Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 11, 1969
NUMBER 19, PAGE 1-3a

What Is The "Church Of Christ"?

Sewell Hall

The report has been widely circulated that members of the church of Christ think they are the only ones who are right, the only ones going to heaven, and that all others are bound for hell. The first impression in the mind of the average person is that this is a claim by one little denomination to superiority over all others and to some kind of special connection with God. It is understandable that such a claim would be considered the ultimate in bigotry and narrow-mindedness. It is regrettable that such impressions have so often gone without correction.

Sometimes these impressions have remained because members of the church of Christ have been unwilling or unable to clarify their position. In other instances, persons hearing the charges have turned away in disgust, refusing to hear any explanation from those accused.

The Problem Of Definitions

A physician once placed a small cup of liquid in the hand of a patient and said, "Take this." He intended for the patient to hold it while he attended to another matter. The patient, however, understood she was to drink it. She did so, with fatal results. This demonstrates that the same words may mean different things to different individuals.

In John 2:19 we read that Jesus said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Verse 21 tells us that "He spake of the temple of his body." But his enemies did not take it this way. They assumed that he was speaking of the Temple in which they worshipped, and they considered it a threat against that holy place. They used this as one of the charges against him when he was brought to trial for his life. (Matt. 26:61).

When we use the term, "church of Christ," most people assume that we refer to a denomination by the name, "Church of Christ." But let it here be stated as emphatically as possible that if there is, in existence today, a denomination named "The Church of Christ," membership in it is in no way essential to salvation. In fact, membership in such a denomination would constitute factionalism such as was practiced by the Christians in Corinth who claimed to be "of Christ" (I Cor. 1:12), and would actually jeopardize the soul of the individual. We mean by "church of Christ" something entirely different.

The Church Of Christ In The Bible

The key to the meaning of the term, "church of Christ," is not to be found in a modern encyclopedia, nor in a list of modern churches. Rather it is to be found in the scriptures.

Jesus promised, "Upon this rock I will build my church." (Matt. 16:18). This promise he fulfilled, and from the second chapter of Acts of Apostles through the remainder of the Bible we read of the church which he established.

The first local assembly was in Jerusalem. It had its beginning when the first gospel sermon was preached and when the first persons heeded its call to leave the world, to obey Jesus, to be saved by his death, and to follow him through life. The word church means called out; so these people were "called out" of the world and were termed "the church."

Soon this same gospel was preached in another city, the city of Samaria. The results were the same: souls heard the call, left the world, were saved by Jesus. There was then a new body of "called out," a new assembly of saved ones — another church, the church in Samaria. This was repeated hundreds of times in city after city, always with the same results — another church. Thus, in a few years, there were churches in all the major cities of the world. Wherever there were saved people, they were called the church in that city.

How were these churches designated? Among other things they were called "churches of Christ". Romans 16:16 reads: "The churches of Christ salute you." The same term is found in Galatians 1:22 in many of the more modern translations. Why were they called this? Because the saved people who composed these local assemblies had all been called out of the world by Christ; they belonged to Him; they were following Him. Thus, they were "the 'called out' of Christ" or "churches of Christ."

But these local assemblies, or churches of Christ, were all alike. Together they composed "the church" and in this sense there was but one church. It was the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18), and I Corinthians 12:30 assures us that there was "but one body." This one body included all the local assemblies or churches of Christ. Together they formed the church which Jesus called "my church."

Was Membership In That Church Essential?

Leaving for the time the question: "Does one have to be in the church of Christ to be saved?" let us ask it another way: Did one have to be a member of that church to be saved?

Church Membership and Salvation Were Synonymous. Reporting the beginning days of the church are these words in Acts 2:47: "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." Addition to the church was not the result of some decision on the part of the saved man to "join the church." Nor was it the result of a vote by the church or a decision by an official to "receive them into the church." When one was saved he was, at that same time, by an act of providence made a member of the church. If all who were added to Christ's church, that is exactly the same as saying that only those who were in the church were saved. They were not saved because they were in the church; they were in the church because they were saved.

Is Membership In That Church Still Essential?

Many people are willing to accept the conclusions reached in the above paragraphs. But somehow they feel that things have changed. The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, by Edward T. Hiscox, puts it this way:

It is most likely that in the Apostolic age when there was but "one Lord, one faith, and one baptism," and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all the rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense, "baptism was the door into the church." Now it is different...

We are at a loss to understand just why it should be different. Though we acknowledge that many counterfeits have appeared, are we to suppose that God now recognizes more than "one Lord, one faith, and one baptism"? Is it no longer true that "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved"? And does the Lord no longer add "to the church daily such as should be saved"?

For our own part, we confidently affirm that He who is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8) still adds to His church daily all who are saved. Consequently, we believe that every individual on earth who has complied with the Lord's conditions of salvation has been added to that same church to which He added the saved in the first century A.D. That church the Lord called "my church," and it is His church now. Those not in His church are not in it because they have not been saved. Thus all who are not in the church of Christ are lost. Or, to put it another way: Only those in the church of Christ are saved.

We equally affirm that only the members of the church of God are saved; that only members of the church of the firstborn are saved; that only members of the house of God will be saved. These are all scriptural designations for the same body of people who are also called in the scriptures the churches of Christ. By this we do not mean that one must be a member of some denomination called "the 'Church of God," the "Church of the Firstborn," or "The House of God." Neither do we mean that one must be a member of a human association or denomination called "The Church of Christ." We would oppose membership in such an organization. What we do mean is that one must be among that body of saved people whom the scriptures designate by these terms.

— 109 French Way, Athens, Alabama