Nashville, Tenn. – Representatives of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Churches of Christ, and Christian Churches / Churches of Christ gathered in Nashville June 11-13 for the 10th Stone-Campbell Dialogue, an ongoing discussion intended to strengthen ties between the three historically related religious groups.
Sharing roots in the 19th-century frontier religious reform movement associated with Christian leaders Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, the three major “streams” in the Stone-Campbell Movement have a combined membership of over 3 million people.
The dialogue participants, composed of ministers and university and seminary professors, addressed the topic of biblical interpretation, building on the work of the June 2005 dialogue in Dallas.
Moving beyond theological conversation, participants in this year’s discussions also contributed ideas for materials congregations can use in local “dialogues.”
The event began with Sunday-evening worship at Nashville’s Woodmont Hills Church of Christ involving both dialogue participants and members of local congregations in the Stone-Campbell tradition. Some 300 people attended the service, the first of its kind in Nashville, according to Clint Holloway, organizer of the event and minister of involvement at Nashville’s First Christian Church.
Subsequent talks between dialogue members took place in the nearby facilities of Lipscomb University, affiliated with Churches of Christ.
Launching the dialogue’s opening session was a communion service directed by the Rev. Glenn Carson, president of the Disciples Historical Society in Nashville. For the service, Carson placed the communion elements on a table more than 175 years old that was once used by 19th century reformers Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
After communion, participants engaged in a period of Bible study led by Carl McKelvey, director of Lipscomb University’s Center for Spiritual Renewal. They then began talks and later commented on a draft of “The Stone-Campbell Dialogue: Manual for Local Sessions,” a document intended to assist churches wishing to dialogue with neighboring congregations.
During the final sessions, members completed initial work on a statement of affirmations concerning the Bible and its interpretation. While acknowledging differences in the scriptural themes each group emphasizes, representatives affirmed that “We share a rich heritage which holds Scripture in high regard – we all think of ourselves as Scripture-focused and Scripture-driven,” a draft version of the statement said.
Following discussion of the statement, dialogue members split into small groups to talk about the stereotypes that had developed during the more than 100 years of division among churches in the Stone-Campbell tradition. Members plan to include a list of these common misconceptions, along with affirmations to counter them, in materials for churches to use in local talks.
Airing misrepresentations born of a century of tension and mistrust proved a moving experience for participants. After the small groups had finished presenting their lists of stereotypes, dialogue members formed a circle and prayed, each person placing an arm on the shoulder of another. After the prayer, they sang the classic hymn, “Blest Be the Tie.”
For Douglas Foster, dialogue member and professor of Bible at Abilene Christian University in Texas, discussing the mistaken ideas of the past “let us hear out loud in their starkness the things we have said about each other and to realize how deeply we have wounded and maligned one another.”
Foster added, “only when we name sin openly in that way and repent of it can we deal with it in a way that heals and brings reconciliation.”
John Mills, a representative of Christian Churches / Churches of Christ who lives in Brunswick, Ohio, said, “we knew the stereotypes, have heard them, most of them are out of date.” He commented, “the prayers and singing . . . spelled healing and hope, both of which are long overdue.”
The first Stone-Campbell Dialogue took place in Indianapolis in November 1999. According to dialogue documents, the purpose of the gathering is “to develop relationships and trust within the three streams of the Stone-Campbell movement through worship and through charitable and frank dialogue.”
For the Rev. Robert Welsh, participant from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the ongoing discussions echo the longing for Christians to come together that lies at the core of all three groups. Welsh is president and ecumenical officer of the Disciples’ Council on Christian Unity.
“The dialogue has served as an important meeting place… to re-claim our fundamental identity as a people of unity,” Welsh said. That unique understanding of oneness, Welsh explained, “celebrates both the congregation as the essential locus of church life and the value of diversity in belief and practice.”
The next dialogue is set for June 2007 in Austin, Texas. The topic will be the Lord’s Supper, an aspect of the Christian tradition emphasized across the Stone-Campbell Movement.
More information on the Stone-Campbell Dialogue is available on the CCU Web site.
Stone-Campbell Dialogue 2006 Participants
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
William H. McDonald
Senior minister, Crestwood Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Peter M. Morgan
Historian-in-Residence, National City Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
President, Disciples Home Missions
Minister, Franklin Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Ecumenical Officer, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
D. Newell Williams
President, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University
Fort Worth, Texas
Churches of Christ
Director, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University
Children’s Minister, Overland Park Church of Christ
Overland Park, Kan.
Minister, Westminster Church of Christ
Involvement Minister, Skillman Church of Christ
Christian Churches / Churches of Christ
Professor of Church History, Emmanuel School of Religion
Johnson City, Tenn.
Executive Director, European Evangelistic Society
Minister, Remsen Christian Church
James B. North
Professor of Church History, Cincinnati Christian University
Professor of Church History / Historical Theology, Lincoln Christian Seminary
Professor of Church History (retired), Milligan College
Johnson City, Tenn.
General Secretary, World Convention of Churches of Christ