The Disciple Newsletter
A Newsletter for the Serious Religious Christian
By H. Bruce Stokes, Ph.D.
The purpose of denominational affiliation is two-fold. First, it acknowledges that a congregation, though autonomous, is part and only part of the people of God. Denominational affiliation assists a local congregation in expressing where, within the larger religious community, they fit doctrinally and liturgically. Secondly, it provides a local congregation with networking and resources for ministry that would often require duplication of effort and reduction of available resources. For example, mission participation can be accomplished through denominational connections that might not be available to the individual congregation.
The Biblical People of God
The people of God, from a Biblical point of view, include Jews and Gentiles. The History of Israel is an example of God's faithfulness to His chosen people. The Scriptures also teach that God has called unto Himself people from all the nations. The Church, as expressed in the New Testament, involves Jews and Gentiles in one Body of the Messiah. Today, as a result of the major historical rift between Judaism and Christianity, the people of God are more often divided. Therefore, to show the unity between Judaism and Christianity, and between Jews and Gentiles who share a common Biblical faith, the DiscipleCenter has chosen to express this unity through its choice of denominational affiliation. It is not possible, or desirable, to try to unite all branches of Judaism as the sum of Israel, with the Christian Denominations as Gentile Christianity into one organized religion. The history of both religions and the misunderstandings between Christians and Jews cannot be simply ignored. But symbolic and representative expressions of the unity of the Biblical faith can be expressed by connecting to representative organizations.
To accomplish this, the DiscipleCenter has established cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. This large Christian denomination provides connection with the mainstream of Christianity under a Free Church structure that allows for the individual congregation to struggle with Biblical faith and practice. Though not representative of all Catholic, Orthodox, or Reformed traditions, the Baptist tradition has been and is influenced by each of these Christian communities. The DiscipleCenter can be viewed as baptistic in its local autonomy, adherence to the Scriptures as foundational to all faith and practice, and in protecting the individual conscience before God.
But the connection to Christianity alone is incomplete for the identity and expression of faith as understood by the members of the DiscipleCenter. The underpinning of the Gospel is the Torah. The context of the early church is the synagogue. The Body of the Messiah is made up of both Jew and Gentile. The Gentile believers are grafted into the root along side the Jewish branches and become part of the commonwealth of Israel. This cannot be expressed by connection to a Christian denomination alone. It is therefore the desire of the DiscipleCenter to also affiliate with the Messianic Movement inasmuch as the movement seeks to establish an authentic, Biblical Judaism that is connected to the Jewish people and Rabbinical Judaism, but maintains a distinct confession of Yeshua as the promised Messiah. Because the organized messianic movement must guard the Jewish integrity of its identity, direct membership by a predominantly Gentile congregation would be both confusing and counter-productive. Therefore, the DiscipleCenter has determined to participate with the Messianic Movement primarily through the Association of Messianic Believers and its parent organization, the International Messianic Alliance and where possible, other organizations such as the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. We are messianic in that we believe the Gospel, being of the Jews, is, first to the Jew and is never intended to be a vehicle of assimilation or replacement of the Jews as God's chosen people. In addition, the DiscipleCenter is committed to bless the descendants of Abraham, whether secular or religious, as a statement of our awareness that the promises and calling of God to Israel have never been removed or replaced.
Benefits and responsibilities of Denominational Affiliation
By connecting to Christians and Jews, and investigating the scholarship and traditions of Judaism and Christianity, the DiscipleCenter seeks to glean, as much as possible, the foundational faith and practices that were part of first century Nazarene Judaism and primitive Christianity. Informed by the two great Judeo-Christian religious traditions, we seek to express an authentic Biblical faith that tests all things and holds to that which is good, and Biblical religious practice that maintains the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. By affiliation with both historical and contemporary approaches to this faith and practice, we may help others, and be helped in our own spiritual journey.