Question 1: Biblical interpretation is a cornerstone of Disciples theology as described by Toulouse and others. Barton Stone argued for the sensus communis in contrast to individual renderings of texts. How credible do you think these propositions are? What ways do you see them forming or informing Disciples thinking today?
According to Mark G. Toulouse, biblical interpretation is the cornerstone of disciple theology. In most of his writing, Toulouse explains that the Holy bible is the first resource that Christian should seek advice from when they encounter difficult moments and conflicting situations. Despite the fact that various people differ widely in their personal opinions and interpretation of the scriptures, most people view it as an important resource for living a holy Christian life1. Like Toulouse, individuals such as Thomas Campbell and Alexander Campbell took the Holy Scriptures seriously. To them the living core of the Christian faith was not only revealed in the scriptures, but also illumined by rituals, vivified in individual understanding and established by facts2.
Toulouse and the other early Christians believed that the Holy Bible is the primary resource that reveals the word of God therefore its proper interpretation is crucial for the salvation of human kind. As the sole source of truth about God, the traditional practices, facts and individual understanding, the bible forms the matrix for its interpretation. Through the lens of rituals and old practices, individuals view facts presented in the bible and interpret it from different perspectives. By advocating for the interpretation of the bible through traditional rituals, the early believers realized that tradition is not a perfect instrument to be used by Christians. In order to counter its biasness, they suggested the use of facts and experience to test these traditions. Via facts, they were able to evaluate and challenge the assumptions made from tradition thus adjusting the basic interpretations of the scriptures3.
From the propositions made by Toulouse and the other believers, biblical interpretation rather that power or authority, is undoubtedly the most formative of Disciples foundations. As Toulouse proposed in some of his major publications, despite the fact that some Christians planed on abandoning all their human rituals for the Bible alone, in doing so, they created a new practice of confessional elucidation. In the past, Christian theology was biblical interpretation which was not written in an orderly or conceptual manner but it was established through exegesis and sermons4.
Unlike Toulouse and the other proposers, Barton Stone advocated for sensus communis in contrast to individual rendering of the scriptures. In using this term while proposing changes in biblical interpretation, Stone brought about the sense of the community bible study. This was more like introducing bible study worship in the community of the whole people of God. Through this, the modern disciples have been able to form an important interpretation of the bible from which they identify with. Like Stone, Thomas Campbell wished that the scriptures were open to the people for reading and interpretation. They both argued that biblical interpretation was left to the people to act as a voice of basis and analysis. The modern believers should realize that just like the early disciples, they are free and capable of formulating their own interpretations of the bible for their own benefit5.
In my view, the propositions made by Toulouse and Stone about biblical interpretation are credible the sense that biblical interpretation is confessional and it stands over complete biblical power. Moreover, biblical interpretation is expressed and owned by a large group of community of faith. Through their propositions, they have provided the modern as well as the future disciples with a vital spirit with which they can use in their individual approach of the scriptures. Most disciples in the contemporary society fail to approach bible arbitrarily6. According to research, this is because they are afraid of doing prejudice to the old yet strong disciple rituals before them. Despite the fact that the advent of historical disparagement has moved the critical strength in directions, Toulouse and the other founders did not necessarily foresee. However, the disciples in the modern society still demonstrate the significance of the efforts and dedications that characterized the work accomplished by the founders7.
In the late nineteenth century the Disciples of Christ implemented a denominational configuration and formed a Christian Missionary Fellowship. As a result, they abandoned the non-denominational code of the restoration movement. Similarly, in the recent past, the Disciples of Christ community has widened its liberty of faith and thus endorsed various positions that differ by large margin from any other churches. They have allowed women to be preachers, ordained women of integrity as leaders, denied the prerequisite of interest for salvation as an essential factor to salvation as it was when the movement was first founded. In addition, they have taken part in unity discussions with other denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church by acknowledging the latter’s claims and rituals. Other changes that they have implemented include beliefs by a section of the disciples which are the denial of the virgin birth of Jesus, participation with other liberal movements in questioning the credibility of the bible, and support of the gay marriages8.
In terms of Christian beliefs and practices, the disciples have always been opposed to the use of creeds by various denominations to exclude individuals from the church. As research shows, it was via the founders of the disciple movement identified the use of creeds and doctrines as an instrument to test fellowship as the basic cause of dissection among Christians. Still in the modern society, unlike many other churches and denominations, the disciples do not have an official doctrinal statement through which they can refer to as an idiosyncratic doctrinal stand9.
As earlier stated, in the early days of the disciples, the bible was taken to be an exclusive, dependable and inerrant symbol of the word of god. Disciples were refrained from participating in any personal, communal or liturgical practices that are not clearly certified or endorsed by the scriptures of the New Testament. Some of the practices in which they were refrained from taking part in include the formation of denominations, use of creeds and terms to recognize Christian movements, and embracing the hierarchical forms of polity and church relations. In addition, they were refrained from formation of any formal delegate church arrangement outside the confined congregation10. To some other believers, the use of musical instruments in the church was wrong as they claimed that in the New Testament, such a thing has not been clearly defined nor suggested. According to research, even today, some disciples will quote a saying invented by one of the founders in arguments saying that disciples to speak where the scriptures speak and remain silent where the scriptures are not clear about an issue11.
Question 2: Unity was foundational to the Campbells and Stone. Characterize ways in which the ecumenical movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries complements or collides with that unity vision.
In the early nineteenth century, Barton Stone, Thomas Campbell and Alexander Campbell formed a Christian movement that began on the American frontier. The movement, which was later named the Stone-Campbell movement, defined unity as their foundation however, they had different views in terms of theological views. Despite this, they all had one goal while forming the movement12. The focus was to restore the church as well as the unity of all Christians in one single body ornate after the church of the New Testament. As research shows, they all believed that creeds kept Christians and believers from different denominations divided. Therefore, they wanted to re-establish the entire Christian community on the mode set forth in the New Testament13.
According to Thomas Campbell, the church of Christ upon the universe is fundamentally, intentionally and constitutionally one. Through this assertion, Campbell demonstrated his ardor for Christian unity. In the Christian theology, this proposition has been termed as the primary and key suggestion in the Declaration and Address, a book by the Disciples of Christ. In the founding documents of the Stone-Campbell movement, unity was the centre of all their discussion. Barton Stone and other founders who signed the last will and testimony of the Springfield Presbytery of the early nineteenth century, wished that the union be closed and together with other denominations, descend into harmony with the body of Christ at large. They prayed so much for God get rid of all obstacles that have been established to his work including the disunity in the churches. However, they understood that unity could not rest primarily on the doctrinal customary values even on an obvious core of generally acknowledged creed. As they explained, it was rather the ownership and manifestations of God’s will in each Christian that was the vital basis of unity. In the scriptures, the spirit is defined to be love, peace and unity, forbearance and cheerful obedience14.
For Thomas Campbell, the facts of unity in the Christian community lay in the New Testament. In support of these views, Alexander Campbell insisted that the only way Christians can bring about visible unity in their churches would be through the propounding of the ancient gospel and the ancient order of things in the words found in the record and to make no human terms of communion. These views were different from what Stone believed in but just like Stone, the Campbells predestined the system denomination as conflict-ridden. Therefore, to them, the existence of true Christians and true believers is in groups and not in denominations. In creating these groups, all human structures had to vanish just like the Springfield Presbytery and the Campbells association thus leaving only the Christian congregations15.
The ecumenical movement was introduced in the late twenty century by the Roman Catholic Church. The main aim of the movement was to reconcile all Christian communities who have been separated for generations due to varied theological issues. Like many other denominations the Roman Catholic Church thought that the church was the only hope left for the people after the World War II and therefore, by coming together with other religious groups, they could bring change in the world. This would be possible despite their varied differences as they would only act as agents of hope and peace amongst the chaos and destructions that the human race seems to be creating every single day. Therefore, the ecumenism is a movement that aims at reconciling various denominations by overcoming the historical and theological divisions within the various communities16.
As research shows, there are various approaches to ecumenism. However, despite the varied views, different denominations agree that through ecumenical movement, all Christians will unite in a single celebration of the Eucharist in that unity of the one and only one church. In the modern society, the ecumenical campaigns have had varied impact on the Christian community especially in regard with the union vision. To some people, the ecumenical movement aims at taking advantage of the present times and state of different individuals to re-establish a total control over all those who refers to themselves as Christians. As some people argue that, by joining the ecumenical compromise, various religious leaders are bound to forsake the bible and compromise the gospel message in search of public popularity. However, visible unity of the church is the basic goal of the ecumenical movement. Regardless of what various people might take it to mean, visible unity involves establishment of good relationship between different churches. In all their endeavors, these different churches will pray, reflect, plan and act in union17.
Since the ecumenical movement was officially introduced in the late 1960s, various observers have described the past decades as a moment of unprecedented activism. Research shows that different people have understood the term from different perspectives thus creating ambiguous meaning to its use in creating visible unity. While some churches have been able to welcome this gesture as a clear sign of investing more time and energy in defined actions than in mere dreams and visions, other churches have different interpretations. To them, ecumenism is a move by various denominations to bridge the gap that has existed between unity and the missionary of the church and the diaconal responsibilities. While the ecumenical movement is expected to address concerns arising in the everyday life of Christians and concerns that need a Christian response, its growing engagement in this particular area may create tensions and polarizations within the movement if it is not understood or manifested properly18.
In my view, there are various issues that should be addressed before unity can be brought out of uncertainty in the Christian communities. This is because since the introduction of ecumenism, the concept of unity has resulted in confusion and ambiguous interpretations. Despite the fact that the movement has proposed various models of unity it has not created room for the achievement of a common understanding about the nature of unity. Research shows that the models of unity that exist so far are motivated mainly by confessional and contextual considerations. Therefore, since these concepts are not related at all, a consensus on a common understanding should be created among churches to avoid establishment of confusion in the near future. This is because the main focus of ecumenical movement is not only driven by restoration of unity between churches. The ecumenical movement also aims at creating order, bringing peace and justice as well as ecclesiology in the universe19.
Question 3: Disciples live with and avidly protect the reformation concept of the “priesthood of all believers.” This has been and is used as justification for laity to perform all sorts of ministerial functions. How do you understand the priesthood of all believers relative to the defined Order of Ministry?
Research has revealed that the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is found throughout the Scriptures. In the Old and the New Testament, the doctrine was practiced in the early church as the first century Christian communities had no priests. As early philosopher who supported the doctrine of priesthood for all believers asserted, in the New Testament, the word priest has not been used to define the leader of church services. The idea of a priest to be the leader of church services was introduced via the establishment of sacerdotalism in the third century by Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage. As he interpreted the scriptures, Cyprian assumed that all the passages in the Old Testament that mention privileges, sanctions, duties, and responsibilities of the priesthood apply to the officials of the Christian church. Although he understood that only God had power over all Aaronic priests, his critics claim that he failed to grasp the central thesis that asserts that the only high priest under the gospel is God20.
In opposing the unbiblical establishment of the doctrine of sacerdotalism, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers advocated for the removal of a priestly class within the church. However, in support of the doctrine of priesthood for all believers, individual such Martin Luther explains that the scriptures are clear in illumination about the position of a priest. Once an individual believes in God, they possess righteousness of God and can therefore have immediate access to God without mediation of anyone. Various individuals who are in support of this doctrine assert that it is a continuation to the doctrine of justification. Therefore, since those who have repented and accepted God have been clothed in the perfect righteousness of God, they are thus welcome to the house of the Lord. Christians should therefore not need a priest since Jesus Christ has created a way to god for all his followers21.
As the scriptures state, the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ at the cross annulled the Aaronic priesthood. Therefore, based on these findings there is no need for Christians to continue offering up literal expiatory sacrifices. The continued offering and performance of all sorts of ministerial duties does not make much sense as per the scriptures. As many claim, the existence of a priest through which believes confess to and use a mediator to God, only destroys the strong belief of Christians. The priest is a barrier between believers and God. In the Christian belief, there is only a single mediator God brought between him and the human race. This mediator is none other but Jesus Christ. Through him, Christians get saved and direct access to God. Through priesthood for all believe, all believers are a holy priesthood who offer spiritual sacrifices as any priest through their faith in God22.
In teaching about the priesthood for all believers, the bible reveals that the church is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. The priesthood of all believers is clearly and ardently taught in the New Testament through various books. It is viewed in practice in all the order and functioning of the New Testament churches of the early believers. However, as research shows, in some churches today, it is denied and highly rejected. It is in this matter so critical that to the existence and the creation of the church that the greatest and most fundamental changes have been established especially in the manner through which Christ gave to His church and to the apostles. In many denominations in the contemporary society, only the Pastor or the deacon has the powers of a priest. All other individuals that serve at the church are considered laity. The objective of such a move in the order of the church can be termed as demonic as it destroys the peace and freedom originally placed in the church. It not only robs the great majority of the believers the privilege and responsibilities of priesthood that Jesus left them, but also takes from the church the authority God has as the head and builder of the church23.
Some researchers have observed that in the modern society, the youngest Pastor has been allocated more powers and authority over the congregation than Christ himself. As a result, this has transformed the church from a body of Christ into an organization headed by human leaders. In addition, the establishment of such leaders has also resulted in the unavoidable substitution of human talent for the gift and power of Holy Spirit that has in turn removed the church from the spiritual equipment and power24.
In my view, in the structure through which Christ left his church, the authority is always directly in His hands and the power comes directly from Him. This structure is clearly defined in the scriptures when he placed the responsibility for knowing His will and obeying His Word directly upon the whole congregation gathered together. Whether a priest or a believer, individuals posses equal responsibilities through the different ministries and gifts of the Spirit, and as explained they were directly responsible to Him. Therefore, this implies that each person has a duty and responsibility to know the word of God, learn his will and commandments, and strive to abide and remain loyal to him25.
As earlier stated, contrary to the scriptures of the Old Testament, the New Testament does not use the word priest to define a minister among the people of God. The word is reserved for the unique priesthood of Jesus Christ and all Christians. According to various philosophers, the priesthood of all believers has spiritual, ecclesiastical, and social implications. Despite the fact that socially, the priest belong to the organization of Christendom and have the power to discipline evildoers and protect those who do fine. The medieval division that is usually established between the temporal and the church authorities should be removed completely. Ecclesiastically, it is wrong that the clergy has the sole role of interpreting the scriptures, determining the correct doctrines, forgiving sins and exercising discipline. Through the priesthood of all believers, all Christians are priests and have the right to participate in these Christian functions during service and within the community of believers. The priests should be the minister of the word of God called upon to preach to the congregation and administer sacraments with the consent of and in the service of the church believers. In spiritual sense, the kingdom of all priests can be applied. All priests are worthy of going in God’s presence to pray for others and for themselves and to teach one another the things God teaches through the scriptures26.
In the Holy Scriptures the believers are called kings and priests. This can be translated to refer to their privileged status as heirs to the kingdom of God. As a result of this privilege, they have the ability to create a close relationship with God with no need of an earthly mediator. In addition, they are called priests because God’s salvation is not some sort of insurance cover through which individuals can escape the fires of hell. But rather, by being priests, believers are called upon by God to serve Him and perform offering up spiritual sacrifices as well as conducting the good deeds as priests and kings in the kingdom of God. Moreover, believers are given the right of worshiping God and also have the opportunity of sharing this grace with all other believers and non-believer27.
Therefore, in my opinion, priesthood of all believers is a spiritual privilege, a moral obligation, and a personal vocation. Through it, believers have directly access to God, have an obligation to the church that teaches about priesthood, have a calling in to serve at the arena where other priests serve and have a gift that demands them to be examples to others. This is because as a priest, they have a responsibility to the community and to themselves. Apart from having direct access to God, a priest has to read scriptures, ask for guidance on how to understand it, and tell it to someone and be able to change their lives28.
Bonus Question: Discuss the contributions of the Stone-Campbell movement to the development of 19th century North American Christianity as well as its influences on the 21st century.
As earlier mentioned in question two, Stone-Campbell movement was formed in the early nineteenth century by Thomas Campbell, Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone. The three believers had one purpose in mind while forming the movement. Their intention was to create a union that would restore the Christian groups and reunite them into a single non-denominational union. Since it was formed then, the movement has resulted into various positive and negative changes within the Christian community. Its impact especially to the Christian theology in the past and in the modern times can neither be ignored nor taken lightly.
As the main founders of the stone-Campbell movement, Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell were extremely fervent about Christian unity. In coming together to form this movement, they aimed at restoring unity in the Christian community and creating a single non-denominational group in which Christians, despite their theological issues and views would be able to live in peace, love and unity. In their plan, they wished for a world in which by working together, leaders of different religious groups could take action. In the modern Christian community, more of the contributions made by these two individuals especially after the formation of the movement have been implemented in the twenty-first century. Various churches have not only accepted that it is time to implement visible unity among the religious communities, but have also began the establishment of a new movement, the ecumenical movement, that shall restore unity29.
In the nineteenth century, the Stone-Campbell movement brought together various religious groups who had different theological issues. Its main focus was to create a Christian community that is essentially and constitutionally one as Christ meant for it to be. In the belief of the founders, different denominations only resulted in the creation of division among the believers and were not worth of being strongly based upon. In the present times, the Christian community has the shown interest in the formation of a single union just like the founders of the stone-Campbell movement. They have established the ecumenical movement, through which they aim at bring together believers from various denominations as they restore unity in the community of believers. Regardless of their differences, the believers shall have the chance to bring about change through love, praying together, acting and advancing one another30.
However, in the twentieth century, disciple issues such as visible unity seem to have been centered more on structure of the church than on its theological perspective like in the past.
If the 19th century was characterized by growth through missions, the 20th century is measured by organization – anathema particularly to AC in his early days and certainly to Stone any time – and growth has suffered. Yet other North American denominations have suffered similar declines save possibly for those which entered into some formal mergers, UCC, United Methodist, ELCA [Lutheran Church in America, American Lutheran Church, and Evangelical Lutheran Church], and Presbyterian Church (USA) [United Presbyterian Church in North America, United Presbyterian Church in U.S.A., and Presbyterian Church in the United States]. Yet even each of these is currently in difficulty occasioned by doctrinal concerns, leadership conflicts, and indecisions (class notes, 1/19/2012).
As research shows, the efforts by various denominations to organize the Christian communities into one have been noble well intended, the energy has created various paucities. Denominations have not been able to agree on the holy trinity, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, and his physical resurrection and ascension. Moreover, they have not yet been able to resolve other issues that might seem trivial and inconsequential but could be relevant to faith, belief and religious practices31.
Boring, Eugene M. Disciples and the Bible: A history of Disciples Biblical Interpretation in North America. Missouri: Chalice Press, 1997.
Campbell, Thomas, and Samuel Carter r Hall. New Monthly Magazine, Volume 6. New York: Princeton University, 2009.
Eastwood, Cyril. The Priesthood of All Believers: An Examination of the Doctrine from the Reformation to the Present Day. Eugene, Oregon, United States: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2009.
Montague, George T. Understanding The Bible: A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. New York: Paulist Press, 2007.
Olbricht, Thomas H, Hans Rollmann, and Thomas Campbell. “The Quest for Christian Unity, Peace, and Purity in Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address: Text and Studies.” Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements, 2000: 129-199.
Richesin, Dale L, and Larry D. Bouchard. Interpreting Disciples: Practical Theology in the Disciples of Christ. Fort Worth, TX 76109, USA: TCU Press, 1987.
Rodriguez, Milt. The Priesthood of All Believers. Illinois: The Rebuilders, 2004.
Schreiner, Peter. Holistic Education Resource Book: Learning and Teaching in an Ecumenical Context. Münster, Germany: Waxmann Verlag, 2005.
Shurden, Walter B. “Priesthood of All Believers.” Proclaiming the Baptist vision 1 (Smyth & Helwys Publication).
Toulouse, Mark G. Joined in Discipleship: The Shaping of Contemporary Disciples Identity. Missouri, United States: Chalice Press, 1997.