by Wayne S. Walker
“... The churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16).
Non-denominational, New Testament churches of Christ are different from other religious organizations. Even the very terms by which they identify themselves are different. It is clear that congregations of Christ’s followers in the first century were known as “churches of Christ.” Thus, each congregation would have been a church of Christ. This term best explains precisely what it is — a church or called out body of people, of or belonging to, Christ or Jesus our Lord and Savior. Such congregations reject any and all human-given names because they do not glorify the name of Jesus Christ. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). Also, the only religious name that members of these churches wear is “Christians” because it glorifies their Master (Acts 11:26). It is not “this kind of Christians” or “that kind of Christians” but simply Christians.
Churches of Christ are also different in their organization. They are not a denomination nor are they part of any denominational structure. The only organization that God planned for His church in the universal sense is that He gave Jesus Christ “to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). However, local congregations do have an organization, being made up of “saints in Christ Jesus ..., with the bishops and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). Bishops are overseers. They are also known as elders or pastors. In Acts 20:17-28, Paul called for the elders of the church in Ephesus and told them to “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [bishops], to shepherd [pastor] the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” It is God’s plan that there be elders in every church (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). To be chosen by the congregation for the work of being bishops, they must meet certain qualifications (I Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9). These elders are instructed to “Shepherd [pastor] the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers [bishops]” (I Peter 5:1-4). Notice the extent of their authority — “the flock of God which is among you.” The elders of one church have no right to tell any other church what to do, nor does any other outside authority have the right to tell them what to do. Each congregation is to be completely independent and autonomous. Deacons are simply servants (I Timothy 3:8-13).
Again, churches of Christ are different in their doctrine. The word “doctrine” simply means teaching. The source of teaching for most denominational churches is some creed, catechism, manual, discipline, statement of faith, articles of belief, or other such document devised and written by mere men. However, churches of Christ have nothing of this sort because, as is true of denominational organizations, none of these denominational documents existed in the first century. What was the source of doctrine or teaching in the early church? “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17). The primitive church had only the inspired Scriptures given by God through His Son who sent the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into revealing it (see Ephesians 3:3-5). Can you imagine what it might be like if today a church determined to teach only that which is found in the Scriptures without any additions of human opinion, subtractions of vital information, or other alterations? That is exactly what faithful churches of Christ seek to do. “Sola Scriptura” is not just a platitude to which they give lip service but their practice in all matters. “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11).
The work done by churches of Christ is different as well. The Lord gave His church work to do. “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Paul calls it “the work of ministry.” It is not providing for the physical, material, educational, or social needs of mankind. “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). These kinds of things are functions of the home, not the church (I Corinthians 11:22, 34). Rather, God’s work for His church is spiritual in nature. “But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15). Jesus did not tell His followers to go into all the world and feed or educate or entertain or recreate people, but to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). That is the primary goal of the Lord’s church.
Another characteristic that makes churches of Christ different is their worship. Their aim is to “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). They accomplish this when they assemble together (Hebrews 10:25). At such times, they engage in “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). In addition, they pray together (I Timothy 2:1-2, 8). Then they study God’s word through teaching and preaching (Acts 5:42; I Timothy 4:6, 13; II Timothy 4:1-22). And upon the first day of the week, they come together to “break bread” or observe the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 10:16, 11:23-26). Also upon the first day of the week, they lay by in store or give of their means (I Corinthians 16:1-2). The purpose of worship is not to entertain or make people “feel good.” For this reason, there are no instruments, bands, orchestras, choirs, soloists, or other similar performance types of activities. Rather, the aim of all joining together in these simple acts of worship is to be edified while honoring and praising God. “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (I Corinthians 14:26).
Finally, the plan of salvation promoted by churches of Christ sets them apart as different. Undoubtedly, one of the most important questions ever asked was “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30-31). Unfortunately, in today’s religious world, one will get many different answers to that question, depending on whom he asks. What does God’s word tell us to do to be saved? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). However, that is not all it says. It also tells us, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Again, that is not all it teaches. “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10). And that too is not all it reveals. It commands, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Churches of Christ seek to answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?” with what the inspired New Testament sets forth. Why do they do this? Because our Lord and Master Himself said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
Yes, churches of Christ are different. This is not simply because we want to be thought of as odd, or because we enjoy being out of step with others, or because it is our desire to be argumentative and contentious. But God’s people have always been different and looked upon as peculiar. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). For “His own special people,” the familiar King James Version has “a peculiar people.” A lot of people look at our way of doing things as a bit narrow, but we remember what Jesus said. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). With eternal life at stake, we feel that the difference is worth it.