The Churches of Christ.
Who are these people?
By Joe R. Barnett
You 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?
Worldwide 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 thousand members.
The 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.
While 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
Members of churches of Christ are a people of restoration spirit–wanting to restore in our time the original New Testament church.
Dr. 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.
The 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.
In 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)?
-Why 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.
They emphasized that going back to the Bible does not mean the establishment of another denomination, but rather a return to the original church.
Members 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.
We 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 blueprint.
Not A Denomination
For 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.
And 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.
We 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
Since 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 should teach.
And 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.
We 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).
We 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.
So 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
Churches 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 organization.
Each 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.
There 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.
Each 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
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.
To 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.
In 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).
The five items of worship observed by the first-century church were singing, praying, preaching, giving, and eating the Lord’s Supper.
If 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.