“A socially conscious, activist denomination”

In his history of Portland State University, Gordon B. Dodds refers to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as a “socially conscious, activist denomination.” He makes this comment because Stephen E. Epler, founder of the university, was an active member of this church and through him, Dodds writes, the spirit of this church influenced the early development of what is now the largest university in Oregon.

While Dodds’ description of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an accurate portrayal of one of its important characteristics, it provides no information about how this church came to be, how it fits in the spectrum of churches today, what it believes, how it worships, and how it is positioning itself for continuing presence in the increasingly complex religious scene of our time.

As part of the educational program of First Christian Church in Portland (Epler’s congregation for many years and immediately adjacent to the university he founded), I conducted a four-session course of study on this topic. Although these matters have been in my mind for a long time, this was my first attempt to write them down in a succinct and reasonably coherent form. The result is a sixteen-page folder—preliminary and provisional, in need of fact checking and verification, and (because of its brevity) cryptic.

Session One provides an overview that describes the emergence of the major segments of the church—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant—and locates the Christians-Disciples movement in this pattern.

Session Two outlines phases in the historical development of this American religious movement.

Session Three describes major characteristics of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the early years of the twenty-first century.

Session Four proposes some of the implications for congregations of this “socially conscious, activist denomination” in the years ahead. I suggest these goals:

  • Be a church in the most basic and comprehensive manner that is possible.
  • Represent the enduring patterns and practices of the Disciples tradition adapted to contemporary circumstances.
  • Move to the forefront in working on the issues of our time (both the enduring and the new)
  • Embrace the new ecumenism.

Despite the provisional character of this outline, I have decided to make it available to people who might be interested in the subject. Your comments, corrections, questions, and suggestions will be welcomed. Click here…Understanding Disciples.

(Note: The booklet is laid out on half sheets so that they can be printed as a sixteen-page folder with 5.5 x 8.5 dimensions.)

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