INFORMATION ABOUT THE CHURCH OF CHRIST Adapted from Walter Pigg It must be terribly confusing to young people growing up in the religious confusion of today. Not only are there hundreds of denominations, all claiming to be right, there are also a number of pagan religions active in our country. In view of the current situation it is indeed needful to know much about religion, and especially about the true religion of Jesus Christ. Our religious knowledge concerns our spiritual welfare whereas secular knowledge has to do primarily with things of a temporal and physical nature. Therefore, it is commendable that you are spending this time in the study of religious matters concerning the church of our Lord. This brief description is about the churches of Christ. By the term "Churches of Christ," I do not mean the "National Council of the Churches of Christ." That religious organization is made up of a number of denominations, and the churches of Christ have no connection with it. I will be setting forth some basic facts about the church of Christ, and since a number of these things may be new to you, we would be happy for you to visit our worship services in order to see how our worship services are conducted. But for now, let me call attention to some very important areas of religion that have to do with the churches of Christ.
AUTHORITY IN RELIGION IS MOST IMPORTANT
The source of authority determines the make-up of a religion. If the authority is changeable, so will the religion be changeable. But if the authority is unchangeable, so will the church or religion be unchangeable. For example, there are certain laws of our State, based upon the constitution of the State, which determine how the State is governed. If that State constitution is changed there will also be a change as to how the State is governed. The authority of Christ is unchangeable, as is His religion. The Bible claims to be, and is, our source of authority in religious matters. How many of you have a Bible of your own? The Apostle Paul declares that "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 perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim 3:16-17). In other words, God's all-sufficient revelation is spoken to man through the Scriptures. Christ told His apostles that the Spirit of Truth, or the Holy Spirit, would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). "All truth" has been made known through the Scriptures, and true faith comes from the hearing of the Scriptures, according to Paul's statement in Romans 10:17. The churches of Christ have no man-made creeds, like most religions of today have. The Bible serves as the only rule of faith and practice. If you ask me what I believe about a certain subject, my reply will be: "Whatever the Bible teaches on that subject." We have no man-made religious government, with some power telling us what to believe and what to do. There are no Cardinals or Archbishops. Rather, there are elders, deacons, preachers and teachers, and members. Our directions come from the Bible, and we have no power to change anything the Bible says, and of course, men should not want to change the message of the Bible. Although there is much of benefit to be learned from the Old Testament, it is the New Testament or covenant which is in force in our time. It is the law by which Christians are governed.
WHEN DID THE CHURCH OF CHRIST BEGIN?
When information about the beginning of the church of Christ is sought, one must go to the Bible for that. Most denominations mark their beginning by some date not more than a few centuries in the past, and many have had their beginning rather recently. But the church of Christ is not a denomination. By following the pattern of the church as set forth in the New Testament we are the same thing that existed in the first century. Therefore, we are neither Protestant nor Catholic, but just Christians, as were those in the first century. From Matthew 16:18, we learn that Christ said He would build His church. The Old Testament prophets had predicted the coming of Christ's church or kingdom. Beginning with the Book of Acts in the New Testament we read of the church in existence. It is referred to as Christ's church, the church of God, simply the church, or by some other descriptive term. When the pattern for the church in the New Testament is followed, the same church exists today. From the parable of the sower, in Luke 8, we learn that the seed is the word of God. As an example of what He means, let me illustrate it this way. Suppose a preacher goes into some heathen country where the true church is not known, and preaches the pure gospel. When people hear that gospel, when they believe and obey that teaching, they become Christians. Those Christians make up the church in that place. That church would be the same as we read about in the New Testament, since the same teaching was believed and obeyed. God never intended that there be more than one church. And, Christ prayed that all who believed on Him through the words of the apostles would be one as He and the Father are one (John 17). There are many denominational churches today because men have followed something other than the Bible alone as their guide. If all men would return to the Bible as their only religious authority or guide, and this I teach, New Testament Christianity of the first century would be restored, and we would not see the condition which exists today.
WHAT ARE THE TERMS OF MEMBERSHIP IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST?
The various conditions of membership in denominational churches are unlike those found in the New Testament. As we read the New Testament record we learn that when people heard the gospel, believed it, and obeyed its commands, they were added to the church by the Lord. This is clearly set forth in Acts, chapter two. Those commands of the gospel to be obeyed include faith (Heb 11:16), repentance (Acts 17:30), confession of faith (Rom 10:10), and baptism into Christ (Acts 2:38; Gal 3:27). Christ tells us in John 3:3-5, that entrance into the kingdom or church involves the new birth. The new birth is to be "born of water and of the Spirit." One is "born of water" when buried with Christ in baptism and raised to a new life in Christ (Rom 6:3-4). The Spirit is involved in the new birth in that the instructions are given by the Spirit through the word of God. Whereas men have made their own conditions of entrance into their own churches, the Lord has set forth His own terms of entrance into His church. When men do the bidding of the Lord relative to the terms of entrance, the Lord "adds" to the church those who have done so (Acts 2:47).
ACTS OF WORSHIP ENGAGED IN BY CHURCHES OF CHRIST
Worship is a word which may mean different things to different people. But as the word is used in the New Testament, it has been well defined as, "Acts of reverence paid to God by man." The Hindus of India may show a great attitude of reverence as they bow before their idols, but their reverence is not paid to the true God of heaven, and they are not children of God, or Christians. Jesus says, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Worshipping God "in spirit" involves our attitude, that is, with reverence from the heart. To worship "in truth" limits our acts of worship to those authorized by the New Testament. There are five items of worship set forth in the New Testament, and we shall give some attention to them.
This is an act of worship engaged in by the Christians in the early church. It is therefore, according to truth to worship God through prayer as we have been directed. But there are certain conditions by which prayer must be offered. For example, prayer to God is to be made through Jesus Christ, not to Christ. Paul clearly says, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). This prohibits praying to various people as mediators, since Christ is our only mediator. Under the Old Law there were ordinary priests and high priests. Men went before the ordinary priest, the ordinary priest went before the high priest, and the high priest approached God. But under Christianity all Christians are priests (1 Pet 2:5), and Christ is the High Priest. This allows the Christian to pray to God at any time without any mediator other than Christ.
Singing was another act of worship for New Testament Christians. Paul tells the Ephesians and Colossians to sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). We find no record of early Christians using mechanical instruments of music in their worship, and indeed the New Testament does not authorize or command their use. In fact, it was centuries after the church began before mechanical instruments of music were used in worship. This type of music has its place, but that place is not in worship. We do not have the right to determine what we do in worship on the basis of what pleases us. We are only permitted to do that which pleases God.
When people give of their financial means they are paying reverence to God. In New Testament times people were told to give as God had prospered them (1 Cor 16:1-2). Paul also told the Corinthians, "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7). This is the basis upon which Christians are to give of their money. Therefore, we never use other means to make money, such as selling merchandise, running a business, bingo parties, and such like. The New Testament does not allow us to engage in such means of raising money.
THE LORD'S SUPPER.
Communion is a very solemn act of reverence paid to God by men. We know that Jesus commanded that He be remembered by the observance of this great memorial (Mt 26; 1 Cor 11). The early Christians came together upon the first day of the week, Sunday, to observe the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7). Each individual makes a choice as to whether or not to partake of the Lord's Supper. It is not a "closed" communion. Those partaking of the supper take the bread as a representation of the body of Christ, and take the cup or fruit of the fine as a representation of the blood of Christ.
The hearing of God's word is also an act of reverence paid to God by men. Since faith comes from the hearing of God's word (Rom 10:17), it is very important that God's word be heard. Therefore, the hearing of God's word is encouraged in keeping with the New Testament teaching. Paul told Timothy to "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). Since it is truth which makes men free (Jn 8:32), it is important to hear that truth.
WHAT OF THE PRACTICE OF BAPTISM?
Of the several conversions recorded in the Book of Acts, the act of baptism was a part of every one. This was in keeping with the Great Commission given by Christ in Mark 16:15-16. Jesus told the apostles to, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." We note that Jesus said, "he that believeth and is baptized." Only people who were old enough to BELIEVE were baptized in New Testament times, and we do not baptize those under that age today. It was many years after the beginning of the church before infant baptism was practiced.
A FEW OTHER THINGS IN CONCLUSION
There are a few other things which characterize churches of Christ today, when the truth of God is respected and obeyed. You may find some of these of interest since some religions of today differ greatly on these points. The New Testament Christian doesn't use alcoholic beverages. This is because drunkenness is a "work of the flesh" (Gal 5:19-21), and those doing such things cannot go to heaven. Gambling, which often accompanies drunkenness, is avoided because of the evil fruit which it bears, though the act of gambling is not specifically mentioned in the Bible. Christ is respected as the Head of the body, the church (Eph 5:23). He is the Savior of the church. No earthly head of the church is accepted. Christ is to have the preeminence (Col 1:18) and no man is to be exalted to that position. Preachers of the churches of Christ do not use titles such as: "Reverend," "Father," "Cardinal," "Archbishop," etc. In New Testament times the term "preacher" or "evangelist" was used with reference to those who used their time in preaching the gospel. There is no clergy-laity distinction among Christians. Preachers do not wear any type of clothing to distinguish them from other Christian men. Women have no authority to preach. There are no special days or seasons observed by churches of Christ. The first day of the week is when the Lord's Supper is observed, when people give of their money, and engage in other activities of the assembly. In this sense the first day of the week might be called special, but there is a first day in every week and all are to be observed.