|What is the church of Christ?
|The apostle Peter once wrote, "Sanctify in your hearts
Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh
you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear"
(I Peter 3:15.) Christians are admonished to be ready at all times to give
a reason for the faith which they hold.
The above scripture came to mind recently when Managing Editor, Al Parker,
of The Wichita Daily Times, a newspaper published in Wichita Falls, Texas,
wrote asking me to prepare an article on the subject: "What Is the
Church of Christ?" He wanted to include such an article in "a
series of informative articles on the role of religion in today's world"
which he was publishing. When the article was prepared it was also submitted
to and purchased by Look Magazine for inclusion in its series on the religious
beliefs of the American people.
By the very nature of the situation, it is not possible for me, or anyone
else, to speak officially for the churches of Christ throughout the world.
The answers to the questions which follow are, therefore, my own. They have
the added merit, however, of expressing the general beliefs and convictions
of most members of the churches of Christ.
The questions and answers which follow conform to the format suggested by
the above named editor and by Look Magazine. Most, though not all, of the
questions were suggested by them. With this explanation of the purpose and
plan of writing, we are now ready for the first question.
|I. What is the distinctive plea of the church of Christ?
|It is primarily a plea for religious unity based upon the
Bible. In a divided religious world, it is believed that the Bible is the
only possible common denominator upon which most, if not all, of the God-fearing
people of the land can unite. This is an appeal to go back to the Bible;
It is a plea to speak where the Bible speaks and to remain silent where
the Bible is silent in all matters that pertain to religion. It further
emphasizes that in everything religious there must be a "Thus saith
the Lord" for all that is done. The objective is religious unity of
all believers in Christ. The basis is the New Testament. The method is the
restoration of New Testament Christianity.
|II. What is the historical background of the restoration
|One of the earliest advocates of the return to New Testament
Christianity, as a means of achieving unity of all believers in Christ,
was James O'Kelly of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1793 he withdrew
from the Baltimore conference of his church and called upon others to join
him in taking the Bible as the only creed. His influence was largely felt
in Virginia and North Carolina where history records that some seven thousand
communicants followed his leadership toward a return to primitive New Testament
In 1802 a similar movement among the Baptists in New England was led by
Abner Jones and Elias Smith. They were concerned about "denominational
names and creeds" and decided to wear only the name Christian, taking
the Bible as their only guide. In 1804, in the western frontier state of
Kentucky, Barton Stone and several other Presbyterian preachers took similar
action declaring that they would take the Bible as the "only sure guide
to heaven." Thomas Campbell, and his more illustrious son, Alexander
Campbell, took similar steps in the year 1809 in what is now the state of
West Virginia. They contended that nothing should be bound upon Christians
as a matter of doctrine which is not as old as the New Testament. Although
these four movements were completely independent in their beginnings eventually
they became one strong restoration movement because of their common purpose
and plea. These men did not advocate the starting of a new church, but rather
a return to Christ's church as described in the Bible.
Members of the church of Christ do not conceive of themselves as a new church
started near the beginning of the nineteenth century. Rather, the whole
movement is designed to reproduce in contemporary times the church originally
established on Pentecost, A. D. 30. The strength of the appeal lies in the
restoration of Christ's original church.
|III. How many churches of Christ are there?
|The most recent dependable estimate lists more than fifteen
thousand individual churches of Christ. The "Christian Herald,"
a general religious publication which presents statistics concerning all
the churches estimates that the total membership of the churches of Christ
is now 2,000,000. There are more than 7,000 men who preach publicly. Membership
of the church is heaviest in the southern states, particularly Tennessee
and Texas, though congregations exist in each of the fifty states and in
more than eighty foreign countries. Missionary expansion has been most extensive
since the second World War in Europe, Asia and Africa. More than 450 full-time
workers are supported in foreign countries. The churches of Christ now have
five times as many members as were reported in the U. S. Religious Census
|IV. Are the churches organically connected?
|Following the plan of organization found in the New Testament,
churches of Christ are autonomous. Their common faith in the Bible and adherence
to its teaching are the chief ties which bind them together. There is no
central headquarters of the church and no organization superior to the elders
of each local congregation. Congregations do cooperate voluntarily in supporting
the orphans and the aged, in preaching the gospel in new fields, and in
other similar works.
Members of the church of Christ conduct forty colleges and secondary schools,
as well as seventy-five orphanages and homes for the aged. There are approximately
forty magazines and other periodicals published by individual members of
the church. A nationwide radio and television program, known as "The
Herald of Truth" is sponsored by the Highland Avenue church in Abilene,
Texas. Much of its annual budget of $1,200,000 is contributed on a free-will
basis by other churches of Christ. The radio program is currently heard
on more than 800 radio stations, while the television program is now appearing
on more than 150 stations. Another extensive radio effort known as "World
Radio" owns a network of 28 stations in Brazil alone, is operating
effectively in the United States and a number of foreign nations, and is
being produced in fourteen languages. An extensive advertising program in
leading national magazines began in November, 1955.
There are no conventions, annual meetings, or official publications. The
"tie that binds" is a common loyalty to the principles of the
restoration of New Testament Christianity.
|V. How are the churches of Christ governed?
|In each congregation which has existed long enough to become
fully organized, there is a plurality of elders or presbyters who serve
as the governing body. These men are selected by the local congregation
on the basis of qualifications set down in the Scriptures (II Tim. 3:1-8).
Serving under the elders are deacons, teachers, and evangelists or ministers.
The latter do not have authority equal to or superior to the elders. The
elders are shepherds or overseers who serve under the headship of Christ
according to the New Testament, which is a kind of constitution. There is
no earthly authority superior to the elders of the local church.
|VI. What does the church of Christ believe about the
|The original autographs of the sixty-six books which make
up the Bible are considered to have been divinely inspired, by which it
is meant that they are infallible and authoritative. Reference to the scriptures
is made in settling every religious question. A pronouncement from the scriptures
is considered the final word. The basic textbook of the church and the basis
for all preaching is the Bible.
|VII. Do members of the church of Christ believe in the
|Yes. The statement in Isaiah 7:14 is taken as a prophecy of
the virgin birth of Christ. New Testament passages such as Matthew 1:20,
25, are accepted at face value as declarations of the virgin birth. Christ
is accepted as the only begotten Son of God, uniting in his person perfect
divinity and perfect manhood.
|VIII. Does the church of Christ believe in predestination?
|Only in the sense that God predestines the righteous to be
eternally saved and the unrighteous to be eternally lost. The statement
of the apostle Peter, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter
of persons, but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness
is acceptable unto him" (Acts 10:34-35.) is taken as an evidence that
God did not predestine individuals to be eternally saved or lost, but that
each man determines his own destiny.
|IX. Why does the church of Christ baptize only by immersion?
|The word baptize comes from the Greek word "baptizo"
and literally means, "to dip, to immerse, to plunge." In addition
to the literal meaning of the word, immersion is practiced because it was
the practice of the church in apostolic times. Still further, only immersion
conforms to the description of baptism as given by the apostle Paul in Romans
6:3-5 where he speaks of it as a burial and a resurrection.
|X. Is infant baptism practiced?
|No. Only those who have reached the "age of accountability"
are accepted for baptisms. It is pointed out that the examples given in
the New Testament are always of those who have heard the gospel preached
and have believed it. Faith must always precede baptism, so only those old
enough to understand and believe the gospel are considered fit subjects
|XI. Do ministers of the church hear confession?
|No. Ministers or evangelists of the church have no special
prerogatives. They do not wear the title of Reverend or Father, but are
addressed simply by the term Brother as are all other men of the church.
Along with elders and others, they do counsel and advise those seeking help.
|XII. Are prayers addressed to saints?
|No. God the Father is considered the only one to whom prayers
may be addressed. It is further understood that Christ stands in a mediatorial
position between God and man (Heb. 7:25). All prayers are therefore offered
through Christ, or in the name of Christ (John 16:23-26).
|XIII. How often is the Lord's supper eaten?
|It is expected that every member of the church will assemble
for worship on each Lord's day. A central part of the worship is the eating
of the Lord's supper (Acts 20:7). Unless providentially hindered, each member
considers this weekly appointment as binding. In many instances, as in the
case of illness, the Lord's supper is carried to those who are hindered
from attending the worship.
|XIV. What kind of music is used in the worship?
|As a result of the distinctive plea of the church - a return
to New Testament faith and practice - a cappella singing is the only music
used in the worship. This singing, unaccompanied by mechanical instruments
of music, conforms to the music used in the apostolic church and for several
centuries thereafter (Eph. 5:19). It is felt that there is no authority
for engaging in acts of worship not found in the New Testament. This principle
eliminates the use of instrumental music, along with the use of candles,
incense, and other similar elements.
|XV. Does the church of Christ believe in heaven and
|Yes. The statements of Christ in Matthew 25, and elsewhere,
are taken at face value. It is believed that after death each man must come
before God in judgment and that he will be judged according to the deeds
done while he lived (Heb. 9:27). After judgment is pronounced he will spend
eternity either in heaven or hell.
|XVI. Does the church of Christ believe in purgatory?
|No. The absence of any reference in the scriptures to a temporary
place of punishment from which the soul will eventually be released into
heaven prevents the acceptance of the doctrine of purgatory.
|XVII. By what means does the church secure financial
|Each first day of the week the members of the church "lay
by in store as they have been prospered" (1 Cor. 16:2). The amount
of any individual gift is generally known only to the one who gave it and
to the Lord. This free-will offering is the only call which the church makes.
NO assessments or other levies are made. No money-making activities, such
as bazaars or suppers, are engaged in. A total of approximately $200,000,000
is given on this basis each year.
|XVIII. What is the belief of the church of Christ concerning
|Because of the statements made by Christ in Matthew 19:3-9,
and elsewhere, it is believed that marriage is binding until death. The
only exception is in the case of adultery on the part of one of the parties
to the marriage. In such cases it is believed that the innocent marriage
partner is no longer bound by the marriage ties. Divorces, for the myriad
causes known to modern society, are not recognized as scriptural.
|XIX. Does the church of Christ have a creed?
|No. at least, there is no creed in the usually accepted meaning
of that term. The belief of the church is stated fully and completely in
the Bible. There is no other manual or discipline to which the members of
the church of Christ give their allegiance. The Bible is considered as the
only infallible guide to heaven.
|XX. How does one become a member of the church of Christ?
|In the salvation of man's soul there are two necessary parts:
God's part and man's part. God's part is the big part, "For by grace
ye have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the
gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory" (Eph. 2:8-9).
The love which God felt for man led him to send Christ into the world to
redeem man. The life and teaching of Jesus, the sacrifice on the cross,
and the proclaiming of the gospel to men constitute God's part in salvation.
Though God's part is the big part, man's part is also necessary if man is
to reach heaven. Man must comply with the conditions of pardon which the
Lord has announced. Man's part can be clearly set forth in the following
(1) Hear the Gospel. "How then shall they call on him in whom
they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have
not heard? and how shell they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14).
(2) Believe. "And without faith it is impossible to be wellpleasing
unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he
is a rewarder of them that seek after him" (Hebrews 11:6).
(3) Repent of past sins. "The times of ignorance therefore God
overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent"
(4) Confess Jesus as Lord. "Behold here is water; what doth
hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, if thou believeth with all thy
heart thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ
is the Son of God" (Acts 8:36-37).
(5) Be baptized for the remission of sins. "And Peter said unto
them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ
unto the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy
Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
(6) Live a Christian life. Ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood
a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth
the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous
light" (1 Peter 2:9).
Now that you are aware of a church in the twentieth century which is built
according to the blue prints of Christ's original church, why not become
a member of it? In becoming a member of it you will be called upon to do
nothing which you cannot read in the New Testament. You will then live and
worship just as the apostle-guided Christians of the first century did.
Not only is this return to New Testament Christianity a wonderful basis
upon which all believers in Christ can unite, it is absolutely solid ground,
If we do just what our Lord commanded we know that our salvation is certain.
Come with us as we go back to the Bible, back to Christ and his church!
"What is the Church of Christ?" by Batsell Barrett Baxter, Copyright © Haun Publishing Company.
Reprinted by permission.
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