(Hint: I am NOT “Church of Christ. “)
Today’s edition of “News & Views” is intended to summarize what I have been writing about for the last few weeks. It is about twice as long as most editions, and I gave serious thought to making it a two-part installment, but I think the impact of what I have to say would be reduced if I broke it in two separate installments. Therefore, I hope you will spend the few extra minutes necessary to reading today’s edition in its entirety.
Like others who are of my religious convictions, I have many family members and friends who do not share those convictions, and who, I have reason to believe, do not clearly understand my religious stance or why I take it. It is especially to these family members and friends of various religious (or even non-religious) persuasions, as well as all the loyal readers of these “News & Views,” that I wish to kindly and lovingly present these thoughts, intended to explain as simply as possible why I occupy the religious position that I do.
I profess to be only a Christian, a follower (disciple) of Christ. Having done what I understand the New Testament teaches one must do to be saved (forgiven of sins) and enter a right relationship with God, I affirm that I am only a member of the body of Christ, His church, butI do not claim to be a member of any denomination.
The Bible teaches that when one comes to faith in Christ as God’s Son, acknowledges that faith with an open confession of such, repents of all sins, and is baptized for the remission of sins, that person is saved and added to the church. (The following scriptures regarding the human response to God’s saving grace need to be carefully studied: Ephesians 2:1-10; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 5:8-9; Acts 2:36-47; Romans 6:1-6; 2 Corinthians 5:17, as well as such corollary passages as Matthew 7:21-23; 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 17:30-31; Romans 10:10; Acts 8:26-40; et al).
I have done what is enjoined in the above passages. The Lord has added me to His body, the church (Acts 2:47; Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). I am a member of a local church composed of other people who have done what I did. We are an independent, autonomous (self-governing) congregation under the rule of Christ, the only head of the church. There are many of these congregations scattered around the world, and among them there is much love, fellowship, and mutual respect, but there is no organic connection between them. They have not organized themselves into synods, conferences, or dioceses, with a religious official over them. They do not constitute a denomination with various layers of overseers who issue declarations regarding what these congregations must believe and practice. Each church is independent of the other, free to read, study, and practice the teaching of Christ and His apostles as set forth in the New Testament without the interference and intervention of any religious hierarchy. These congregations have no creed book, church manual, or catechism.
These congregations strive to be simple churches of Christ such as we read of in the New Testament (Romans 16:16), but they do not seek to be affiliated with any denomination or to achieve denominational status for themselves. Rather, they strive to maintain their own independence and autonomy under the oversight of Christ the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25; 5:4).
Therefore, when I say that I am a member of the church of Christ, I am not saying that I am a member of a denomination that has taken “Church of Christ” as its official name. I am only saying that I am a member of the spiritual body of Christ. The church spoken of in the New Testament was not a denomination, and it had no one, official, restrictive, patented “name. “It is significant that in no English translation of the New Testament is the word “church” ever capitalized as if it were a proper name. Thus, when I speak of the church of Christ I understand the phrase to be descriptive of the church, not the “name” of the church. I endeavor never to speak of the church of Christ as though I am referring to a religious group that is less than all the spiritual body of Christ. Biblically, the church of Christ and the body of Christ are the same, and to use the expression “church of Christ” in a limiting, denominational sense is to be guilty of a misuse of the descriptive term.
The church as described in the New Testament is the manifestation of the manifold (multifaceted) wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:8-12). As such it is God’s church or the church of God (1 Timothy 3:14-15), and congregations may properly be designated as churches of God (I Corinthians 11:16). The apostle Paul wrote two letters to “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1), but the Corinthians Christians were not members of any denomination.
The church is the expression of the rule of God and Christ in the lives of redeemed people, and for this reason the church is frequently referred to as the kingdom of God, the kingdom Christ, and the kingdom of heaven. When one is delivered from the power of darkness (freed from the guilt and bondage of sin through obedience to the gospel of Christ), he is “translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). To be translated into the kingdom of Christ is the same thing as being added to the church (Acts 2:47).
Thus, to all my family and friends, I wish to state as clearly yet as lovingly as possible that I am NOT a member of “the Church of Christ” denomination! I am NOT “Church of Christ” in my religious persuasion! I am NOT a “Church of Christ-er”! These expressions reflect a denominational concept of Christ’s church, and do not accurately reflect my religious convictions. I am no more “Church of Christ” in my religious beliefs than I am “Church of God,” or “Body of Christ,” or “Kingdom of Heaven” in my religious beliefs. It would be just as appropriate for others to call me a “Church of God-er,” a “Body of Christ-er,” or a “Kingdom of Heaven-er” as it is for them to call me a “Church of Christ-er”! In reality, I am none of these.
Again, I must point out that in no instance in the New Testament are any of these terms capitalized and used in a denominational sense. To take one of these descriptive terms church of Christ and turn it into a restrictive, denominational name is unwarranted by Scripture. To do so is to be guilty of reflecting a misinformed however unintended understanding of my religious stance, and a decidedly uninformed understanding of New Testament teaching regarding the church.
Such misunderstanding is based on the notion that “Alexander Campbell started the Church of Christ. “In days past, members of the church of Christ were frequently called “Campbellites.”I disavow being a Campbellite. I disavow being a member of a church allegedly started by Alexander Campbell. One needs to study the life and work of Campbell to see what he was really about, and to see that he was not concerned with starting “another church (denomination). ” His interest and that of a host of others was in going back to the New Testament and restoring the church that Christ established (Matthew 16:18), using the New Testament alone as the guide and pattern to determine how one is saved and added to the church, how the church is to be organized, how the church is to worship, and how members of the church (Christians) are to live.
The Christians of whom we read in the New Testament were all members of the spiritual body (church) of Christ, but they were not members of any denomination! I strive to occupy that same undenominational position today. I repeat: I am a Christian, a disciple of Christ, a member of Christ’s spiritual body/church, a citizen in Christ’s kingdom. But I have never joined any denomination! I worship and serve with a local congregation of people who are Christians only. We have no denominational affiliation and strive to be free of all sectarianism and human creeds. I humbly invite all of my family and friends to a better understanding of my religious convictions, and to a sincere consideration of what I humbly believe to be the biblical way of serving the Lord.
July 17, 2012