By Joe Bliffen
I am a Disciples of Christ pastor. I am “certified by the Christian Church in Ohio’s Commission on Ministry as a clergy person who has standing with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)” (from a letter confirming this recognition dated October 2004).
I also believe the 66 books of the Bible are the inspired, inerrant revelation of God and that the 27 books of the New Testament are the only authority for the faith, practice, morals, and ethics of both individual Christians and the church.
I believe creation took place over the course of six 24-hour days through the spoken Word of God. I believe the Genesis history of Adam and Eve and of the worldwide flood at the time of Noah. I believe in the virgin birth of Christ, his physical resurrection from the dead, and that Jesus is coming again to save the redeemed and condemn the unredeemed.
I believe a person is saved by the grace of God through one’s faith in Jesus and repentance of sins when he is immersed into Christ.
And I believe these convictions make me a minority minister among the pastors of the Disciples of Christ (DOC).
Despite being part of a minority, and despite having to listen to messages and read literature and meet with ministers with whom I disagree, I love the Disciples of Christ.
In the Disciples there is real freedom to agree or disagree with anyone’s theology and to disagree with the practice of anyone’s faith. Everyone (believer or unbeliever) seems to be accepted as a fellow sojourner. And because there does not appear to be a spirit of judgment and condemnation, there are a wide variety of beliefs and practices within the DOC. (Some call this grace. Some label it liberalism. Perhaps it is a mixture of both.)
My Disciples friends include all sorts of believers, and even some who do not believe in a personal God. Some are generous and some are greedy; some are loving and others are intolerant; some are humble and some are filled with selfish pride; some are heterosexual and some are homosexual; some are faithfully married and others are adulterers; some are conservative, some are liberal, and some are “in-betweeners.” It’s the same mixture of people I found in independent Christian churches.
I have found a home in the Disciples of Christ. I am not the chief of sinners (the apostle Paul laid claim to that title), but I have made my mark a time or two. Like Paul, I have been saved by grace, through faith, in baptism. And like Paul, only my faith in Christ makes me righteous.
But as Jack Cottrell wrote in What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer, “Salvation by grace abolishes law as a means of salvation, but not as a norm for living.”
And right here is where, as a Bible-believing Disciples of Christ preacher, I declare that the Bible is the Word of God revealed to us, and that the New Testament is the only rule for the church and individual Christians in matters of faith, practice, morals, and ethics.
ADVISED TO LEAVE
Because of my beliefs and the DOC’s pervasive liberalism, some have advised me to leave the denomination.
One definition of a liberal is someone who has “reconstructed Christian theology in order to harmonize it with the prevailing currents in philosophy and science.”1 One way the DOC exhibits this tendency is through delegate regional and general assemblies, which have instituted what is called a “discernment process.”
This discernment process is the means by which Disciples leaders meet to figure out the will of God on many doctrinal and moral issues, such as the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Christ, homosexuality, etc. Sadly, because many Disciples do not believe the Bible is the revealed Word of God, these assemblies tend to reconstruct Christian theology to make it fit with prevailing currents in philosophy and science.
STAYING AS ‘SALT’
But I believe my duty to God as a Christian is to stay in the Disciples and be “salt.” Not salt that is rubbed into what I consider the wounded theology of biblical faith, but to be the salt that helps preserve the faith of many members and ministers of the Disciples who have not yielded to the liberalism of many in its leadership.
As salt, I attend Disciples of Christ minister meetings and speak up when the opportunity presents itself. I regularly conduct three Bible studies. On occasion, I am asked to speak at other Disciples churches. I have written “letters to the editors” of Disciples magazines, and they’ve published them. And I write other letters to Disciples seminary presidents. I discuss theology with other Disciples ministers. Few “conservative” ministers get to do these things.
I was part of the funeral of a retired Disciples of Christ minister who was a member of my church. The audience was about 50 percent Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ ministers. I told them I believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures and that I believe the New Testament Scriptures are the authority for the church and Christians. And then I proudly told the audience that this minister who had died accepted me even though she (that’s right, she) hardly agreed with me about anything theologically.
The point is I get to speak up for biblical Christianity as a part of the Disciples of Christ. And I speak with courtesy and respect for the things they believe and practice, and my friends respond in the same manner concerning the things I believe and practice.
MUCH IN COMMON
Bible-believing independents and Bible-believing Disciples have much in common. Our faith is founded on the words of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20-22). And we are both part of the historic Restoration Movement that wants the unity of all believers based on the New Testament.
I do not believe the independents and the Disciples will ever have much to do with each other. I was an independent for 47 years and have been a Disciple for nine years. In my humble estimation, it ain’t gonna happen!
But, my independent friends, you ought to know there are many Bible-believing Christians in the Disciples of Christ, and they are fiercely independent, both as individuals and as churches.
I am not going to leave the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The reason is this: I have discovered it is impossible to have a conversation with someone I care about but with whom I will not associate.
If you know individual members of the Disciples of Christ who still believe in the Campbell-Stone principle of holding to the New Testament as their only rule of faith and morals and ethics, give them some encouragement. We need it.
And if you know of a Disciples of Christ congregation that believes the New Testament Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice and morals and ethics, it is probably struggling and needs some financial help. That church and their minister is a good place for some mission support.
1Lester McAllister and William Tucker, Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), (Atlanta: Chalice Press, 1975), 362.
Joe Bliffen serves as minister of Fourth Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Columbus, Ohio.