Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 24, 1963
NUMBER 37, PAGE 3,11c

What Is A "True" Church Of Christ?

Jesse M. Kelley

Quite frequently here of late you read or hear of someone's sending forth a challenge for some individual or church to "show them a true church of Christ." Some have gone so far as to offer a reward to any church whose elders could "prove" that the church over which they were elders is a true church of Christ in every respect; and who could prove that they, the elders, were scripturally qualified, and that they were scripturally selected and appointed to the office. Evidently those making such generous offers for such proof feel that their money is safe. In all probability it is — not because such proof cannot be produced, but because the conception of some as to what a "true" church of Christ is, is wrong. Some have the idea it seems, that in order to have a true church of Christ, it must be a perfect church of Christ one whose elders are perfect men; Whose deacons are perfect; whose members are perfect members; in fact a church that has reached the place in the work of the Lord that it never makes a mistake or does anything wrong. I am frank to admit that if this is what it takes to make a "true" church of Christ, none can be found, nor is likely to be found at any time in the future. I have never known of one like this existing; nor can I even read about one like this in the New Testament. Churches like that are just not made out of human beings, and that is all the Lord had with which to make his church.

There has never been a time in the entire history of the church when is did not have its weaknesses and faults. There have always been those in the church of the Lord who harbored false conceptions and erroneous ideas concerning the church or some phase of its work, and even its teaching in some respects. There were murmurings and the sin of lying in the Jerusalem church; division and strife and sectarianism in the church at Corinth; some in the Galatian churches had been removed from the gospel by those in her who had preached false doctrine; Ephesus had left her first love; Thessalonica was warned to "abstain from fornication" which certainly implied that some there were guilty; Rome was disturbed by divisions among the brethren; Pergamum had those who taught the doctrine of Balaam; Thyatira had those among them who possessed the spirit of Jezebel; and there were the churches at Sardis, Philadelphia, and others with weaknesses and faults just as wrong as those mentioned. Were all of these unsound or untrue churches? Did these human weaknesses in them cause the Lord to label them "untrue"? The Lord rebuked and admonished them to repent of these things but not one time did he say they were churches that were not true.

Or take a look at the church in the last century during the days of the restoration. Was it entirely free of erroneous ideas and false conceptions? Were there no differences of opinion in them? Some brethren today look back at the history of the church in the last century, compare it with the church today and then conclude that the church today is drifting. It may be; but there were things in it in the last century that were not what they should have been, just as there are today. It could be that it is just drifting in a different direction now than it did then. Were those churches not true churches?

Some brethren today delight in quoting Campbell, Mc-Garvey, Lipscomb, and others of bygone days in an attempt to show that churches today are not what they ought to be. It is a foregone conclusion with some brethren that if a preacher today does not agree with some of these men who have gone before he is unsound, and that if a church is not what they said it ought to be, it is untrue. Certainly the men mentioned above were great men — men who loved the truth and the church, but they were not free of their own erroneous ideas and false conceptions. Did that make them unsound? Were those churches of the past century which had dimness of vision and weaknesses which are apparent to any careful student today — were they "untrue" churches? Because a church today may make mistakes and commit errors not entirely in keeping with the conception of some as to the work of the church, its worship, etc., does that make it a church that is not true? Because there may be differences of opinion in a congregation as to the selection and appointment of elders and deacons; the wearing or non-wearing of hats in worship; whether an elder must have a plurality of children, or whether he may have one child, or none — would that make it a church that is untrue? If such things make a church untrue, then the writer has never preached for a true church of Christ, furthermore, he never expects to.

It is our belief that there is a certain amount of sectarianism in every congregation in our land today. Just how much sectarianism a church may harbor and still be acknowledged by the Lord, we do not know. We do know that the church at Corinth had a great deal of sectarianism in it. There was division, strife, and jealousy up there, but Paul never once said it was not a true church of Christ.

There will never be a time on this earth when the church will be entirely free from error. The reason being that there will never be a time when the church will be peopled with anything but people. In the great commission Jesus instructed the apostles to teach those whom they baptized. They were to continue to guide and instruct in the way of the Lord. Why? Because those they baptized were just people and so long as they remained people they would need to be taught, reproved, rebuked, and exhorted. Because they became Christians did not make them perfect, nor were the churches they made up perfect. But those churches were true churches. They were true because they loved the Lord and they loved His word. When error was pointed out they corrected such error. The churches of Christ of the first century had their faults and weaknesses, but they were true churches. Where then may one find a "true" church of Christ today? Look around you a little — there is probably one in the same town you live in. — Newbern, Tennessee