The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was born in the early nineteenth century out of the search for catholicity and unity of God’s Church. Believing that divisions among Christians are a denial of Christ’s reconciling love on the cross, Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander, Barton Warren Stone, and others gave voice to the biblical call for reconciliation and wholeness in the body of Christ “so that the world may believe.” (John 17)
From then until now, Christian unity has been foremost in the Disciples’ understanding of the church and their witness to the kingdom of God. We believe that the visible unity is centered in the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist), rooted in the scriptures, embraces a diversity of Christian theology and practice, and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Surely, God requires the unity of faithful people.
This ministry was established as an instrument of the church to keep the vision of unity before the Disciple of Christ and the modern ecumenical movement. The origins of the Christian Unity and Interfaith Ministry (CUIM) came at the 1910 International Convention (now General Assembly) of the Christian Churches in Topeka, Kansas. For that year, the convention’s president was Peter Ainslie III, the 43-year-old minister of Christian Temple, the vital Disciples congregation in Baltimore. In his presidential address, entitled “Our Fellowship and the Task,” Dr. Ainslie spoke candidly to his fellow Disciples about the loss of its original vision of a united church and called it to renew its commitment to the ecumenical life.
Following his address, Ainslie and others called a special session of the convention to make concrete decisions that would reclaim the Disciples’ original purpose and plea for unity and union. The outcome was the creation of a permanent organization, the Council on Christian Union, to give leadership throughout the ecumenical movement. In this act, the Disciples became the first church in the U.S. to establish a permanent unit working for Christian unity. Peter Ainslie was elected the first president, an administrative position that he voluntarily filled while serving as the minister of the Christian Temple. In 1916, the name of the Council was changed to the Association for the Promotion of Christian Unity; in 1954, it became the Council on Christian Unity (CCU).
The purpose of this ministry, expressed in its constitution by those early ecumenical pioneers, still speaks courageously of catholicity in mission and methodology: “To watch for every indication of Christian unity and to hasten the time by intercessory prayer, friendly conferences, and the distribution of irenic literature, until we all attain unto the unity of the faith.” Since its inception, this ministry has focused upon remaining alert to God’s leading in our work for unity and wholeness in the church and society.
In 1911, an ecumenical journal, The Christian Unity Quarterly, was launched. Soon dialogues were set up with the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregational, and Christian Connection churches (the last two united in 1931 and in 1957 became constituent parts of the United Church of Christ.) Communications and relations were established with unity movements in South India, Australia, Great Britain, and Europe. Through this ministry, the Disciples participated in the first multilateral proposal for church union in America in the 20th century, the Philadelphia Plan (1918-1920), officially known as the American Conference on Church Union, and in the Faith and Order movement, leading to the first World Conference at Lausanne (1927). No indication of Christian unity was ignored by the Disciples’ newly formed ministry. The first generation of this ministry was lived out in a significant, prophetic, spiritual presence.
The following generations of its leadership were also vigorously engaged in the longest-term and most broadly represented conversations, which began in 1960 as ten mainline Protestant churches entered into a common search for a united church called the Consultation on Church Union (COCU). In 1962, led by the Council, the Disciples became a full member of the Consultation. In 2002, the assemblies of its ten participating churches voted to become Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC), a new covenantal relationship among the Protestant denominations in the USA.
In 2005, the Board of Directors engaged in a church-wide process of “mapping the ecumenical movement for the 21st century” to look afresh at where God’s call to unity would lead us in the future. In this process, the Board, along with the wider church, once again affirmed that the vision and goal of unity are discovered as we gather at the Lord’s Table, where Christ continues the healing and reconciliation work. For over a century, pursuing the sacred and sacramental vision of unity has been the very core of this ministry.
This 2005 consultation also encouraged the Board to reflect on the current landscape and to be engaged with the wider church in conversations regarding communal life and witness as Christians in the interreligious world. They have come to realize that God intends for the Disciples of Christ to accompany all humanity and creation. Later, this understanding was more articulated that the unity we seek for Christians is not the same kind of unity we would find with other religious or non-religious friends. Like many others, the Disciples have struggled prayerfully in this relatively new journey to accompany all humanity. However, the Disciples are not shy in revealing the struggle as Christians to understand God’s grand design for all humanity and how to live in this multi-religious world as Christians. Disciples have humbly let interreligious friends know that we desire to walk with them and seek their invitations to do so.
In order to clearly communicate with the broader church about this journey toward unity for all humanity, the Board of the Council on Christian Unity has decided to change its name at the fall 2019 board meeting to the Christian Unity and Interfaith Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.
The Christian Unity and Interfaith Ministry (CUIM), one of the general units of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), exists with the specific purpose to keep the vision for and calling to unity alive. The generations of the CUIM leadership vigorously guided the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada and Disciples throughout the world toward their destiny in the one holy, catholic and apostolic church. Its leadership has been uncompromising in the call for the visible unity of the church as a sign of the unity of humanity. So the leaders of this ministry have played an increasingly important role in promoting, enabling, and interpreting the movement toward reconciliation and wholeness in the church and the human community.
After Peter Ainslie III resigned from the presidency in 1925, two generations of administrative leadership were given by H.C. Armstrong and George Walker Buckner, both working only part-time at the Council due to the lack of operational funds. The presidency was resumed in 1960 when George G. Beazley, Jr. became the chief executive officer of the Council on Christian Unity and served with distinction until his premature death in Moscow in 1973. The next year Paul A Crow, Jr. continued the succession when elected as the president of the Council on Christian Unity and ecumenical officer of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Robert K. Welsh succeeded Crow in 1999 and served the Council for 16 years as the president. In April 2016, Paul S. Tché was installed as the seventh president of the CCU. In his 5th year as the president of the CCU, the Board approved a plan to change its name to the CUIM as of 2020.