The Churches of Christ
When one reads the New Testament, it isn't long before he comes across the term "church". The literal meaning of the word in the original language is a "called out assembly". Jesus used it in reference to the global association of those who believe in Him as the son of God (Matthew 16:18). It's also used regarding a group of believers in a specific place (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:2 - "the church of God in Corinth") or a group of local churches in an area - "the churches of Galatia" (Galatians 1:2).
It is important to note that the term "church" is never used in scripture to refer to people of different "faiths". Paul wrote there is one faith (Ephesians 4:5) held by those in the one body (Ephesians 4:4), a term used synonymously with church (Romans 12:5; I Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 1:18). In spite of this clear teaching about the oneness, or unity, of the faith of believers in Christ and the unity of the body (church), there are literally hundreds of groups, large and small, teaching different things about Jesus and the things He wants us to believe and practice. This includes differences in belief and application among those in our own immediate fellowship.
In view of this divisiveness among those who claim to be following Jesus, it is important to understand a few things regarding "the church of Christ":
- The church is made up of those who are saved from their sins through obedient faith in Jesus. Paul addressed Christians at Corinth as "...the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - their Lord and ours" (1 Corinthians 1:2; Note Hebrews 12:23).
- The expression "church(es) of Christ" is not a NAME God wants His people to wear; it is simply a designation used by Paul, referring to local assemblies of Christians sending their regards to Christians in Rome. Christians are not "Church-of-Christers", and I am not a "Church of Christ" any more than I'm a Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian. We are to be Christians, pure and simple.
- Add to the previous fact that other terms referring to the collective people of God are found in scripture: e.g., "church of God" and, most frequently, "church". To single out any one term and use it exclusively as the designation for God's own is to denominationalize that term.
- The church of Christ isn't a denomination or sect of a larger body of religious people known as Christians. Although this is the way many, including some in our fellowship, think of her, the church of Christ spoken of in scripture (and that is all we should be) is under the command of Christ to be a united body of believers. Scripture knows only one church of believers in Christ, not many. Recognizing this doesn't mean we should be filled with personal pride; rather we should be grateful that God gave His blood to purchase His church (Acts 20:28) and calls men - all men - to be part of it.
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
One Builder - Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18)
One Purchaser - Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28)
One Head - Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23)
One Savior - Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:23)
One Destiny - Eternal Life (Ephesians 5:23)
The Spiritual Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23)
The Kingdom of Christ (Matthew 16:18-19; Hebrews 12:28)
The Body of the Saved (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor.12:13)
One Body, Not Many Bodies (Ephesians 4:4)
IS IDENTIFIABLE BY ITS:
Simple Worship consisting of: Singing, Praying, Observing the Lord's Supper, Giving, and Studying God's Word each Lord's Day. (Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor.16:2; Eph.5:19; Col.3:16-17)
In Romans 16:16 Paul wrote of "the churches of Christ" while in Ephesians 4:4 he taught that there is one church. How can both statements be true? Because in Ephesians, Paul is speaking of the worldwide group of the saved, while in Romans he is referring to churches which existed from city to city where Christians in that place labored together in the gospel (the church at Corinth, the church at Thessalonica, etc.).
Revelation 2-3 shows that over time churches that once were faithful may become fruitless and be completely disregarded by God (Revelation 2:5). It is also possible that from the beginning of a particular church, God has never been pleased. How do you know the difference between a faithful and unfaithful church? Consider four characteristics of a faithful church that are often missing from churches today:
- Jesus, recognized as the sole head (Ephesians 1:22-23).
- Identified with the head by name (Romans 16:16).
- Worship in truth (John 4:24).
- Organized according to the New Testament pattern (Philippians 1:1).
Jesus, recognized as the sole head
Any church which recognizes anyone beside Jesus Christ as the head is not a church of which Christ would approve (Ephesians 1:22-23). Churches which receive orders from popes, presidents, councils, conferences, or associations have abandoned the headship of Jesus Christ. Churches in the New Testament received their instruction from Jesus Christ through the apostles (Ephesians 2:20). By the Scriptures, the apostles continue to teach those things which completely equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Ephesians 3:3-5).
Identified with the head by name
The way a church identifies itself, tells you something about them. "Church of Christ" (Romans 16:16) is often used by churches because it identifies them with the head of the church, Jesus Christ. There is not one single way by which a church must be identified, so you can't assume something based on what is painted on the sign out front alone. However, any name which fails to honor the the head Jesus Christ, fails to please God. For example, what does "Lutheran Church" tell you about who is honored? Did Paul ever help establish a Lutheran church in any city? What about "Baptist Church"? Some Baptists claim this is named after John the Baptist. Borrowing Paul's words to Corinth, John was not crucified for you, so he is not worthy of being followed (1 Cor. 1:12-13). Other Baptists say this name is related to their practice of baptism. But is baptism more important than faith or repentance? Why elevate it? These are names and ideas that are the product of human wisdom. If a church began by going beyond the word of God in order to identify itself, what does that tell you about how they make other decisions? Not a good start. Not a sound church.
Worship in truth
It seems that the most attention people give to worship is whether to attend the "traditional" or "contemporary service", as many churches offer. In the New Testament, the apostles taught the church how to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24). What did they teach them?:
- Teaching The study of God's inspired word has always been included in worship to God. In Acts 2:42, the apostles' doctrine, or teaching, reflects this part of the activity of those who continued steadfastly. When a church advocates error, you can be sure that God is not pleased (Revelation 2:14-16).
- Lord's Supper In Acts 2:42 this is called "breaking bread." In 1 Corinthians 11:20, 23-26 this involves both the bread and the cup by which we remember the death of Christ "until He come." The disciples broke bread on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). This is the only day which is given significance for Christians, hence it must be that day which John called "the Lord's Day" (Revelation 1:10). It is odd that most church assemble every Sunday and take a collection every Sunday but only take the Lord's Supper a few times per year. Beware!
- Singing Sometimes the question is asked "Why don't you have music?" To the contrary, we have the same music as the church in the New Testament as they worshiped God—but what kind of music? "I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding" (1 Corinthians 14:15). We sing, just like we read the church did. And because we have no instruction from the apostles to "play" in worship to God, then we don't presume to speak for God and add it.
- Prayer The church has always been fervent in offering prayers to God. Public prayer was an approved part of the worship in Corinth and Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 14:15; Acts 2:42).
- Giving While some may merely view giving as "passing the plate," a proper view of giving understands it to be an expression of thanks to God as much as a song or a prayer. Due to the fact that it is to be done "on the first day of every week," we know that giving is a part of the worship which the church offers to God every week (1 Corinthians 16:2, NASB).
Organized according to the New Testament pattern
Few churches pay much attention to the way that God designed churches to be organized. Probably many people think this is just a detail of little significance. But is the organization that God gave to the home important? May the husband submit to the wife and the parents obey the children? Organization matters! Philippians 1:1 shows that the church at Philippi had bishops, deacons, and saints. And Paul spent some amount of time there preaching the gospel (Acts 16:11-40). Qualified bishops (also called elders, pastors, and overseers) were in every church (1 Timothy 3:1; Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23). Their oversight went no further than the local church in which they were appointed to work (1 Peter 5:1-2). The organization of most modern churches is absent from scripture. Districts, dioceses, and similar multi-congregational structures are the product of human thinking. Likewise the nation or worldwide oversight of popes or presidents fails the test of Scripture. Watch!
This is by no means a comprehensive list but points to Biblical matters that are often neglected or ignored in churches today. As was mentioned above, the name on a sign alone does not indicate the faithfulness of that group, though that may inform you of many things. This article is not intended to represent the teaching of any other congregation. It is written to inform you of what the "churches of Christ" (Romans 16:16) recorded in Scripture were involved in and what we at the Okoh church of Christ teach and practice. Test all things (1 John 4:1)