By Joe R. BarnettYou
have probably heard of churches of Christ. And perhaps you've asked,
"Who are these people? What--if anything--distinguishes them from the
hundreds of other churches in the world?"
You may have wondered:
"What is their historical background?"
"How many members do they have?"
"What is their message?"
"How are they governed?"
"How do they worship?"
"What do they believe about the Bible?"
How Many Members?
there are some 20,000 congregations of churches of Christ with a total
of 21/2 to 3 million individual members. There are small congregations,
consisting of just a few members--and large ones made up of several
greatest concentration of numerical strength in churches of Christ is
in the southern United States where, for instance, there are about
40,000 members in some 135 congregations in Nashville, Tennessee. Or, in
Dallas, Texas, where there are approximately 36,000 members in 69
congregations. In such states as Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama,
Kentucky--and others--there is a church of Christ in practically every
town, no matter how large or small.
the number of congregations and members is not so numerous in other
places, there are churches of Christ in every state in the United States
and in 109 other countries.
People of Restoration Spirit
of churches of Christ are a people of restoration spirit--wanting to
restore in our time the original New Testament church.
Hans Kung, a well-known European theologian, published a book a few
years ago entitled The Church. Dr. Kung lamented the fact that the
established church has lost its way; has become burdened down with
tradition; has failed to be what Christ planned it should be.
only answer, according to Dr. Kung, is to go back to the scriptures to
see what the church was in its beginning, and then to recover in the
twentieth century the essence of the original church. This is what
churches of Christ are seeking to do.
the latter part of the 18th century, men of different denominations,
studying independently of each other, in various parts of the world,
began to ask:
-Why not go back beyond denominationalism 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..." (Acts 2:42)?
not plant the same seed (the Word of God, Luke 8:11), that first
century Christians planted, and be Christians only, as they were?
They were pleading with everyone to throw off denominationalism, to throw away human creeds, and to follow only the Bible.
They taught that nothing should be required of people as acts of faith except that which is evident in the scriptures.
emphasized that going back to the Bible does not mean the establishment
of another denomination, but rather a return to the original church.
of churches of Christ are enthusiastic about this approach. With the
Bible as our only guide we seek to find what the original church was
like and restore it exactly.
do not see this as arrogance, but the very opposite. We are saving that
we do not have the right to ask for men's allegiance to a human
organization-but only the right to call upon men to follow God's
Not A Denomination
this reason, we are not interested in man-made creeds, but simply in
the New Testament pattern. We do not conceive of ourselves as being a
denomination --nor as Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish -- but simply as
members of the church which Jesus established and for which he died.
that, incidentally, is why we wear his name. The term "church of
Christ" is not used as a denominational designation, but rather as a
descriptive term indicating that the church belongs to Christ.
recognize our own personal shortcomings and weaknesses--and this is all
the more reason for wanting to carefully follow the all-sufficient and
perfect plan God has for the church.
Unity Based Upon The Bible
God has vested "all authority" in Christ (Matthew 28:18), and since he
serves as God's spokesman today (Hebrews 1:1,2), it is our conviction
that only Christ has the authority to say what the church is and what we
since only the New Testament 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. We
believe that teaching the New Testament without modification is the
only way to lead men and women to become Christians.
believe religious division is bad. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17).
And later, the apostle Paul begged those who were divided to unite in
Christ (1 Corinthians 1).
believe the only way to achieve unity is by a return to the Bible.
Compromise cannot bring unity. And surely no person, nor group of
persons, has the right to draw up a set of rules by which everyone must
abide. But it is altogether proper to say, "Let's unite by just
following the Bible." This is fair. This is safe. This is right.
churches of Christ plead for religious unity based upon the Bible. We
believe that 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 the New Testament is to add to or take away from the
teachings of God. And both additions and subtractions are condemned in
the Bible (Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 22:18,19).
This is the reason the New Testament is the only rule of faith and practice we have in churches of Christ.
Each Congregation Self-Governed
of Christ have none of the trappings of modern-day organizational
bureaucracy. There are no governing boards--neither district, regional,
national nor international--no earthly headquarters and no man-designed
congregation is autonomous (self- ruled) and is independent of every
other congregation. The only tie which binds the many congregations
together is a common allegiance to Christ and the Bible.
are no conventions, annual meetings, nor official publications.
Congregations do cooperate in supporting children's homes, homes for the
elderly, mission work, etc. However, participation is strictly
voluntary on the part of each congregation and no person nor group
issues policies or makes decisions for other congregations.
congregation is governed locally by a plurality of elders selected from
among the members. These are men who meet the specific qualifications
for this office given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
There are also deacons in each congregation. These must meet the biblical qualifications of 1 Timothy 3. I
Items of Worship
in churches of Christ centers in five items, the same as in the
first-century church. We believe the pattern is important. Jesus said,
"God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and
truth" (John 4:24). From this statement we learn three things:
1) Our worship must be directed to the right object ... God;
2) It must be prompted by the right spirit;
3) It must be according to truth.
worship God according to truth is to worship him according to his Word,
because his Word is truth (John 17:17). Therefore, we must not exclude
any item found in his Word, and we must not include any item not found
in his Word.
matters of religion we are to walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). Since
faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17), anything not
authorized by the Bible cannot be done by faith ... and whatever is not
of faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
five items of worship observed by the first-century church were
singing, praying, preaching, giving, and eating the Lord's Supper.
you are acquainted with churches of Christ you are probably aware that
in two of these items our practice is different from that of most
religious groups. So permit me to focus on these two, and state our
reasons for what we do.
of the things people most frequently notice about churches of Christ is
that we sing without the use of mechanical instruments of music -- acappella singing is the only music used in our worship.
stated, here is the reason: we are seeking to worship according to the
instructions of the New Testament. The New Testament leaves instrumental
music out, therefore, we believe it right and safe to leave it out,
too. If we used the mechanical instrument we would have to do so without
New Testament authority.
There are only 8 verses in the New Testament on the subject of music in worship. Here they are:
"And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" (Matthew 26:30).
" about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God ..."(Acts 16:25).
"Therefore I will praise Thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name" (Romans 15:9).
". . . I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also" (1 Corinthians 14:15).
. . be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and
hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with
all your heart" (Ephesians 5:18,19).
the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one
another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual
songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16).
"I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee" (Hebrews 2:12).
"Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise" (James 5:13).
The mechanical instrument of music is conspicuously absent in these passages.
the first appearance of instrumental music in church worship was not
until the sixth century A.D., and there was no general practicing of it
until after the eighth century.
music was strongly opposed by such religious leaders as John Calvin,
John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon because of its absence in the New
Weekly Observance of The Lord's Supper
place where you may have noticed a difference between churches of
Christ and other religious groups is in the Lord's Supper. This memorial
supper was inaugurated by Jesus on the night of his betrayal (Matthew
26:26-28). It is observed by Christians in memory of the Lord's death (1
Corinthians 11:24,25). The emblems - unleavened bread and fruit of the
vine - symbolize the body and blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:16).
of Christ are different from many in that we observe the Lord's Supper
on the first day of every week. Again, our reason centers in our
determination to follow the teaching of the New Testament. It says,
describing the practice of the first-century church, "And upon the first
day of the week . . . the disciples came together to break bread ..."
have objected that the text does not specify the first day of every
week. This is true--just as the command to observe the Sabbath did not
specify every Sabbath. The command was simply, "remember the Sabbath day
to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). The Jews understood that to mean every
Sabbath. It seems to us that by the same reasoning "the first day of the
week" means the first day of every week.
we know from such respected historians as Neander and Eusebius that
Christians in those early centuries took the Lord's Supper every Sunday.
Terms of Membership
Perhaps you are wondering, "How does one become a member of the church of Christ?" What are the terms of membership?
of Christ do not speak of membership in terms of some formula which
must be followed for approved acceptance into the church. The New
Testament gives certain steps which were taken by people in that day to
become Christians. When a person became a Christian he automatically was
a member of the church.
same is true of churches of Christ today. There is no separate set of
rules or ceremonies which one must follow to be inducted into the
church. When one becomes a Christian he, at the same time, becomes a
member of the church. No further steps are required to qualify for
the first day of the church's existence those who repented and were
baptized were saved (Acts 2:38). And from that day forward all those who
were saved were added to the church (Acts 2:47). According to this
verse (Acts 2:47) it was God who did the adding. Therefore, in seeking
to follow this pattern, we neither vote people into the church nor force
them through a required series of studies. We have no right to demand
anything beyond their obedient submission to the Savior.
The conditions of pardon which are taught in the New Testament are:
1) One must hear the gospel, for "faith comes by hearing the word of God" (Romans 10:17).
2) One must believe, for "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).
3) One must repent of past sins, for God "commands all men, every- where to repent" (Acts 17:30).
One must confess Jesus as Lord, for he said, "He that confesses me
before men, him will I also confess before my father who is in heaven"
And one must be baptized for the remission of sins, for Peter said,
"Repent, and be baptized every- one of you in the name of Jesus Christ
for the remission of your sins ..." (Acts 2:38).
Emphasis on Baptism
of Christ have a reputation for placing much stress on the need for
baptism. However, we do not emphasize baptism as a "church ordinance,"
but as a command of Christ. The New Testament teaches baptism as an act
which is essential to salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16).
do not practice infant baptism because New Testament baptism is only
for sinners who turn to the Lord in belief and penitence. An infant has
no sin to repent of, and cannot qualify as a believer.
only form of baptism we practice in churches of Christ is immersion.
The Greek word from which the word baptize comes means "to dip, to
immerse, to sub- merge, to plunge." And the Scriptures always point to
baptism as a burial (Acts 8:35-39; Romans 6:3,4; Colossians 2:12).
Baptism is extremely important because the New Testament sets forth the following purposes for it:
1) It is to enter the kingdom (John 3:5).
2) It is to contact Christ's blood (Romans 6:3,4).
3) It is to get into Christ (Galatians 3:27).
4) It is for salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21).
5) It is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
6) It is to wash away sins (Acts 22:16).
7) It is to get into the church (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:23).
Christ died for the sins of the whole world and the invitation to share
in his saving grace is open to everyone (Acts 10:34,35; Revelation
22:17), we do not believe that anyone is predestined for salvation or
condemnation. Some will choose to come to Christ in faith and obedience
and will be saved. Others will reject his plea and be condemned (Mark
16:16). These will not be lost because they were marked for
condemnation, but because that's the path they chose.
you are at this moment, we hope you will decide to accept the salvation
offered by Christ - that you will offer yourself in obedient faith and
become a member of his church.