Our Regional Gathering in Sedalia, October 20-21 kicks off a celebration of the bicentennial of Disciples coming together to be church in Mid-America - with the founding of the Salt Creek Christian Church in Howard County in 1817. We hope to continue celebrating clear through Missouri's bicentennial in 2021.
We honor this time of anniversary to reach out to others outside our denominational walls and use history to emphasize the special things we are. In a time when many are turned off and turned away from “church” by creeds, rules, doctrines, judgments, and narrowness, we have a heritage of openness that is inviting. Two hundred years of being who we are is worth talking about and worth taking beyond our walls.
Bob Priddy, a renowned Missouri broadcaster, historian, and member of FCC-Jefferson City joins others to give us perspectives on where we came, who we are, and where we are headed. Five years ago he was asked to deliver a sermon and spoke in the person of Alexander Campbell. He concluded this way:
Bear with me for a few more minutes while I explain the greatest strength of our message to those who say we offer no answers for a people desperate for them.
There might never have been a more free time or place in all of our nation’s history than at the turn of the 19th century in the area between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi, the area and the time when our denomination was born.
The people who flowed into that area were free of the British crown and its church. They were free of the official churches of the colonies on the seaboard. It was a new area. It was a new era for living and for thinking. People had not come to this area for religious reasons. They had come with a spirit of adventure, a spirit of hope, and hope for an opportunity to build a better life.
In the east, doctrines separated people. On the frontier, distance, danger, and loneliness erased structures that separated people from one another. Differences, including those based on denominational doctrine, were eliminated by the necessity for survival.
The great revivals that began a few years before I arrived increased church membership. But to the degree that they relied on emotionalism and tried to re-create doctrinal differences, they brought more divisions within and between denominations. Some ministers such as Brother Stone and my father got into trouble, not because of how they taught the Bible but because they acted and taught contrary to the creeds of the church which acted to exclude, not include, those who had the freedom on the frontier to formulate their own understandings of God’s word. Many people who were experiencing the freedom of the frontier grew uncomfortable being judged on the basis of their adherence to a man-made creed rather than on their Scripture-based personal faith.
It was that climate that led my father to begin the Declaration and Address more than 200 years ago, “From the series of events which have taken place in the churches for many years past, especially in this Western country, as well as from what we know in general of the present state of things in the Christian world, we are persuaded that it is high time for us not only to think, but also to act, for ourselves; to see with our own eyes, and to take all our measures directly and immediately from the Divine standard; to this alone we feel ourselves Divinely bound to be conformed, as by this alone, we must be judged.”
In a nation that has proclaimed Freedom of Religion as one of its undeniable rights and virtues, it was time in 1809 to reject limits on religious freedom advocated by denominations themselves. It was time to acknowledge that each Christian stands to be judged only on his relation to the Word of God, not the creeds of man.
To those who say we stand for nothing because we do not demand adherence to statements or orders that would forever keep us three feet long, let us answer that we stand for that most basic desire of all people----to be free to use the mind God has given each of us to understand the mind of God.
It is that freedom that strives to create the Church of Christ upon earth (that) is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures.
Stand for nothing?
Hardly. Two hundred years ago, we established that we stand for the freedom of all believers to know God through GOD’s Word.
That is our answer.
That is our message.
That is our past.
That is our future.
I speak from your own past today and tell you to be as unafraid to proclaim that message as boldly and as faithfully in this day as we proclaimed it in the beginning. Go forth to bring Christians to discipleship in Christ….and build the one Church of Christ upon earth.
Submitted by Regional Minister Team member Paul Koch.