Christian Unity rests on the fact that Jesus invited us first. It is Jesus’ love, sacrifice and grace that makes us One, regardless of the fact we can’t embody that fully in this broken world. So I hope you join me. It shouldn’t be too long of a service. We may even learn something! At the very least, we’ll get to spend time with Christians we don’t often meet with, which is, to my mind, always a blessing. After all, whatever the denomination or title, Christian is still Christian, and that means a lover and friend of Jesus, who we claim is Lord. Call it suppertime with a friend of a Friend. I’ve heard the menu is live-changing. In all things,

Grace and Peace,