WHAT IS THE
By DON H. MORRIS
Christ only, through the New Testament, has the authority to say what the church is and what Christians should teach.
That is the view of those people comprising churches of Christ. They believe that the church today should be the same as that in the New Testament in organization, name, worship, law of conversion and in principles of Christian living.
Members of churches of Christ believe that the whole structure of Christianity rests upon the divinity of Christ and his resurrection (I Corinthians ).
Because they attempt to follow the New Testament in all things, they respect Jesus as the divine Son of God; one born of a virgin; one possessed of God’s power to perform miraculous works while he was upon the earth; one whose life and death fulfilled Old Testament prophecies; one slain on the cross; and one raised up by the power of God and now exalted as king at God’s right hand.
Members of the church hold that the New Testament writers were inspired of God and believe, therefore, that the New Testament is true and contains the final and complete revelation from God to man (John 16:13; II Timothy 3:16,17; Jude 3).
Members of the church of Christ believe that the old Testament was also inspired; however, that as a part of God’s eternal plan it was only a preparation or “tutor to bring us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24). The New Testament teaches that the Old Testament (or old law) was “blotted out,” taken out of the way, and nailed to the cross (Colossians ). And when the old law was abolished the new and better covenant went into effect (Hebrews 8:6-7; -18).
Following the New Testament as the rule of faith and practice and the Old Testament as example (Hebrews 8:5; Romans 15:4), members of churches of Christ purpose to speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where it is silent. They believe this is the only logical, safe and scriptural way to follow Christ.
OBEY NEW TESTAMENT
To subscribe to any creed other than the New Testament, to refuse to obey any New Testament command, or to follow any practice not sustained by New Testament teaching, they feel, would be adding to or taking from the teachings of God.
The New Testament reveals that God has vested “all authority” in Christ (Marthew 28: 18) and that Christ serves as God’s spokes man today (Hebrews 1:1-2). As the New Testament alone sets forth Christ’s instructions to his disciples, it alone must serve as the basis for all religious teaching and practice.
This is fundamental with members of churches of Christ. They believe that teaching the New Testament without modification is the only way to lead men and women to become Christians.
Members of the
Why not obey Christ only, become a Christian only and remain a Christian only?
Why become a member of a denomination and wear a denominational name?
Why subscribe to any creed other than the New Testament?
A historical view may help to
clarify the position members of the
The establishment of the church, often referred to in the Bible as the kingdom, was foretold by the prophets and John the Baptist; and while upon the earth Jesus promised to “build” his church (Matthew ).
It is evident from the Scriptures,
members of the
Before that day scriptural references to the establishment of the church indicate it as a future event. After Pentecost the church is spoken of as an established institution.
TEACHING OF APOSTLES
The first members of the Lord’s
church, those in the
As time passed, however, the zeal and steadfastness of many Christians waned. Eventually some began to teach and practice things different from the apostles’ teaching.
Such a departure from sound doctrine was forecast by New Testament writers in their warnings against digression. Consider these passages:
“I know (the Apostle Paul speaking) that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts -30).
“…that ye might learn not to go be yond the things which are written” (I Corinthians 4:6).
In spite of these injunctions from the beginning of the second century through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, one departure after another followed until the church in organization, worship and teaching was vastly different from the church of the New Testament.
History records that innovations introduced included:
(1) Church offices unauthorized in the Scriptures.
(2) The creation of a special clergy.
(3) Religious councils to decide matters of organization, worship and doctrine.
(4) Sprinkling substituted for immersion and the sprinkling of infants.
(5) Addition of instrumental music to the worship.
At the close of the Middle Ages many religious leaders rebelled against the ecclesiastical authority and the practices of the Roman church. They pleaded for the full authority of the Bible in matters religious. Chief among these great men were Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. Followers rallied around the reformers, and unfortunately their teachings eventually crystallized into many creeds.
TAKE THE BIBLE ALONE
Thus followed the era of denominationalism, with different groups springing up everywhere, each with its peculiar name, organization, doctrine and practice.
In the late 1700’s men of different denominations, studying independently of each other in various parts of the world, began to ask:
Why not go back beyond denominationalism and beyond Roman Catholicism to the simplicity and purity of the first-century church?
Why not take the Bible alone and once again continue “steadfastly in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers”?
Let us, they said, plant the same seed (Luke 8:11) that the apostles and first-century Christians planted, and let us be Christians only, as they were.
These men pleaded with all others to throw off denominationalism, to throw away human creeds, and to follow the Bible.
They taught that all should exalt the teachings of the New Testament and not those of men.
They taught that nothing should be required of people as acts of faith except that which is evident from the Scriptures.
They emphasized that going back to the Bible does not mean the establishment of another denomination, but rather a return to the original church.
This teaching spread rapidly. Thousands of men and women were converted, many of them coming from other religious groups.
The movement has grown until there are 14,000 to 15,000 churches of Christ. Total membership is estimated between 1.5 and 2 million.
These people use only the congregational form of church government.
They observe the Lord’s supper the first day of each week and in their worship sing without the use of musical instruments.
They preach faith, repentance, confession and immersion as essential to conversion.
They believe that the church is evangelistic in nature—that its mission is to preach the gospel to the whole creation, help the needy, and to do good unto all men.
They assume no denominational names, but are known simply as churches of Christ.
They follow these practices because they believe that in doing so they conform to the New Testament pattern.
They do not regard themselves as Catholic or as Protestant, because they do not believe that either Catholicism or Protestantism existed in the first century or that either is authorized in the New Testament.
An interesting fact is that within the last 50 years in other lands people of various religious beliefs, without any knowledge of churches of Christ in America or any other place, have studied the Bible for themselves, and as a result have left different denominational groups and have begun to worship and teach as members of churches of Christ in America do.
One example is a group in
Churches of Christ have found people everywhere interested in the plea to return to the New Testament. They are now carrying on a vast program of teaching and are making converts and establishing congregations in many parts of the world.
Members of the church accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God. They believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God, that he is the head of the church and that he speaks to his followers today through the New Testament.
In answering questions of religious teaching or practice, members of the church ask: “What does the New Testament teach?”
For instance, what does the New Testament teach regarding the organization of the church?
The only kind of organization or church government in the New Testament is that of the local congregation directed by elders, bishops, pastors or presbyters. (The words are used interchangeably.) These men, always a plurality, are overseers of only one congregation (Acts ). Deacons of the church are special servants who work in a congregation with and under the elders. Nowhere in the New Testament is there an example of one official overseeing one or more congregations. Neither is there an example of a body of officials exercising any kind of oversight over more than one congregation.
So, members of churches of Christ hold that the pure congregational system is the only scriptural church organization. This is not a matter of expediency or religious liberty, but of principle.
Again, what does the New Testament teach regarding the name of the church and its members?
Christ’s followers in the New
Testament are called “Christians”
(Acts ; I Peter ).
Collectively they are often designated as the church. As a group in a certain location Christians
are referred to in the New Testament as the church at a particular place. For example, the church at
The New Testament also refers to
the church—the general body of Christians—as churches of Christ (Romans ), the
Other descriptive phrases in the
New Testament are used to refer to the church.
But no denominational designations are found, and
members of the
Members of the
(1) They pray in public worship because the New Testament so teaches.
(2) Likewise, they teach in the public assemblies because the New Testament offers such examples.
(3) They contribute of their means on Sunday, which the Bible refers to as the Lord’s day, or the first day of the week. And they use as an example I Corinthians 16:2: “Upon the first day of the week let each of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper . .”
(4) They sing in worship. But they use no other type of music, because they find no teaching or example of it in the New Testament, and because they believe, consequently, that doing so would be in violation of God’s law. They read in the New Testament that Christians are to admonish “one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians ) and that this is to be done by “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians ).
(5) They meet on the first day of every week to “break bread,” or observe the Lord’s supper, because in so doing they follow the New Testament example (Acts 20:7). They look upon the Lord’s supper as a memorial of the death of Christ (Luke ; I Corinthians ). They believe that the bread is symbolic of his body and that the fruit of the vine represents his blood (Matthew 26:26-29).
BAPTISM BY IMMERSION
What do members of churches of Christ teach regarding conversion?
Following the New Testament, they teach that conversion includes the following:
(1) Faith in Christ as the Son of God (Hebrews 11:6) — faith which comes from hearing God’s Word (Romans ), and which leads to repentance.
(2) Repentance, because it is likewise commanded (Acts ; ).
(3) Confession, which the penitent believer should be willing to make, acknowledging his faith in Christ (I Timothy ; Romans 10:9, 10).
(4) Baptism, because baptism along with other acts of obedience, is unto the remission of sins (Acts ) and because it puts one into Christ’s body, the church (1 Corinthians ).
Members of churches of Christ teach the one baptism (Ephesians 4:5), that of immersion. The original word means immersion, and the New Testament describes baptism as a burial (Romans 6:4; Colossians ).
Churches of Christ do not baptize infants because an infant has neither the capacity to believe, repent, nor confess its faith; therefore they believe that an infant is not a qualified subject for baptism.
Members of the
NO RELIGIOUS TITLES
They believe in heaven as a place of eternal bliss and hell as a place of eternal punishment, because this is the teaching of Christ (Matthew 25:31-46).
Preachers of churches of Christ do not assume religious titles such as “The Reverend.” Members believe that such titles are out of harmony with the teachings and spirit of the New Testament and out of harmony with the responsibilities and work of a preacher. They believe that the New Testament makes no distinction between so-called “clergy” and “laity.” Too, they believe that the term “pastor” as used in the New Testament describes one who does the work of an elder or bishop—not one who is an evangelist or preacher.
Members of the
Also, Christ’s law of marriage and divorce must be kept. This means that there is but one basis for divorce and remarriage, namely fornication on the part of one of the parties (Matthew 19:9). Members of churches of Christ teach this as Christ’s law and not as church legislation.
Christians likewise are instructed to be good citizens of established government (Romans 13:1-7).
And so, the churches of Christ in the 20th Century have as their guide the same teaching that the church followed in the 1st Century. They humbly invite men every where to follow the New Testament in all things, that they may be Christians indeed and thus constitute the church which Jesus established and for which he died.
(Also please note:
Just because an organization or group of people call themselves “