“Why I am a Disciple of Christ”

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Thomas Nelson and Sons published their popular “Why I Am…” series.  The publishers approached high profile ministers and leaders from a variety of denominations and asked them to tell the story of why they belonged to the particular religious tradition that they did.  And so, as you would expect, there were books on “Why I am an Episcopalian,” and “Why I am a Roman Catholic,” and “Why I am a Methodist,” and “Why I am A Presbyterian,” and “Why I am a Baptist,” and “Why I am a Lutheran.”  After all, those were and are the major American denominations.  What’s intriguing is that Thomas Nelson and Sons didn’t stop there.  You see, they also published volumes on “Why I am a Christian Scientist,” and “Why I am Mormon,” and there was even one on “Why I am a Disciple of Christ.”

They asked Hampton Adams to write this book on us in 1957.  Dr. Adams had been the pastor of the Union Avenue Christian Church in St. Louis for 16 years and was to be a president of the Council on Christian Unity.  Dr. Hampton began his book on “Why I am a Disciple of Christ” by explaining that it was because that’s the church his mother belonged to when he was just a little boy.  Almost apologetically, Dr. Hampton wrote, “This book would, of course, be more convincing if it were written by a person who, after a long search, had found his spiritual home with the Disciples of Christ” (8).  And that describes me.

You see, I’m not a “birth-right Disciple;” I’m a convert, a true believer. I’m here by choice.  There’s a bumper sticker for naturalized Texans that says, “I may not have been born here, but I got here just as soon as I could!”  Well, that describes me and my relationship with this church of ours perfectly.  Only, I have to tell you that I don’t believe that I am here by just my own initiatives and effort.  It’s as much a God-thing as anything else. 

On a bookshelf across from my desk in my study I keep a copy of a prayer by St. Augustine that was caligraphied for me by one of the real saints that I’ve been privileged to know in my ministry. The prayer says –

Lord, when I look upon my own life, it seems Thou hast led me so carefully, so tenderly, Thou canst have attended to no one else; but when I see how wonderfully Thou hast led the world and art leading it still, I am amazed that Thou hast time to attend to one such as I.

And I’ve lived the words of this prayer; I view my life as a journey of faith undertaken at the behest of God.  And as I look back over my years I am aware of some defining moments when I believe that God brought me to the crossroad of a decision that set the course for the next phase of my journey of faith.  And one of those moments was in the summer of 1968 when I was 15 going on 16.

I was raised an Episcopalian.  We were an active church-going family.  Dad was on the Vestry.  Mom was on the Altar Guild.  And I was an acolyte. In the summer of 1968 I had signed up to go on a mission trip with the Episcopal Young churchmen of the Diocese of Los Angeles to a Navajo Mission Center in southeastern Utah.  The night before I left, I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep, and so I got up and turned on the TV.  Now, I know that it sounds hackneyed, but Billy Graham was on preaching one of his crusades, saying some things that I had never heard in all my years of going to church; things like my needing to be born again, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, and sharing my faith, and looking for the second coming.  I was baffled.  And so I did a rash thing; I threw a King James Version of the Bible into my duffle bag, and I began to read it seriously for the first time in my life while I was away on that trip.

I thought that what I could do by reading the Bible was to conclusively prove my family’s church right and Billy Graham’s preaching wrong.  But by the time I had clumsily made my way through the New Testament for the first time, what I had discovered was that it was all so much more complicated than that. Biblically, I realized that a case could be made both for and against my church, and for and against Billy Graham. I went looking for simplicity, and I was ushered into complexity instead.  I wanted “either/or” but was offered “both/and.”  I wanted clear, concise answers to all of my doctrinal questions; and what I discovered is that the Bible teaches its truths in a different way.

Think of the difference between a geological elevation in Texas and a geological elevation in Colorado.   In Colorado the Rocky Mountains are the high ground; but in Texas it’s the cap rock.  Clearly there’s a difference between a mountain peak and a plateau.  There’s a good reason why people go to Vail to ski and not Amarillo.  Well, Francis Schaeffer, the late Evangelical theologian, used to say that we go to the Bible looking for mountain peaks and find plateaus instead.  You see, the Bible teaches its truths not by giving us single propositions that need to be scaled and claimed, but by providing us with some absolute boundaries between which we have some real room to roam.

Think about it, virtually every important spiritual truth that the Bible teaches is complicated: God is three and one; holy and loving; immanent and transcendent; Christ is God and man; we are saved by grace and faith; we are sinful and responsible; God is sovereign and we are free; we are not saved by good works and we are saved for good works; the Bible is the Word of God and the Word of Man; the kingdom has come and is coming.  I think it was Dorothy Sayers who said that what the Bible does is to draw the lines on the field on which the game of faith gets played.  So long as you’re inside those lines, you’re in the game. And so, when I was 15 going on 16 I had to conclude that both Billy Graham and the Episcopal Church were, even though they were at opposite ends of the field.  And realizing that prepared me spiritually for the road ahead.

You see, the terrain that I’ve traversed as a Christian has been something of a zigzag course between opposite truths on that field of faith that the Bible lays out.  I move back and forth constantly between –

A respect for authority and a desire for freedom;

An appreciation for tradition and an openness to experience;

A faith that was as ancient as the New Testament and as contemporary as the morning paper;

A commitment to the personal gospel of salvation and the social gospel of justice;

A passion for Scripture and a longing for the Holy Spirit;

A careful, analytical head and a hungry, thirsty heart;

Conservative convictions and a liberal way of arriving at them;

A desire for personal righteousness and an aversion to legalism;

A sense of personal responsibility for what I believe and my need to belong to a community;

The recognition that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world and an appreciation for the universal religious longings of the human family;

A love for the outward and visible forms of faith and a refusal to settle for anything less than their inward and invisible realities.

It was reading the Bible for myself when I was 15 going on 16 that led me to the realization if I was going to take what it taught seriously then I was going to have to be willing to “follow the contours of Scripture wherever they led” (Veith 115).  And I knew then that I was going to have to find a community of faith that was comfortable with the kind of diversity that the Bible itself creates if I was ever going to fit in.  I needed a church whose faith would be as big as the Bible; a church that was willing to embrace the wholeness of what the Bible taught; a church that wasn’t afraid of complexity and that wouldn’t try to “dumb-down” the truth to make it popular or palatable; a church that would help me navigate the narrow path between the extremes of those on the edges who made exclusive claims to having the truth; a church with an absolute center that would hold.

And so, when I was 15 going on16 I began a spiritual quest that led me here to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Every Sunday after the early service at my family’s Episcopal Church I was off visiting other places of worship and other communities of faith.  I spent time with Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, Mormons and Methodists, Baptists and Adventists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists.  And while I found things at virtually every church I visited that I could commend and embrace, I never found the Biblical balance, the spiritual wholeness that I was looking for.

I never visited a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in those days.  How I discovered the Disciples was by reading a book.  Spiritually frustrated by my search for a spiritual home and not finding what I was looking for, I picked up a copy of the book Religions in America edited by Leo Rosten.  This book was a collection of the famous “Look” magazine series on denominations.  I was systematically working my way through it as if it were a Sears and Roebucks catalogue from which I could order a church that fit.  And out of the dozens of churches that I read about in that book, the one that made my soul stir was one about “Who are the Disciples of Christ?”  written by James Craig.

I had never met a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as far as I knew. I’d never seen one of their churches.  I’d never attended one of their services.  But what I read about them in that book painted a picture of the kind of church that I knew I was looking for.  These are the words that first introduced me to this church –

The Disciples have no creed but Christ and no doctrines save those which are found in the New Testament or are reasonably to be inferred therefrom.  The Disciples are God-centered, Christ-centered, Bible-centered, with no creed save one – the answer of the Apostle Peter to a question from Jesus himself: “Thou art the Christ, the son of the Living God.” (58)

There is nothing to prevent literalists and liberals from sitting down together around the Table of the Lord’s Supper, each responsible for his own belief and each serving God according to the dictates of his own conscience. (59) 

Disciples base their whole case and their whole appeal on a simple outline of faith (65)… (and) no Sunday morning service closes without an offering of fellowship to any adult who cares to take his stand by the cross of the Risen Christ. (59)

Some will say that the Disciples of Christ are a great Evangelical Protestant denomination.  Others wills ay that they are not a denomination at all, but a pure New Testament Church of Christ.  Still others will prefer to describe the Disciples as a brotherhood, or a communion.  But perhaps the most favored word among Disciples is a movement – a movement back to the New Testament, and forward to ultimate unity under God of all who call themselves Christians. (58)

Reading these words again now more than 50 years after reading them for the first time, I feel them still stirring my soul and assuring me that I am spiritually home.

I am a Disciple of Christ because this is a church whose faith is Biblically balanced.  This is a church that rejects the simplicity of “either-or” ways of thinking in favor of the more complicated “both-and” ways that the Scripture teaches its truths.  I chose this church after a long search because of all the churches I know, this is the one that respects faithful diversity and has a center that holds.

When people ask me why I am a Disciple of Christ, I usually tell them about an adult Sunday School class I taught in a previous congregation I served.  They were a group of some of the brightest and most engaged folks I’ve ever known.  And on Sunday mornings they fought like cats and dogs.  It didn’t make any difference what the topic of the day was; when the class bell rang they came out of their corners swinging.  Arguing Scripture and questioning interpretations they were not content with settling for easy answers.  They wrestled with Scripture, the Spirit and themselves rigorously every week. And a visitor to that class might conclude that these folks had nothing in common. 

But then, after Sunday School, these same people would show up in worship side by side: as elders praying at the Table; as members of the Diaconate sharing communion; as members of the choir joining their voices in praise; as worshipers sitting side by side in a pew joining hands and hearts; and as their pastor watching this each week I always knew that I was home.  This was the church I went looking for when I was 15 going on 16.

E. Stanley Jones used to say that whenever he asked a group of Christians “What do you believe?” that they would faithfully fragment in a thousand different ways with no two people believing exactly alike.  But when he would ask, “Whom do you trust?” he said that they “would come together with one word on their lips – Jesus Christ.”  (144-145).   And that’s why I am a Disciple of Christ.  This is a church where the “what’s” can differ while the “whom” unites.

Look around the room.  We’re different aren’t we? We’re different genders, different ages, different races, different sizes, and all that’s just on the surface.  A little bit of probing just beneath the surface would quickly reveal that some of us here are conservatives and some of us are liberals, some of us are traditionalists and some of us are progressives, some of us are Biblical literalists and some of us read the Bible amore symbolically, some of us are charismatics and some of us are cessationists.  We’re clearly different.  So let me close with a question – “Whom do you trust?” (Expected Response – Jesus Christ!)  And that’s why I am a Disciple of Christ.


Adams, Hampton. Why I am a Disciple of Christ. Thomas Nelson and Sons. 1957.

Jones, E. Stanley  The Divine Yes. Abingdon. 1975.

Rosten, Leo. Religions in America. “Who Are the Disciples of Christ?” by James

E. Craig. Simon and Schuster. 1963.

Schaeffer, Francis. The Church Before the Watching World. IVP. 1971.

Standish, N. Graham. Discovering the Narrow Path.  Westminster John Knox

Press.. 2002.

Trueblood, Elton. The Conjunct Life. Yokefellow Press. 1970.

Veith, Gene E. The Spirituality of the Cross. Concordia. 1999.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s