Two years ago, I chose to leave my denomination to become a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The 2015 General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio reaffirmed that this was one of the best choices I have ever made.
The workshops were challenging, and the worship services were inspiring, reminding me that we are not called to merely go to church, but we are called to be the church, the very embodiment of Christ working for wholeness in our fragmented world.
This reaffirmation and reminder was a great comfort to me as I have struggled over the years with my sense of calling to ministry and with my denominational identity. However, it is a special kind of comfort, a holy, God-given comfort. As Rev. Terri Hord-Owens said in the opening sermon of the assembly: “God comforts all of us, but not to make us comfortable. Our comfort is only a pivot-point to go out to serve and to love those in our world who need to be comforted.”
I chose to be a Disciple because my old denomination seemed to to me to be more about maintenance than mission. It seemed to be more about keeping everyone satisfactorily comfortable, rather than using the comfort of God’s affirmation as a pivot-point to make difficult stands as followers of Christ. They sought to be moderate, mainline and mainstream. However, the reality is that Jesus sometimes calls us to be upstream and anything but moderate and mainstream, even if it is uncomfortable.
Some Disciples are concerned that the resolutions that are made during the business sessions are “divisive.” Although resolutions are not edicts that are imposed on congregations as each church is autonomous, they say that voting “yea” or “nay,” agreeing or disagreeing with resolutions, undermines the unity of the denomination. They say that this is the reason many are leaving the denomination.
However, I believe more people leave denominations and churches when those organizations simply stop looking like or speaking like Jesus. I believe people who know their Bibles and the actions and words of Jesus are leaving the church in droves, because, instead of looking like Jesus on a mission for social justice announcing and ushering in the Kingdom of God, it looks like some sort of club on a mission to keep everyone agreeable and unified by remaining silent or moderate.
I believe agreement and unity are two different things. With Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, I believe a wonderful aspect of Disciples is that we do not have to always agree with one another to be unified. Our unity does not come from our ability to agree or moderate a position. Our unity comes from God who unites us in Christ and in Christ alone.
This certain and sacred unity gives us the freedom to courageously take risks which are often needed to do the uncomfortable and unpopular work of Jesus of loving our neighbor as ourselves, feeding the hungry, lifting up the poor, welcoming and teaching the children, healing the sick, forgiving the sinner, friending the prisoner, restoring the marginalized, raising he dead and exorcising all kinds of evil: personal, social, systemic, structural and even ecclesial.
As Rev. Dr. Amy Butler preached: “the time is now; the pain of our world is desperate; and the call of God is clear. It’s that serious.”
Rev. Dr William Barber correctly diagnosed our nation’s desperation as a “deep heart problem” that only God can revive by using the church as a “defibrillator to shock the nation with the electricity of God’s justice, love and mercy.”
If we remain silent or moderate to try to maintain the satisfaction of every member, we will continue to lose not only the hearts of our members, not only the heart of our nation, but the heart of the church as we will simply cease being relevant.
This was my first General Assembly, and I could not be more excited to be both a Disciple, and hopefully, a “defibrillator,” an upstream Christian who will no longer compromise by going with the flow to avoid rocking the boat in order to keep everyone on board comfortable. With God’s help, I look forward to trying to do my small part to help us look less like members of a club, or even a denomination, and more like disciples of Christ.