INTRODUCING THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
The church came into sharp focus two thousand years ago with the promise of Jesus to build it - "upon this rock I will build my church". (Matthew 16:18) It came to the attention of thousands when, about ten days after Christ 's ascension, it is said: " And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts 2:47), indicating the church was no longer a promise, but a reality on the Pentecost following Christ's ascension. On its birthday there were no less than three thousand members and shortly thereafter the number increased to at least five thousand men. Efforts to stamp it out seemed to help it grow. It has been said the blood of martyrs became the seed of the church. The greatness of the church is further enhanced by the fact that Jesus Christ is its builder, purchaser, head and Savior.
But what is the "Church of Christ" of our day? What connection has it with the church the Lord promised and built? Is it no more than another denomination among the already hundreds now existing? Some find it easy, almost necessary, to think in terms of denominationalism since around them are hundreds of different bodies claiming faith in Christ yet wearing various names, writing various creeds and preaching various doctrines. Each new denomination that is born generally claims to be equally a part of the church Christ promised and built nearly two thousand years ago. Is the church of Christ of our day no different? Why are there churches of Christ? If they are in any way different in what way or ways are they different?
To learn the facts we need first to consider the New Testament church, the one discussed in God's word and to learn of it we must turn to the Bible. There we learn the Lord PROMISED to build the church, His church: "Upon this rock I will build my church." (Matt. 16:18) He promised it. He would build it. It would be His.
Next, we learn of its cost. It was bought-paid for, with the precious blood of Christ. (Acts 20:28) The only organization ever purchased with the shed blood of Christ was His own church. Certainly it is foolish for anyone to suggest the church is unimportant and nonessential in view of the tremendous price paid for it.
Then, we read of the BEGINNING of Christ's church on the day of Pentecost, when the apostles were gathered in Jerusalem, about ten days after Jesus ascended on high. On that day, when the apostles were baptized with the Spirit, they preached the good news of the way provided by the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. And, for the first time, the apostles urged alien sinners to repent and be baptized to obtain the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38), and for the first time we read of the church in existence. Men were being added to this newborn body. (Acts 2:47).
The Lord did not promise to build nor did He build a meetinghouse. The church He promised was not made of brick and mortar but of human beings. The word "church" refers properly to the people rather than to the place where they meet. The Bible nowhere speaks of a meetinghouse as a church although we sometimes do, by accommodation. We also speak of school buildings as a school yet, strictly speaking, "school" refers to people, teacher and pupils. There could be a school in an open field without buildings. Strictly speaking the word "church " refers to people rather than to the place where they meet.
How did men become members of the New Testament church? When they learned they were lost they asked what they must do. Peter told them to repent and to be baptized for the remission of their sins. This they did and upon obtaining remission of sins the Lord added them to His body of saved people, the church. (Acts 2:47) He counted them as His. He made them a part of His group. This group is none other than His church.
The Bible plainly says the church is the "body" of Christ. (Col. 1:18) How is this? By the body is meant that group of people who belong to the Lord because they obeyed the Lord and were thereby saved and came to belong to Him in a very special way. We sometimes speak of a group of people as a "body" as when we say, "We are coming in a body." We mean we are going to attend as a group. Jesus has a group of people that belong to Him. They make up his body. They are those who have obeyed Him and have thereupon and thereby been saved. These He adds to His body, His church.
What can we conclude? The New Testament church was the church that was promised, purchased and built by Christ. It began operation on Pentecost nearly two thousand years ago. Before the New Testament came to a close, inspired writers outlined its organization and described its work and its growth and its influence and predicted its future. It was real. It was of divine design and origin and it was composed of all who had obeyed the simple gospel, who recognized Christ as their only head and the word of God as their only creed.
But what does the "Church of Christ" of this twentieth century have to do with the New Testament church? I would have you consider the possibility - yes, the reality, of a church existing today that is not really new in that it is exactly the same kind of church that began on the day of Pentecost two thousand years ago, that is organized the same way, that recognizes the same head, that is guided by the same truth and that preaches the same gospel and that practices the same things. This is exactly what members of the Church of Christ of this century think of it. They do not consider the Church of Christ of this century to be a new church. They do not think of it as a denomination. They think of it as the original church of the New Testament reproduced in this twentieth century.
To understand why they take this position we need to see what the Bible says on the importance of heeding the word of God alone and of holding to the one church it discusses.
From the scriptures we learn that truth and truth alone is acceptable to God. God cannot lie nor does He approve a lie. Souls will be lost for misrepresenting other men and souls will be lost just as quickly for misrepresenting God. Men must know the truth for it will make them free. (John. 8:32) The word of God is true. (John 17: 17) It is right. Anything that contradicts it is error. It is a tragedy to believe error. One can be lost by believing a lie. (2 Thess. 2:10-12) Jesus warned of following blind guides (Matt. 15:14), and said men worship in vain who have for their doctrines the commandments of men. (Matt. 15:9)
Paul also said, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8) Thus, a man can be lost for simply preaching "any other gospel." It isn't charitable to mislead honest souls and it isn't broadminded to compromise the word of God, nor is it narrow to insist on obeying the Word of God only.
The Bible is God's word. There can be no higher authority on earth. In that it discusses the church what it says is both true and final. What does the Bible say about the church? That there was only one kind in the beginning. The Lord promised only one kind and built only one kind. There is only one body (Eph. 4:4), and that one body is the church. (Col. 1:18)
Nearly everyone recognizes there was one, and only one, in the beginning. Yet, since the Bible was completed there have been sweeping changes made by man. But are these changes in harmony with God's will? For the answer again we turn to the Bible. It teaches it was and is sinful to divide the church. (I Cor. 1:10) To divide it is to go contrary to the prayer of Christ. (John 17:20, 21)
Thus, it was contrary to God's will for men to preach "any other gospel" and it was contrary to God's will for men to divide the church Christ built. Since that time division has become so common it has actually come to be respectable to many honest people, many of whom are unaware the Bible condemns division.
What shall be done? Can anything be done? These are questions men asked years ago. Seeing the friction and grief created by disunity and resolving to seek the right way they decided to test every teaching by the scriptures and to accept nothing that was not taught therein. They came to demand and to give a "Thus saith the Lord" for things taught and practiced.
It soon became apparent they must cast off their divisive human names and let the church become once again the Church of Christ, a designation given to congregations in the scriptures (Rom. 16:16), and acceptable to all. They dropped their party names and once more became Christians and Christians only, this too being from the scriptures and acceptable to all believers. They renounced their human creed books in favor of taking the Bible as their only guide. No longer were they satisfied with a thing merely being "based on the scriptures," they wanted it to be "according to the scriptures." Once again they preached the same simple gospel, pointing out what the Bible teaches and urging sinners to obey it. All who obeyed were then Christians and members of the church the Lord built. This position is in harmony with the scriptures, pleasing to God, and the way to unity among believers. The Church of Christ today is no more and no less than the New Testament church reproduced in doctrine and practice in this twentieth century.
WHAT IS IT LIKE?
But what kind of church would this be? Congregations are independent. They are organized congregationally with local scripturally qualified men appointed to oversee the work of the local church. These men are sometimes called bishops, more often elders. There is always a plurality of elders where such are appointed.
Other men who meet the biblical qualifications are appointed to serve as deacons. These serve under the elders and are generally assigned specific tasks such as directing singing, serving as church treasurer and teaching Bible classes.
The preacher, never called "Reverend" nor given any other title of distinction, has no oversight of the congregation. His work is to preach. Men alone serve in this capacity. Preachers are expected to preach the word of God and to prove all things taught by the Bible. Brethren reject all creeds other than the Bible which they accept as the divinely inspired word of God. The word of God is often taught in the Bible classes conducted on Sundays and at midweek services in addition to the preaching of the word at regular worship services.
Members refer to the church as the Church of Christ, not in a denominational sense but in the same sense in which Paul used it in Romans 16:16. Members often address one another as "brother" and "sister."
The worship is simple and spiritual. Singing is without accompaniment of instrumental music, which is in harmony with the practice of early Christians and the teaching of New Testament writers. Men take charge of services, directing singing and prayers, making announcements and taking charge of the Lord's supper. The supper is observed every first day of the week as a memorial. Members partake weekly and also contribute of their means once each week on the Lord's day.
Preaching is fundamental. Members are urged to live pure lives and to continue faithful to God's word. Alien sinners are urged to obey Christ by believing in Him, repenting of their sins, confessing their faith in Christ and being immersed to wash their sins away. Upon so obeying they are recognized as Christians and members of the church.
Dear friend, is there not something here especially appealing to you? Would you not also like to accept the Bible as your only creed with a "Thus saith the Lord" the basis for resolving every spiritual question? Would you not like to investigate further the possibility of your becoming a Christian only and of then being a member of the New Testament church?
If you have questions we will be happy to try to give you a Bible answer if you will let us know just what your questions are. We urge you to attend one of the services soon and to search the scriptures with us regarding these important matters relating to our soul's salvation.
Haun Publishing Company
Box 3426, Pasadena, Texas 77501