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?"
In this study I want to answer these questions.
How Many Members?
Worldwide there are some 20,000 congregations of churches
of Christ with a total of 2.5 to 3 million individual
members. There are small congregations, consisting of just
a few members ---and large ones made up of several thousand
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
People of Restoration Spirit
Members of churches of Christ are a people of restor-
ation 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 in 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..." (Act 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
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
We do not see this as arrogance, but the very opposite.
We are saying 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
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 weakness-
es---and this is all the more reason for wanting to care-
fully 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, (Matt
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
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
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);
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 heardquarters and no man-
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.
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
In matters of religion we are to walk by faith (2 Cor
5:7). Since faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom
10:17), anything not authorized by the Bible cannot be
done by faith...and whatever is not of faith is sin,
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
A Cappella Singing
One of the things people most frequently notice about
churches of Christ is that we sing without the use of
mechanical instruments of music..a capella singing is the
only music used in our worship.
Simply 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" (Matt 26:30).
"...about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing
hymns to God..." (Act 16:25)
"Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing
to your name" (Rom 15:9)
"...I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the
mind also" (1 Cor 14:15).
"...be filled with the Spirit, addressing each other in
psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making
melody to the Lord with all your heart" (Eph 5:18,19)
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach
and admonish each other in all wisdom, and as you sing
psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in
your hearts to God" (Col 3:16).
"I will declare your name to my brethren, in the midst of
the church will I sing praise to you", (Heb 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.
Historically, 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.
Instrumental music was strongly opposed by such
religious leaders as John Calvin, John Wesley and Charles
Spurgeon because of its absence in the New Testament.
Weekly Observance of the Lord's Supper
Another 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 (Matt 26:26-28). It is
observed by Christians in memory of the Lord's death,
(1 Cor 11:24,25). The emblems --- unleavened bread and
fruit of the vine -- symbolize the body and blood of Jesus
(1 Cor 10:16).
Churches 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 on the first day
of the week...the disciples came together to break bread.."
Some 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 use that by the
same reasoning "the first day of the week" means the first
day of every week.
Again, 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 member-
Churches 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.
The same is true of churches of Christ today. There is
no seperate 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
On the first day of the church's existence those who
repented and were baptized were saved (Act 2:38). And
from that day forward all those who were saved were added
to the church (Act 2:47). According to this verse (Act
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 our Savior.
The conditions of pardon which are taught in the New
1. One must hear the gospel, for "faith comes by hearing
the word of God" (Rom 10:17)
2. One must believe, for "without faith it is impossible
to please God" (Heb 11:6)
3. One must repent of past sins, for God "commands all
men, everywhere to repent" (Act 17:30)
4. 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" (Matt 10:32)
5. And one must be baptized for the remission of sins,
for Peter said, "Repent, and be baptized everyone of
you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of
your sins..." (Act 2:38)
Emphasis on Baptism
Churches 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; Act 2:38, Act
We 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.
The only form of baptism we practice in churches of
Christ is immersion. The Greek word from which the word
baptize comes from means "to dip, to immerse, to submerge,
to plunge." And the Scriptures always point to baptism as
a burial (Acts 8:35-39); Rom 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 (Act 2:38)
6. It is to wash away sins, (Acts 22:16)
7. It is to get into the church (1 Corinthians 12:13;
Since 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.
Wherever 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
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