If the church of Christ is just a denomination among other denominations we have no right to exist, in fact, if that is true the sooner we pass out of existence the better. If it is different from the many churches in the land, what distinguishes it? How is it different?
First, every thing about the church of Christ is simple. It is not the purpose nor is it the practice of the church to appeal to vanity or pride by making a display of unnecessary things. Churches of Christ purpose to do all the Lord has stipulated and leave out the things He has said nothing about. “They sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:22-23).
It is not the purpose of the church to entertain. The teaching is for edification. Preachers do not consider themselves “stand-up comics.” The music is the expression of each person singing praises to God. Corale groups, quartets and choruses are not heard. Prayers are spoken by men of faith and hope uttering words of thanksgiving, trust and determination. No prewritten or form prayers are uttered. The Lord’s Supper recalls the sacrifice of Christ by eating it in the simplest manner. There is no fanfare; chanting, reading or singing while Christians participate. Giving is done by the rich and poor alike according to the ability of each one on the first day of each week. There are no pleas to contribute for special works or people. Churches of Christ never sponsor bingo games, fish fries, or rummage sales. Play room and gymnasiums will not been seen attached to the meeting-houses of faithful congregations.
Second, churches of Christ speak out against sectarianism and refuse to be a part of it. Sectarianism originally referred to those who are apostates from the established church or members of a religious sect. It therefore is people who are blindly and narrow-mindedly devoted to a sect. The religion (church) of Christ was early on called a sect, by the Jews who were faithful to their ancestral religion. When imprisoned Paul called the chief Jews of Rome together, at which time they said to him, “we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:22). Appealing to Governor Felix in regard to Paul the Jews selected a certain orator who accused Paul by saying, “For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” (Acts 24:5). The Jews were incorrect by making the charge against the church, as it was not a sect or a part broken off from the Jews religion. Likewise, people are incorrectly judging the church by classing it with the sectarians (or denominations) today. The church is not a part of something, or broken off from any religious body or church.
The word translated “sect” is frequently translated “heresy.” While there were numerous “sects” among the Jews, anytime a person or a group broke off from the church the term was used of something evil or bad. Paul speaks of it as a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20), and of those causing division in the body, a condition that he declared made their coming together “not for the better but for the worse” (I Cor. 11:17-19).
The leaders and members of denominational churches accept, tolerate, and even thank God for the many churches (sects or divisions), in the world. They rejoice because this enables “everyone can have a choice of a church they wish to join, work among and praise God through.” Churches of Christ are different because we still believe as those in Apostolic Days, who were taught that religious division is wrong, therefore, sinful. In addition, those who advocate the practice are heretics and are engaged in a work of the flesh. This being true we cannot remain silent, rather we are compelled to speak out against this popular practice.
Third, churches of Christ will not accept in worship anything that was not practiced by the church in Apostolic Days. There is no appeal made to rituals or emotionalism when Christians assemble to worship God. God has not left each person or each congregation to decide what is to be done toward Him in worship, praise or glory. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (Jn. 4:24). Several things in this passage are quite striking to the eye. 1st the worshipper of God MUST worship Him in spirit and in truth. That is a settled fact. When worship is not in spirit or lacking in truth it is unacceptable. 2nd acceptable worship can only be direct to GOD. When another being or thing is worshipped whether real or imagined, worship is invalid. Angels, persons, animals, or totems, heavenly bodies or earthly selections are to be rejected. 3rd, Worship is to be IN SPIRIT i.e. from the inner being. Without the spirit the body is dead (Js. 2:17). Such makes worship SPIRITUAL. Performing certain outward acts without putting the heart in it is worthless. 4th, IN TRUTH means that the acts which God has prescribed are to be done. One may claim sincerity in his worship while either failing through ignorance to do God’s will or openly rebelling against God is lethal. Churches of Christ contend that each person must guard his spirit while joining with others in the actions demanded by God. To name the things that are necessary.
(a) The Church is to assemble on the Lord’s Day (the 1st day of every week) to worship. A time is set each Lord’s Day when each member of the congregation is to present his or herself before the Lord in worship. “An upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread…” (Acts 20:7). As surely as the first day arrives, Christians have the dutiful privilege to gather to worship. Forsaking is forbidden (Heb. 10:25). This difference is seen as members of various churches and religious organizations, assemble if they wish, if it is convenient, or if they have nothing else to do or another obligation is not pending. Churches of Christ reject the notions that advocate all of life is worship, or, that we may worship alone sitting on a rock or under a tree somewhere. The church must come together (I Cor. 11:17-34).
(b) As you notice in the above passage Christian assemble “to break bread” or to eat the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 10:16-17). Most churches partake of the Lord’s Supper annually, bi-annually, quarterly or monthly. This makes the Church of Christ different. Also, the manner in which Christians commune is a distinguishing mark. Just as Jesus ask of His disciples, Christians all break from a single loaf and drink from the same communion cup. Some seeing this done for the first time are taken aback but, on a close examination of the accounts in scripture realize that is the correct way to commune.
(c) One man speaking at a time edifies the assembly, since the assembly is never divided into various classifications (I Cor. 14:23-34). The instruction of children is left to parents in a home setting. The Sunday School or classification of people into Bible classes for teaching is unknown to the New Testament. We have asked our religious neighbors for the passages that tell us to divide the assembly, but, as of yet have not been supplied. Likewise, some churches of Christ have adopted the denominational practice without Bible authority.
(d) Churches of Christ take up a collection only on the first day of the week (I Cor. 16:1-2). Each one gives (or lays by) as prospered by the Lord. Graciously we have received and graciously we give to the Cause of the Lord without begrudging or compulsion. There are no demands or pledges made (II Cor 8:1-7). All is a freewill donation (II Cor. 9:7). We take God at His word, sowing bountifully (II Cor. 9:6).
(e) Early Christians rely heavily on prayer, in private and when we assemble as the church. When a brother leads us in prayer we listen giving heed to every word so that we can say Amen (I Cor. 14:15-16). In this way, his prayer becomes our own. In the houses where a Church of Christ meets there is no special altar to pray, no counting of beads etc. And, may I add, the prayers are addressed to the heavenly Father and prayed in the name of Christ (Eph. 3:14-15). There is no dependence on Mary (the Lord’s mother), angels of God, nor any so-called saint, living or dead.
(f) Singing praises to God is done by each individual without the accompaniment of any kind of mechanical instrument of music. Singing is usually the first act of worship in most congregations; therefore, it is the most surprising thing to visitors as they observe singing without an instrument. We are content resting our practice on the pattern of the church in New Testament times (I Cor. 14:15, Eph. 5:19).
Fourth, the church of Christ is different by presenting the plan of salvation scripturally (and logically), in the order given in the New Testament. Consulting every case of conversion recorded in the book of Acts, every one converted to Christ first heard the word of God. When those who wished to please God heard what was required of them, it produced faith in their heart. The Apostle reminded his readers at Rome, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17). For the benefit of those who hold to the idea that the Lord in some miraculous manner creates faith in the heart, the question of inspiration is, “how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” ( Rom. 10:14). The scriptural order is hear, believe. Logically, for our readers who think God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit moves on one to produce faith, we must in all fairness ask, “why send missionaries to heathen lands?” Of all places, the Godhead should give to those people the aid they need to become followers of Christ.
When hearing of the goodness of God extended to sinners through Jesus Christ upon considering the evidence, faith is produced causing one to repent or change the mind resulting in a reformation of life. “The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). Some teach that repentance must precede belief, sometimes citing a passage that so teaches. But, these have to do with the Jews who believed in God and were to repent of their wickedness before Him and believe Jesus to be the long looked for Messiah. Why would a man who never heard of Christ repent in obedience to Him?
Once the mind is changed and one wishes to have his sins forgiven by virtue of the blood of Christ he openly and willing acknowledges his faith in the Lord. This confession expressed with
words are the feelings of his heart. “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Rom. 10:10). There is no record of a person praying “a sinner’s prayer” for salvation. We do have recorded a confession unto (leading one toward), salvation. “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:37). To ask a person to confess more than that is to act upon one’s own authority. To ask less is to reject the authority of the word of inspiration. Simple as that confession is, it embraces the whole of one’s life from that moment forward.
Baptism in water is the final action one obeys that actually transports from sin into the salvation offered in Christ. When one is baptized in water, the scriptures testify to these results (among other things). (1) Salvation (Mk. 16:16, I Pet. 3:21), (2) remission of sin (Acts 2:38), (3) washing away of sin (Acts 22:16), (4) the beginning of a new life begins (Rom. 6:3-4), (5) placing one into the one body (I Cor. 12:13), (6) allowing Christ to be put on (Gal. 3:27). Baptism in the scheme of redemption cannot be overlooked or stressed too much. At the point of baptism these blessings are obtained, not before water baptism—not after water baptism.
THE ORDER OF THE STEPS IN THE PLAN OF SALVATION
Some think as long as these things are done the order is insignificant. For instance, if one is baptized as a baby, then later learns to believe, confesses Christ at various times and does daily penitence, then all is well. Others think if one repents and believes the Gospel he is saved and then begins to confesses Christ and is baptized later on, he is fine. In either case all things have been done. The order means nothing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider the letters O D G, we can arrange them as follows. G O D and we have the Supreme Being, the object of our affection and worship. On the other hand, if the order is D O G. The same letters are there but the arrangement makes a great deal of difference. Think on it.
-Barney Owens 1407
Patience and persistence together become endurance
*This article is taken from a personal book of sermons by Brother Foster Prince who preached the Gospel for many years and served as an Elder in LaGrange, GA.