A Friendly Discussion about the “Church of Christ”

A Friendly Discussion
about the

Church of Christ 4

Richard Hollerman

A sincere and loving discussion
for members of the Church of Christ,
based on the Word of God and clear reasoning,
with convicting points and relevant questions
and with an earnest plea for a full transformation
in Christ Jesus.

  • A sincere evaluation of the Church of Christ
  • A Discussion of sectarianism and denominationalism
  • Are only members of the Church of Christ saved?
  • Are any members of the Church of Christ saved?
  • What concerns do we have of the Church?

Are you a member of the Church of Christ? Maybe you are a loyal and committed member of this fellowship, devoted to your beliefs and principles. Maybe your parents and grandparents were also staunch members, willing to sacrifice and suffer to stand for and defend the Bible, as defined by preachers and elders of the Church. I’d like to share some important points that come out of my own experience as well as studies of Scripture and church history.

Let us consider the pertinent question: “What about the Church of Christ?” This is a crucial inquiry to numerous sincere people who hold membership in this conservative Bible-teaching body. For a number of years, I myself lived and labored as a faithful and exemplary member—going to “gospel meetings” and Bible lectureships, studying at several “Christian” colleges, speaking occasionally from its pulpits, visiting over 100 congregations in many states, diligently reading its literature, and earnestly distributing tracts such as, “Neither Catholic, Protestant, Nor Jew” and “What is the Church of Christ?” I somehow thought that the book, Why I am a Member of the Church of Christ was a clear presentation of God’s will. In short, I was very much a convinced and committed member of this devoted religious body. I know this branch of the American “Restoration Movement” quite well and love its members.

In this day of worldliness, unbelief, apostasy, immorality, and compromise in the religious world, it is encouraging to see a number of positive traits in this church. The members generally have been known as good citizens, good neighbors, and good employees. Traditionally, they have been recognized as people who believe, know, and teach the Bible. Their slogan, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak, and where the Bible is silent, we are silent,” is well-known and commendable. Their stand against the liberalism and apostasy of their religious neighbors and the world is honorable. Their efforts to turn from unscriptural denominationalism to the simplicity of New Testament work and worship is admirable. Their opposition to the growing tide of perversion, immorality and degeneracy in this country is praiseworthy.

Yet, with all of these positive features, there are numerous elements that we cannot commend, but must reject as unscriptural and offensive to our holy God. We emphasize at the very beginning that not all of these points are applicable to every member or every congregation! If you are a member, remember that not all that we share may apply directly to you. Further, remember that I write out of a sincere love and genuine concern for you.

Let me mention, first of all, the history of this movement in modern times. Soon after the New Testament era, widespread apostasy, false teaching, and unscriptural practices entered the professing Christian movement, and this greatly altered what Jesus originally wanted and the apostles taught. By the second and third centuries, many false teachings gained favor among professing Christians, and after the time of the Emperor Constantine (about AD 325), false ways, false teachings, false organization, and false doctrines prevailed.

Through the long Dark Ages or medieval period, various groups and movements arose with some attempt to return to the ways of God. Martin Luther, John Zwingli, and John Calvin (in the sixteenth century) attempted to correct some of the abuses of the dominant Roman Catholic Church of the time. The Anabaptists—or Mennonites—arose about the same time, in Switzerland, Netherlands, and Germany, and they attempted to “restore” the early church according to the Bible, but they failed to entirely arrive at their goal. Other “restoration” groups arose in the following centuries, such as the Brethren movement of the seventeenth century and the Pentecostal movement of the twentieth century. These likewise failed to a greater or lesser extent.

Let’s now briefly discuss the origin of what are generally referred to as the Churches of Christ. These independent congregations had their origin in the early nineteenth century, through the labors, preaching, and writing of such men as Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Walter Scott, and others. It was their stated purpose to “restore” the purity of the church as it was conceived to be in the first century, during the time of the apostles of Christ and as reflected on the pages of the New Testament. Because of this aim, this religious effort has been called the “Restoration Movement.”

From this one effort (centered in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia), came three main branches—the very liberal and even anti-scriptural Disciples of Christ (sometimes called the Christian Church), the “centrist” and more moderate independent Christian Church (in some localities called the Church of Christ), and the more conservative Churches of Christ. In this latter category, there are more liberal and “emancipated” churches that are somewhat patterned after Evangelical and denominational churches. There are also more conservative congregations, some of which use only one cup and one bread, who reject located preachers and Sunday schools, who state that women should wear a head covering and have long hair, and may require the use of the King James Version.

Between these extremes, there is the majority of congregations—the mainline groups—that are somewhat homogenous, yet even here, there are probably a majority that are on the liberal end while the minority are on the conservative end. My early experience was in the middle or mainline group of the Churches of Christ.

Regretfully, many of the points that we will cover apply to many of the members of the Churches of Christ. What I write will be shared in love with the sincere desire to help and not hinder one’s search for the will of God and spiritual truth. I always want to speak and write with gentleness, patience, kindness, and, above all, love (Ephesians 4:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Church of Christ 5

Considering the Issues

Let us, therefore, examine a number of points that are true of many members of the so-called “Church of Christ” or many churches within this world-wide body. Although it has been observed that there are some twenty different factions within this movement, many of these are very small groups. Most churches probably fall within about four or five main categories. What follows will be applicable to many of these—whether very conservative or more liberal. (Much of this will also be true of the conservative “Christian Churches” that we mentioned earlier.) We, therefore, are addressing several million people in America alone!

(1) Overlooked Denominationalism and Sectarianism

The Church has become denominational in outlook and speech. The term denominate literally means “to give a name to” and “Church of Christ” has definitely become the official name or title of the individual churches within the worldwide body. (Many informed members are aware of this, yet they continue to use this designation.) What’s worse, such phrases as “Church of Christ members,” “Church of Christ colleges,” “Church of Christ literature,” and the like reveal a denominational perspective among the majority. While rightly rejecting human names (e.g., Calvinist, Wesleyan, Lutheran, etc.) and other denominational names (e.g., Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.), they have taken a Biblical term—“church of Christ”—and use it in an unbiblical way (Rom. 16:16). Some more knowledgeable preachers and writers try to eliminate this denominational use of “Church of Christ” by using the small “c” in the designation—“church of Christ.” But still they insist on using the term to distinguish themselves from denominations.

Scripture does not give an exclusive, sectarian identifying name, either to Christians or to Christ’s body as a whole. Individually, they were simply known as believers (Acts 5:14), saints (Col. 1:2), brothers and sisters (James 2:15), disciples (Acts 9:1), and Christians (Acts 11:26). Collectively, they were known as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27), the community of God (1 Cor. 1:2), the assembly of Christ (Rom. 16:16), the household of God (1 Tim. 3:15), and other nondenominational terms that emphasize either relationship or some spiritual characteristic.

(2) Church Membership and Church Salvation

The Church has traditionally exalted and propagated the virtues of the “Church” and “Church membership” more than glorifying Christ crucified and risen. The emphasis has been “salvation through the Church” more than salvation through the crucified and risen Christ! A virtual “Church salvation” has been the result. Gratefully, this emphasis is presently changing in some circles to a more Biblical and Christ-honoring one.

The new covenant writings are quite clear that Christ Himself was proclaimed as the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12), while His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection were offered as the means of forgiveness and eternal life (1 Cor. 1:18,23-24; 2:2; Acts 4:2; 2:22-24; 5:30-32,42). This was the “gospel” or good news of Christ Jesus (Rom. 1:16). Although it is true that Christ is the Savior of His body and only His body (Eph. 5:23,25; Acts 20:28), He personally remains the Savior and must be the center of the saving message!

(3) The Nature of Saving Faith

The Church generally has made faith merely an exercise of the mind and looks upon it as simply the “first step” of a “plan of salvation.” The mental aspect of acceptance of historical testimony (i.e., that Jesus is the Son of God) has traditionally been emphasized rather than the element of trust and reliance upon Jesus as the Sin-bearer and Sacrifice.

Scripture shows that genuine faith does have the proper object—God the Father (Heb. 11:6) and Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord, and the Savior of the world (John 3:16-18, 36; 20:30-31; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9-10). Our faith is in the One who died for our sins and rose again (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Rom. 3:24-27). However, the sinner must cease relying upon his own good deeds and religious activity and must redirect his humble and open-hearted trust to the grace of God and the Christ who sacrificed His blood for our salvation (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Our absolute trust and reliance must be in the “lifted up” Savior who bore our sins in His own body on the cross (John 3:14-15; 12:32; 1 Peter 2:24). This is a crucial aspect of saving faith!

(4) Genuine Repentance and Full Submission

The Church generally has made repentance something less than a true, full, and heart-felt renunciation of sin and a determination to live fully for the will of God. Often it has simply meant that one sees certain sectarian errors as false and condemned by God. Then, with this denominational falsehood in mind, the person is asked to renounce this and accept the “true church” as God’s plan. Repentance, therefore, has frequently referred to a mental “change” regarding past denominational membership and an acceptance of right doctrine.

Repentance must go far beyond a “change of mind” regarding various denominational errors, wrong though they are. This emphasis has left many members feeling correct in doctrine and satisfied in theology while the basic orientation of their life has not been radically touched. Instead, one must turn away from a self-orientation and self-will (Luke 9:23; 2 Cor. 5:14-15), from every known sin (Acts 3:19, 26), and from a love of the world (1 John 2:15-17). He must turn to God Himself, to His dear Son, and to the will of the Father (1 Thess. 1:9-10; Acts 26:18, 20). There must be a fundamental decision to walk in the ways of God rather than follow one’s own inclinations and desires. This reorientation must be there to actually repent before the Lord.

(5) A Balanced View of Baptism?

The Church has rightly pointed out that baptism is immersion and that it is meant only for those who are sufficiently mature to make a personal choice. Further, members have also seen that baptism has a rightful place in conversion. However, the Church generally has elevated baptism to an unbalanced position of prominence in its own right. Multitudes of members have looked upon their baptism as their “contribution” to the salvation process and view the act as a meritorious work of righteousness for the salvation of their soul. Often this act of submission becomes the chief consideration in “conversion”–while faith in the sense of trust and complete repentance are greatly minimized or neglected! Although they deny it, too often this view of baptism becomes a virtual baptismal salvation!

Instead of the sinner’s focus being upon his own response and righteous work, the essence of true faith is a focus on the crucified and risen Christ as Savior from sin. God saves through Christ Himself (1 Tim. 1:15). Nothing that we have done has the intrinsic or inherent power to save (Eph. 2:8-9). While denominational perversions and false teaching regarding baptism no doubt contributed to this over-emphasis upon the act and misconception of its significance, we must seek to view baptism as Scripture does.

Baptism is a response of true faith and reliance upon Christ who gave His blood in death for our sins (Rom. 6:3; Col. 2:12; Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 18:8). It manifests genuine, heart-felt repentance (Acts 2:38) and is “for the forgiveness of sins” (2:38; cf. 22:16) or salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21), in order to enter Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27) and to begin to walk in “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12-13; 2 Cor. 5:17). Yet baptism must never be regarded as a work of righteousness and means of self-salvation! It is merely the “empty hand” of faith and repentance that is extended to receive the “gift” of God’s grace and salvation.

(6) Religious Hypocrisy

The Church has too often been guilty of religious hypocrisy–the subtle sin that Jesus condemned so severely in the scribes and Pharisees. Too often we see an attempt to look good on the outside, but the orientation of one’s life is not on God and His divine will.

Hypocrisy is claiming to be what one is not. When we profess to be loyal to God’s will but conveniently overlook parts of it, we are hypocrites. When we “pick and choose” among God’s commands and would rather follow our own traditions than follow God’s will, we are hypocrites (Mark 7:1-13). When we “major on minors” while neglecting the “weightier” provisions of God’s will, we are hypocrites (Matt. 23:23-24). When we emphasize certain external rites but overlook our heart condition, we are hypocrites (Matt. 23:25-28). God detests the sin of hypocrisy and will judge it severely (Matt. 24:51; 23:13,33; Luke 12:1).

(7) Fervency and Devotion to Christ

The Church as a whole is apathetic toward things of the Lord and the spiritual pursuits of life. Although there are some exceptions to this—people who want to give their all to the Lord and His “Church”—we must admit that most simply are good church members rather than consistent followers of Jesus Christ. Members simply do not have an earnest, wholehearted, fervent devotion toward Christ, worship of God, spiritual growth, Scriptural studies, and fellowship of the Spirit.

The Lord says that He despises a “lukewarm” attitude toward His work (Rev. 3:15-20), and those who have “left their first love” must repent and turn around (2:4-5; Matt. 24:12-13). Jesus says that we must diligently add the fruit of the Spirit to our life (2 Pet. 1:5-11; Gal. 5:22-23). We must be people of prayer (Eph. 6:18) and worship (John 4:23-24) who set our mind on the things above rather than things on the earth (Col. 3:1-4; cf. Phil. 3:13-21; 4:8-9). If Christ means anything, He means everything!

(8) Amusements and Entertainment

Many members of the Church participate in sinful and ungodly entertainment and amusements, such as dancing, swimming, amusement parks, and the like. They have fallen for the “fun and games” trap while their spirit is lean, impoverished, and even dead. In so many respects, they are like their religious neighbors and follow the same unholy pastimes and pursuits.

Scripture says that we are to be holy people (1 Pet. 1:15-16) and not pattern our behavior after the godless people around us (v. 14; 2:11-12). Without holiness of thought and behavior no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14; Titus 2:11-14).

(9) A Pervasive Worldliness Prevails

The Church as a whole has fallen into a subtle but pervasive worldliness and carnality. Television viewing, listening to worldly popular music, following and participating in sports, going to movies, watching worldly videos, playing foolish computer games, reading worldly magazines–all of this and much more increasingly is the rule among the members, including the leadership. Church members delight in the competition and pride of football, baseball, golf, soccer, and car racing—rejoicing in the Olympic mindset. The topic of conversation in church functions often reveals the focus of interest!

(One elder rejoiced in the Super Bowl as a major event and praised a preacher who could play a good game of golf all of his life! Another preacher took a group of young people to the major league baseball game! Another church took the young people to the amusement park, “Six Flags Over Texas”! Another congregation postponed the Sunday meeting because of the famous Super Bowl!)

Scripture warns that we are not to love the world (1 John 2:15-17), be friends with the world (James 4:4), be conformed to it (Rom. 12:2), or be stained by it (James 1:27). Rather, we are to be radically separated from the world and its foolish, frivolous, and evil ways (Phil. 2:15-16; 2 Cor. 6:17-7:1). While we are in the world, we must be separated from the world in our heart and mind (John 17:14-17). We must seek the things above rather than those things on earth (Colossians 3:1-4)!

(10) Clothing and Appearance

Members of the Church often are as immodest and improper as others in their clothing and appearance. They wear revealing and form-fitting clothing, expensive attire, worldly fashions, costly jewelry, and worldly hair styles. In some cases, long hair for men is tolerated, and in nearly all cases, short hair for women is entirely accepted. Women often wear masculine apparel—even to the meetings! Even shorts, bathing suits, high hemlines and low necklines, and other forms of “undress” (especially by the young people), are increasingly accepted, especially by the more liberal congregations.

God wants His daughters (and sons) to be dressed with “proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold and pearls or costly garments” (1 Tim. 2:9; cf. 1 Pet. 3:3-4). They must not incite lust in others by their appearance or demeanor (Matt. 5:27-28) lest they be condemned (5:29-20; 18:6-9; 1 Cor. 8:12). Scripture reveals that nakedness is a form of shame (Rev. 3:18). Men are not to wear long hair (1 Cor. 11:14) but women are required to do so (v. 15). What we are inwardly should influence how we appear outwardly (Matt. 12:33, 35; 1 Pet. 3:3-4). God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7) and He wants the heart to be reflected in clothing that manifests humility, holiness, non-conformity with the world, thrift, and Christlikeness.

(11) Irresponsible Child Training

Members of the Church generally fail to properly guide their children in the ways of godliness, true piety, and the fear of God. Children are permitted to engage in many of the same amusements and activities as those in the world—TV, sports teams, athletic events, worldly rock and country music, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, carnal books, videos, comic books, worldly toys and games, amusement parks, worldly computer games, and much more. All of this crowds out an emphasis on good and godly activities, wholesome literature, constructive learning, simple pleasures such as gardening or pets or building projects, and pursuits that build character and a knowledge of the Word of God. Surely most members fail to have a daily family time of worship and Bible teaching as they raise their children.

God wants His people to teach and train their children in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Parents need to teach their children “diligently” the Word of God throughout the day, wherever they may be (cf. Deut. 6:6-9; Psa. 78:5-7; Prov. 1:8; 4:20-27; 2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). Daily periods of worship, Bible instruction and memory, and singing should be in every Christian home, led by the head of the house. If the father is unsaved, the Christian mother needs to take responsibility to lead her children in the ways of righteousness. Children are to be carefully guarded from worldly playmates and worldly influences (cf. Proverbs 13:20; 1 Corinthians 15:33). All phases of family living are to be centered on God and His Word (cf. Proverbs 1:2-8).

(12) Education of Children and Young People

The Church generally educates its young people in exactly the same way as does the world: the ungodly, humanistic, secular public schools supported by and regulated by the state. In dozens of ways, the teaching, environment, and influence is spiritually disastrous to young and impressionable young children. Some parents may seek to protect their children from some bad activities and influences (e.g. gym classes, sex education classes, dances, etc.). On the other hand, who can control all aspects of the public school environment and experience (teaching of evolution, plurality, secularism, humanism, values clarification, fun and games, sexuality, immodesty, militarism, nationalism, patriotism, relativism, atheism, world religions, and a hundred other false philosophies and lifestyles)?

The few schools sponsored by the Churches of Christ leave much to be desired. “Christian” colleges and universities are, in many ways, not really Christian. Having studied at three different schools myself, I could see this was true. There is a prevailing worldliness, a sports emphasis, much immodesty, often a teaching of evolution, increased denominationalism, and theological compromise.

Scripture says that we must avoid the philosophy of the world lest we be led astray and corrupted by its evil and perverse ways (Col. 2:4, 8; 1 Cor. 3:18-20). We and our children must bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Our minds are to be fixed upon that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and of good repute—not on the perverse and wicked things of the world (Phil. 4:8). Christian parents must not allow worldly teachers, using worldly textbooks, in a worldly context, involving worldly fellowship to mold the impressionable minds of their precious children!

While private “Christian” education in a “Christian” school is a possible alternative, surely the vast majority of them foster the same mindset, lifestyle, and attitudes as the public schools. It may be that “home-schooling” is a viable alternative, for in this way, the parents may choose the curricula used and they can instill Christian concepts into the minds of their children, without restriction (though we know that there are many trials involved with this alternative). Whatever is chosen, children must be trained with a God-centered and Scripture-oriented focus rather than a humanistic one (2 Tim. 3:15-17; Col. 1:18; Psa. 19:14).

(13) Separation, Divorce, and Remarriage

The Church is plagued with the same sins of separation, divorce, and remarriage as other religious bodies. Increasingly, congregations include those who are wrongly divorced, then remarried and living in adultery. The marriage breakdown of the society at large is reflected in the membership.

Scripture teaches the proper relationship between the husband and the wife which should solve many of the marital problems of today (cf. Eph. 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Pet. 3:1-12). Jesus taught that wrongful divorce and remarriage results in an adulterous union (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-12; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:10-16). Scripture also teaches that unrepentant and unforsaken adultery prevents one from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Heb. 13:4; Eph. 5:3-7; Gal. 5:19-21). God desires that couples live a loving, intimate, unselfish life under His absolute direction (Eph. 5:22-33). God’s people should show much love, care, compassion, and material help toward those “innocent” saints who have been cruelly deserted and divorced by their heartless mates (James 1:27; 2:14-16).

(14) Widespread Materialism

Members of the Church are sometimes as materialistic as their neighbors. They delight in expensive homes, immodest and unreasonable furnishings, luxury and sports cars, pleasure boats, costly vacations, brand name clothes, and other possessions that delight the flesh and eyes. They pursue the “god” of money and high income as others do. Surely most fail to even give a tithe (10 percent) of their income to the Lord’s work, when most could surely give far more than this.

Scripture teaches that one’s life does not consist in possessions (Luke 12:15) and that the pursuit of wealth is both foolish and harmful (1 Tim. 6:9-10). The desire for unneeded possessions is idolatry in its essence (Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:3, 5-7) and those who are greedy must be excluded from Christian fellowship or association (1 Cor. 5:11). Christians must “lay up” treasures in heaven rather than treasures on earth (Matt. 6:19-21), and freely share their money and possessions with those in need (1 Tim. 6:17-19; 2 Cor. 8:1-9:11; 1 John 3:16-18). God says that the love of riches and extravagant materialism is an “abomination” or “detestable” to Him (Luke 16:14-15; cf. vv. 1-31).

(15) Spiritual Fellowship in the Lord

Members of the Church know very little of genuine, loving, intimate, spiritual fellowship among themselves. They quite freely speak of sports, fashion, cars, school, and entertainment–but fail to genuinely share in the things of the Lord. “Fellowship” to many consists of drinking coffee and conversing about the latest ball game. Sadly, members often arrive late, depart immediately, and may only meet on Sunday mornings. The practice of hospitality—whether for meals, for lodging, or for visiting—is largely missing. Sadly, members simply do not share their lives with each other in meaningful ways and in spiritual pursuits.

Scripture tells us that the early believers were “continually devoting themselves . . . to fellowship” (Acts 2:42). They encouraged one another (1 Thess. 5:11), comforted one another (1 Thess. 4:18), were hospitable to one another (1 Pet. 4:9), loved one another (1 Pet. 4:8), stimulated one another (Heb. 10:24), and taught and admonished one another (Col. 3:16). True believers are to relate to each other “day after day” (Heb. 3:13) and gather with each other continually (Heb. 10:24-25). God intended that his children have a brother-sister relationship, and express this in the atmosphere of the home (cf. Acts 2:42-46; 12:12). The basis of their fellowship is not sports, cars, fashions, education, or entertainment–but their common relationship to Christ Jesus, their common lifestyle, and their common destiny! Believers in God’s family used their homes for extensive fellowship, hospitality and worship (cf. Acts 16:15, 40; 21:4, 8-10, 16; 27:3; Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; Heb. 13:2).

(16) Earthly Government and Carnal Warfare

Although the Church of 100 to 150 years ago often objected to participation in earthly warfare, the Church today generally freely participates in the civil government and manifests the same nationalistic fervor as other citizens. National holidays, flag-waving and political agendas are frequent. Many openly engage in the military establishment and participate in armed warfare with the enemy–and are fully accepted by the leadership. Defense industries are a source of employment for many members, along with occupations that require armed force.

Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). His followers are not to defend even the right cause with carnal weapons (Matt. 26:52; 5:38-39; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Eph. 6:10-17). Rather, we are to love our enemies (Luke 6:27-28, 35) and do good to them (Rom. 12:17-21). Scripture teaches that we are to pray, pay, and obey the civil rulers–but not bear the sword for them (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14, 17). True Christians are to be known by their peaceful disposition and lifestyle—not their militaristic focus (Rom. 12:18).

(17) “Sanctuaryism”

The Church has too often fallen into the trap of “sanctuaryism”–elevating the meeting place to a wrongful place of prominence. Increasingly, costly and extravagant and elaborate religious edifices are raised—sometimes even including sports facilities and entertainment places! High-steepled buildings with stained-glass windows vie with the sanctuaries of their religious neighbors.

Early believers actually had no “church” structure for some 200 years. Instead, they gathered “from house to house” for fellowship (Acts 2:46; cf. 20:20) and prayer (Acts 12:12). These first saints came together in homes for worship (cf. Rom. 16:5, 23; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phile. 2), where the “shepherds” knew each of the “sheep” and could care for them (Acts 20:28, 31; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). While it may not be wrong for a community of saints to have a building, it often detracts from New Testament simplicity and hinders loving warmth and intimacy.

(18) Biblical Devotion and Knowledge

Members of the Church can no longer claim to know the Scriptures well, as did their forbearers. Rather, there exists an extensive Biblical illiteracy. Television, magazines, and the newspaper too often compete with Scripture reading—and the former usually win! Much is known about worldly affairs, but a knowledge of the content of the Bible is woefully lacking.

Jesus said that we are to “live . . . on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). We must be like the Bereans who “received the word with great eagerness” and examined the Scriptures “daily” (Acts 17:11; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2). Read Psalm 119 for the proper perspective! We are to have a hunger for the Word of God (Proverbs 1:1-7) and a delight in the meditation of that Word (Psalm 1:1-3).

(19) External vs. Internal?

Among the members of the Church, too often external forms and acts receive the greatest emphasis, especially those aspects which arise from the American restoration movement. The heart of complete devotion to God is absent.

Jesus was clear that outward conformity to God’s will definitely is vital and not optional. However, He also pointed out the priority of one’s heart attitude of love, faith, and devotion to God. He spoke of people who honored God with their lips, but their heart was far away from Him (Matt. 15:8; Mark 7:6). He referred to religious leaders of His day: “You too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:28; cf. vv. 25-27; 6:1; 12:35). Our primary need is a heart of overwhelming love for God (Mark 12:28-31), then this fervent love will manifest itself outwardly in submission to His holy will. We are not merely to worship with our mouth, but we must worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).

(20) Christian Compromises

Compromise is the willingness to make concessions that lower Christian ideals, standards, beliefs, and behavior. Sadly, we discover this in the Church just as we find it among denominational groups and religious organizations. The examples are numerous. Evolutionary compromises are found in some “Christian” universities. Ecumenical compromises increasingly abound. One speaker and author, well-known in Evangelical circles, calls for open “Christian fellowship” with those in denominational groups. Most members celebrate religious holidays in one way or another. Many appear to have little regard for the Lord’s day. The majority of young people have fallen for the worldly dating practices around them. Studies even indicate a surprisingly large number who are sexually intimate before marriage. In these and dozens of other ways, the Church has compromised Scriptural belief, Biblical standards, Christian ideals, and holy behavior.

Jesus seeks a body that is entirely devoted to Him. He wants a bride that is pure and true (2 Cor. 11:2-3). He will not accept compromises with the world (James 4:4), with false teaching (Rom. 16:17-18), or with erroneous beliefs (2 Cor. 11:4). He will reject the lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-16). He declared, “No one can serve two masters . . . . You cannot serve God and mammon [money]” (Matt. 6:24). Again, He said, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (12:30). God calls upon those who would compromise His ways, His truth, His word, and His character, to surrender themselves entirely and follow Him fully (cf. Matt. 10:37-38; Mark 10:23-30; Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-27; John 12:24-26).

(21) Salvation by Works

Many members of the Church view salvation itself as based partly on God’s action and partly on man’s efforts. Members thereby tend to rely upon their religious and moral works rather than glorifying the God of all grace. In recent years, some have developed a more accurate view of salvation and works, but the problem continues to prevail in some circles.

Scripture teaches that salvation from its inception to its culmination is centered on our gracious God (Eph. 1:3-14; 2:4-11). Christ crucified is the basis or ground of this salvation (Rom. 3:24-26; 5:6-11). Our deeds cannot be the basis of our forgiveness and acceptance by God (Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9-11; Phil. 3:9; Titus 3:5), although they are the essential demonstration of faith and new life in Christ (James 2:14-26; Eph. 2:10). Obedience of faith and submission to God’s will are needed for salvation (Heb. 5:9; 10:36; John 3:36; Matt. 7:21; 1 John 2:17).

(22) Withdrawal of Fellowship

The Church has nearly forsaken the Scriptural practice of “excommunication” or withdrawal of fellowship. The members generally continue to have association with other members who are openly living in sinful carnality, worldliness, and disobedience (of the kind we have discussed in earlier points), and who refuse to humble themselves and repent before God and others. Since churches do not practice the withdrawal of fellowship of the sinful and worldly, most members do not have a godly fear of God or an awareness of the serious results of unrepentant sin in life. Therefore, a great amount of tolerance is practiced and justified.

Scripture is clear that those brothers or sisters who continue in deliberate sin and refuse to repent or forsake the sin must be excluded from the fellowship of the faithful (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Thess. 3:6-15). Those Christians who sin and refuse to repent and reconcile with their brothers likewise must be removed from the believing community (Matt. 18:15-20; Luke 17:2-3). All false teachers must also be cast out (Rom. 16:17; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; Titus 3:10-11; 2 John 9-11). All of this, of course, must be done with love, gentleness, and patience, yet with a hatred of sin (cf. Gal. 6:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; 4:2), and a desire to see the person repent and be reconciled in the body of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:4-11; James 5:19-20; Jude 22-23).

(23) The Church believes that it is the True Body of Christ

This point needs some explanation for it is easy to misunderstand. Some, but not all of the members of the Church of Christ, would believe that all of their number are actually members of the body of Christ, and the body of Christ consists only of members of the Church of Christ. This reasoning is easy to understand—and there is some element of truth in this, although it is twisted in some measure. Some members (but not all) would tend to equate the Church of Christ (as originated in the early years of the nineteenth century in America) with the universal body of Christ or family of God. If this were so, we can see how one would be required to say, “Only members of the Church of Christ are saved.” However, there are many reasons why this is not a direct equation and conclusion.

Scripture is clear that “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25), that He is “the head of the church” and is “the Savior of the body” (v. 23). We also know that “the church of God” was “purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). There is only “one body” and this body is the church (Eph. 4:4; 1:22-23), thus there is only one “church.”

However, we must not make the mistake of equating the body of Christ or the church (assembly or community) of Christ with the “Church of Christ,” as it is manifested as part of the Restoration movement with origins in the nineteenth century. If we do this, we become sectarian in our thinking, denominational in our perspective, exclusivistic in our focus, bigoted in our attitude, carnal in our outlook, provincial in our understanding, and unbiblical in our interpretation.

Church of Christ 8

Why do we say this?

(1) There were true Christians before the modern “Church of Christ” arose.

(2) There were and are true Christians in other parts of the world who never heard of the American Restoration Movement.

(3) Many members of the so-called Church of Christ have not repented of all their sins and have not truly trusted Christ for salvation.

(4) Many members have not been truly, Biblically immersed into Christ and into His death.

(5) Many have not acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Ruler of their lives.

(6) Many have not had a changed life at the point of their baptism.

(7) Many are very worldly in thinking and lifestyle.

(8) Many have a works-righteousness perspective and know very little about the grace of God in the person of Christ.

For this reason, we must not equate what we know as the “Church of Christ” with the body of saved persons on earth. Although this idea does give the members a sense of security and assurance of their salvation and destiny, it is a false and deceptive security, for it cannot possibly be true. The truth is that there are more Christians on earth than what we find meeting in buildings with a Church of Christ sign in the front. The converse is also true: Many or most members of the Church of Christ must not be truly saved. For both of these reasons, it is misleading and incorrect to say that only members of the Church of Christ are saved and will be saved.

Some preachers and writers see this dilemma and try to overcome it by saying that they are not really referring to the “Church of Christ,” the body identified by this title in the world. Instead, they say that they refer to the “church of Christ” (small “c”), which is the true body of Christ on earth. If this is what they contend, we would agree. But we must make sure that by this procedure we don’t arrive at the same conclusion that we did before—that only those who are part of the “church of Christ” (if this means Church of Christ) are saved!


Obviously, many more points could be examined in our discussion of the religious association known as the “Church of Christ.” Increasingly, the churches are departing from the restoration ideal and allowing the surrounding denominations to affect their life, practices, and theology. Feminism is infecting the church. Moral compromises are affecting the church. Denominational thinking is affecting the church. Large congregations, big auditoriums, big-name preachers, large staffs, large salaries, and community acceptance—all have invaded the church. A vast difference exists between what Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Walter Scott, and Moses Lard knew and what we now experience in the twenty-first century!

As we stressed at the beginning, all of the foregoing comments and observations are not intended to be an indictment of every person who claims to be a member of this Church. We know that there are sincere souls with a heart for God who feel trapped but know of no better way. They seek to labor and teach as best they can, under the present circumstances. They are searching souls, intent on knowing God’s will and walking in it. It is to these honest-hearted persons that we make our appeal (cf. Luke 8:15).

Ask God for wisdom to know His will (James 1:5). Search the Scriptures to determine what that will actually is (Acts 17:11; Psa. 119:104-105). Examine yourself to make sure of your own salvation (2 Cor. 13:5). If you have simply submitted to a “plan of salvation” without knowing what you were doing, you need to respond to Jesus as Savior and Lord yourself. (Note the suggested reading at the end.)

You need to renounce and turn away from all worldliness, carnality, lukewarmness, denominationalism, institutionalism, materialism, pleasure-seeking, humanism, ritualism, formalism, sectarianism, relativism, secularism, compromise, and every other sin and false way. You need to renounce any dependence upon personal good works or acts of obedience as the basis of your salvation and must place all of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the satisfaction for your sins. You need to confess Jesus as your living Lord and express both your faith in God through Christ Jesus and your turning from sin by being immersed into Christ to “wash away your sins,” calling on His name (Acts 22:16; cf. 2:38; 3:19; 26:18,20; Rom. 10:9-13; 6:3-11).

Begin to live a new life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10), full of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), with a supreme love for God and a determination to please Him in all you do (Mark 12:29-30; 2 Cor. 5:9). Allow God to work in you and transform you as you fix your eyes on Jesus and live for Him (Heb. 12:2; Phil. 2:12-13). The kingdom of heaven will thus be yours (Matt. 7:13-14, 21; 25:34). Let Jesus Christ be your very life (Phil. 1:21; Col. 3:4), for in Him alone we have eternal life (1 John 5:11-13; Rom. 6:23). An exciting life of fullness and blessing can be yours when you know God through the Lord Jesus Christ!



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