Creating A Polar Star
"You are Peter," Jesus said. "And on the top of the rock of your faith, I will build my Church." Do you remember? The disciples had been cataloging all that people were saying about their Lord, when Jesus asked, "Well, then, who do you think I am?" It was Peter who jumped forward and declared "You are the Christ!" In that instant, Jesus recognized, maybe for the first time, the kind of rock solid faith that Peter had.
If the conversation had been happening some nineteen hundred years later, Jesus may very well have been speaking of Disciples leader Peter Ainslie, rather than the original one called the Rock. Because it was Peter Ainslie who made the simple Disciples of Christ confession - You are the Christ - come to life as the foundational principle of what it means to be a Disciple.
A Virginian born in 1867, and named for his father and grandfather, Ainslie followed his ancestors' footsteps into the pulpit. While known as a great communicator of the Gospel, it was not in congregational ministry that Ainslie would find his true calling. Rather, it was in the wider world of Christian ecumenism - an openness to dialogue with other faiths that he himself would help to create.
In 1910, at 43 years old, Ainslie was president of the national gathering of Disciples. When they met that year in Topeka, Kansas, Ainslie decided to focus his keynote address on the Disciples ideal of unity and wholeness in the Christian community. The address caused a firestorm, and before the convention adjourned, steps had been taken to create what would ultimately become the Council on Christian Unity, with Ainslie as its first president. Peter had spotted the Spirit of Christ somewhere in the assembly and had issued a prophet's call to fulfill the Christian destiny of following the same polar star of unity that had always been the hallmark of our faith.
Ainslie went on to lead numerous organizations in the life of the church and to author over a dozen books, including his Yale Lectures captured as The Message of the Disciples for the Union of the Church. But whether as pastor, ecumenical leader, or author, Ainslie's focus remained constant: the uniting of every person on earth who claimed Christ as Lord under one bond of faith.
By the time he died in 1934, Peter Ainslie III had lived a complete life of service in the church. But his life of influence lives on as Disciples everywhere catch the spirit of unity and stand with every Peter to cry "You are the Christ!"
By Glenn Thomas Carson
Disciples of Christ Historical Society
This article was provided by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society and used here by permission.
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