A Question of Faith: A History of the New Zealand Christian Pacifist Society
They shared a core and absolute belief, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, that war was a moral and ethical sin.
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David Grant, New Zealand's foremost author on this topic, draws on his personal interviews with members from the s onwards and extensive other research to tell the stories of these committed men and women, and of the organisation they formed. He also provides a valuable survey of other peace organisations that arose in New Zealand from World War 1 onwards and their inter-relationships with the Christian Pacifist Society.
Like those before him he faced certain arrest and imprisonment. When he later wrote on why he tried to attempt the improbable he began his explanation by stating that it was, "simply a question of faith. Their beliefs led many members to publicly protest and speak out in street meetings against World War II for which some were jailed.
Although having no official status, these meetings provided opportunity for a limited but continuing ecumenical dialogue. Their doctrinal stance, in repudiation of ecclesiastical organization, prevents members of both the Churches of Christ and the Undenominational Fellowship of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ from official participation in general ecumenical gatherings. Alexander Campbell summarized his theology in The Christian System , the most influential book in shaping Disciples thought.
In it he outlined a commonsense biblical doctrine against the complex theories of the schools and the sects. He emphasized reliance on the Bible and insisted on going to the sources. Debates on these issues, as well as on the damnation of unbaptized infants, which Disciples denied, led them to think of themselves as anti-Calvinist.
The general framework of their thought nevertheless followed Reformed Calvinist lines, modified by the influence of British Independents the originally Scottish Glasites—or Sandemanians—in practice a strictly New Testament sect, and the Congregationalists. Disciples shared the orthodox Protestant emphasis on the authority of Scripture.
Their classic biblical position differs from that of other Protestants in being a product of the early 19th rather than of the 16th or 17th century. Early Disciples understood their uniqueness to lie in the rigour, precision, and simplicity with which they set forth the biblical basis for the unity of all Christians.
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Only explicit apostolic teaching or precedent belonged in the realm of faith, of the essential; all else, however logical or helpful, fell in the area of opinion and consequently of Christian liberty. Thus they rejected creeds as tests of fellowship; they believed such tests usurped the sole authority of the New Testament and set forth demands not found there. After fruitless attempts to derive a stated order of worship from the New Testament, Disciples settled into an informal but relatively stable pattern composed of hymns, extemporaneous prayers, Scripture, sermon, and breaking of bread.
Except for its omission of the Decalogue, the public confession of sin, and the creed, it resembled classic Reformed or Presbyterian worship, especially in its austerity of spirit. In the second half of the 19th century it took over more of the mood of popular revivalism, which still prevails among Churches of Christ and the independent Christian Churches. At the table two local elders presided, one offering a prayer of thanksgiving for the bread and the other for the cup. The minister now commonly presides, but the elders ordinarily offer the prayers.
Christian Worship: A Service Book , a semiofficial manual for voluntary use, exerted wide influence in restoring and stabilizing the typical pattern, with an emphasis on use of scriptural sentences throughout.
New Zealand Christian Pacifist Society
Campbell saw the biblically authorized ministry as that of elders and deacons, ordained by the congregations, and of evangelists, who served the church at large. Since the s congregations have commonly elected women to diaconate and eldership, and Disciples have long ordained women as ministers. By the s fully one-third of their seminarians were women. Since restructure, the General Assembly has established policies and criteria for the order of ministry, which are interpreted and applied by regional commissions.
The divisions in the movement expressed varying attitudes toward Scripture as the norm of faith and practice: Churches of Christ construing it strictly, Disciples more loosely. Many who introduced organs in worship held the same view of biblical authority as those who refused to do so; their interpretation simply led to a different conclusion about the use of musical instruments in apostolic times.
Beginning in the early 19th century as a revolution occurred in the scholarly understanding of the biblical documents and the nature of their authority, the Churches of Christ generally held steadfastly to older views of Scripture, as the independents also tended to do, while Disciples accepted the approach of critical scholarship.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the most influential Disciples scholar was J. McGarvey, a champion of the traditional doctrines and view of the Bible and an opponent of the musical instrument in worship. Early in the century Herbert L. Willett, E. Ames, and C. Morrison led in a liberal reformulation of the plea, emphasizing a pragmatic and reasonable approach to faith, the repudiation of creeds, an openness to the scientific world view, and a commitment to Christian unity.
Neoorthodoxy held less appeal for most Disciples, but William Robinson gained attention for his emphasis on biblical doctrine. With the rapid growth of seminaries and religion faculties and extensive ecumenical involvement, Disciples enjoyed a theological renaissance in the s. During the heyday of biblical theology some of them worked out a contemporary formulation of the tradition within the ecumenical context.
A Panel of Scholars, appointed by two of the national agencies, published three volumes of papers in reflecting the new mood. The institutional developments leading to restructuring were accompanied by a reformulation of the doctrine of the church. The founders had spoken of the Church of Christ as a local congregation; they recognized no other organization as a church.
The new generation of Disciples could no longer deny the churchly character of the institutions that had been developed.
The Design speaks of three manifestations of the Christian Church—congregational, regional, general United States and Canada. The name that they adopted—the Christian Church Disciples of Christ —they found to have been dictated by their history. They gave a cordial reception to the World Council of Churches document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry , even while recognizing problems posed by their eldership for the emerging consensus.
In the immediate decades after restructure no major theological controversy arose. Resurgent Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism on the larger scene had little impact. On social questions Disciples have held positions characteristic of the American denominations of English background. With regard to the issue of slavery Campbell prevented schism by admitting that Scripture and civil law permitted slavery, though, as a matter of personal opinion, he favoured emancipation.
During the Civil War a number of leading Disciples, especially in the Border States, espoused pacifism on biblical grounds. In the second half of the 20th century, though a moderate conservatism obtained at the grassroots, ministers, seminaries, general units, and General Assembly placed social issues high on their agenda, with vocal sympathy for liberation theology.
In the General Assembly called for a 20 percent presence of ethnic minorities on church policy-making bodies, even though the combined number of Native American, black, Hispanic, and Asian-American Disciples fell well below that figure. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles.
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