What We Believe

Who are the churches of Christ?  And what do they believe in?


What is the distinctive plea of the church of Christ?

It is primarily a plea for religious unity based upon the Bible.  In a divided religious world it is believed that the Bible is the only possible common denominator upon which most, if not all, of the God-fearing people of the land can unite.  This is an appeal to go back to the Bible.  It is a plea to speak where the Bible speaks and to remain silent where the Bible is silent in all matters that pertain to religion.  It further emphasizes that in everything religious there must be a Biblical precedent for all that is done.  The objective is religious unity of all believers in Christ.  The basis is the New Testament.  The method is the restoration of New Testament Christianity.

The unity we seek among Christians is easily fragmented when we are separated into denominations and are led by human authorities (a pope, televangelists, church councils, etc.).  Instead of differentiating ourselves as Baptists or Catholics or Methodists, we simply call ourselves Christians.  The extra designations only serve to separate one of us from one of them.  In Christ we should all be one in undivided unity.  Even Statements of Faith can be divisive.  Likewise, honoring different human authorities will have us pulling in different directions, so we go only by the Bible.  We thus honor the leading of God, rather than that of any person or group of persons.

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Historical background of the Restoration Movement

One of the earliest advocates of the return to New Testament Christianity, as a means of achieving unity of all believers in Christ, was James O’Kelly of the Methodist Episcopal Church.  In 1793 he withdrew from the Baltimore conference of his church and called upon others to join him in taking the Bible as the only creed.  His influence was largely felt in Virginia and North Carolina where history records that some seven thousand communicants followed his leadership toward a return to primitive New Testament Christianity.

In 1802, a similar movement among the Baptists in New England was led by Abner Jones and Elias Smith.  They were concerned about “denominational names and creeds” and decided to wear only the name Christian, taking the Bible as their only guide.  In 1804, in the western frontier state of Kentucky, Barton W. Stone and several other Presbyterian preachers took similar action declaring that they would take the Bible as the “only sure guide to heaven.”  Thomas Campbell and his illustrious son, Alexander Campbell, took similar steps in the year 1809 in what is now the state of West Virginia.  They contended that nothing should be bound upon Christians as a matter of doctrine which is not as old as the New Testament.  Although these four movements were completely independent in their beginnings, eventually they became one strong restoration movement because of their common purpose and plea.  These men did not advocate the starting of a new church, but rather a return to Christ’s church as described in the Bible.

Members of the church of Christ do not conceive of themselves as a new church started near the beginning of the 19th century.  Rather, the whole movement is designed to reproduce in contemporary times the church originally established on Pentecost, A.D. 30.  The strength of the appeal lies in the restoration of Christ’s original church.

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How many churches of Christ are there?

The most recent dependable estimate lists more than 15,000 individual churches of Christ.  The “Christian Herald”, a general  religious publication which presents statistics concerning all the churches, estimates that the total membership of the churches of Christ is now 2,000,000.  There are more than 7,000 men who preach publicly.  Membership of the church is heaviest in the southern states of the United States, particularly in Tennessee and Texas, though congregations exist in each of the fifty states and in more than eighty foreign countries. Missionary expansion has been most extensive since the second World War in Europe, Asia and Africa.  More than 450 full time workers are supported in foreign countries.  The churches of Christ now have five times as many members as were reported in the U.S. Religious Census of 1936.

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How are the churches organizationally connected?

Following a plan of organization found in the New Testament, churches of Christ are autonomous.  Their common faith in the Bible and adherence to its teachings are the chief ties which bind them together.  There is no central headquarters of the church, and no organization superior to the elders of each local congregation.  Congregations do cooperate voluntarily in supporting the orphans and the aged, in  preaching the gospel in new fields, and in other similar works.

Members of the church of Christ conduct 40 colleges and secondary schools, as well as 75 orphanages and homes for the aged.  There are approximately 40 magazines and other periodicals published by individual members of the church.  A nationwide radio and television program known as “The Herald of Truth” is sponsored by the Highland Avenue church in Abilene, Texas.  Much of it’s annual budget of $1,200,000 is contributed on a free-will basis by other churches of Christ.  The radio program is currently heard on more than 800 stations while the television program is now appearing on more than 150 stations.  Another extensive radio effort know as the “World Radio” owns a network of 28 stations in Brazil alone and is operating effectively in the United States and a number of other foreign countries – and is being produced in more than 14 languages.  An extensive advertising program in leading national magazines began in November of 1955.

There are no conventions, annual meetings, or official publications.  The “tie that binds” is a common loyalty to the principles of the restoration of New Testament Christianity.

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How are the churches of Christ governed?

Jesus is the uncontested authority of Lord over the church.  In each congregation, which has existed long enough to become fully organized, the authority of the Lord is expressed through the preaching/teaching of His Word and through a plurality of elders (also called pastors or presbyters) who serve as shepherds among the flock of God’s people.  These men are selected by the local congregations on the basis of qualifications set down in the scriptures (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).  The elders and preacher/teachers have authority over each other, that protects the church if either goes astray.  Additionally, deacons (servants) are often appointed over specific areas of oversight to benefit the functioning of the church.

The leadership of the church is extended only to the male gender.  This privilege is not on the basis of superiority over women, for they are equal in the Lord.  Rather, it comes on the basis of the determination of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11ff.), on the expectation that there are important lessons to be learned when we adopt this order.  The same arrangement pertains to Christian marriages, in which the husband serves as the Christlike leader of his wife (Ephesians 5:21ff.).  As a role-model for both authority and submission, Jesus marks each position as worthy of honor.

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What does the church of Christ believe about the Bible?

The original autographs of the 66 books which make up the Bible are considered to have been divinely inspired, by which it is meant that they are infallible and authoritative.  Reference to the scriptures is made in settling every religious question.  A pronouncement from the scripture is considered the final word.  The basic textbook of the church and the basis for all preaching is the Bible.

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Do members of the church of Christ believe in virgin birth?

Yes.  The statement in Isaiah 7:14 is taken as a prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ.  New Testament passages such as Matthew 1:20-25, are accepted at face value as declarations of the virgin birth.  Christ is accepted as the only begotten Son of God, uniting in His person perfect divinity and perfect manhood.

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Does the church of Christ believe in predestination?

Only in the sense that God predestines the righteous to be eternally saved and the unrighteous to be eternally lost.  The statement of the apostle Peter, I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him (Acts 10:34-35) is taken as an evidence that God did not predestine individuals to be eternally saved or lost, but that each man determines his own destiny.  The choice to believe or to disbelieve the Gospel is available to every person of sound mind and of sufficient maturity.  God predestines each group, believing and unbelieving, to opposite destinies.  But the Gospel is presented before each individual with the expectation that this choice is theirs to make.  Those incapable of such a choice, whether through immaturity (such as children or infants), or through mental incapacity (such as mental disability), or through non-opportunity (such as someone who, perchance, never hears of Jesus and the Gospel) are in God’s hands and subject to His determination as regards their eternal destiny.

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Why does the church of Christ baptize only by immersion?

The word “baptize” comes from the Greek word “baptizo” and literally means, “to dip, to immerse, to plunge”.  In addition to the literal meaning of the word, immersion is practiced because it was the practice of the church in apostolic times.  Still further, only immersion conforms to the description of the baptisms as given by the apostle Paul in Romans 6:3-5 where he speaks of it as a burial and resurrection.

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Is infant baptism practiced?

No.  Only those who have reached the “age of accountability” are accepted for baptisms.  It is pointed out that the examples given in the New Testament are always of those who have heard the gospel preached and believe it.  Faith must always proceed baptism, so only those old enough to understand and believe the gospel are considered fit subjects for baptism.

Likewise, we do not have dedication ceremonies in which parents offer their children to God.  There is no need for this, since the children already belong to God.  In Mark 10:14 Jesus said, Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  God gives the children to parents; there is no need for them to give their children to God.

It is only when children sin against God that their relationship with Him is broken.  They are incapable of doing this until they attain a certain level of maturity, and it is from this age that they are also able to be baptized and to understand its meaning for their relationship with God.  To baptize them before this accomplishes nothing, and may even get in the way of making a more mature decision later in life.

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Do ministers of the church hear confession?

No one in the church has the prerogative to forgive sins (except sins that others commit against you personally).  However, we are to confess our sins to one another in order to give others an opportunity to intercede in prayer for God’s forgiveness.  So James 5:16 urges Christians, Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed.  Wisdom suggests that confession should be made in relative privacy, to those who are especially trusted to keep confidentiality, to provide wise counsel, and to all fellow Christians who may have become aware of the sin.  A sin that becomes a public scandal may need to be confessed before the whole church.  Plain and honest admission of wrong-doing is helpful to the healing process towards restoring holiness, and among the church fellowship it replaces the shame of sin with the honor of purification.  We are here for each other, ready to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2).

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Are prayers addressed to the saints?

No.  God the Father is considered the only one to whom the prayers may be addressed.  It is further understood that Christ stands in a mediatorial position between God and man (Hebrews 7:11-28).  All prayers are, therefore, offered through Christ, or in the name of Christ (John 16:23-26)

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How often is the Lord’s supper eaten?

A central part of the worship is the eating of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7).  The Supper remembers baptism much as an anniversary remembers the wedding.  It is a time to remember the joining of covenant relationship and to re-affirm the original commitments.  In the Supper we take the bread and grape juice remembering especially what our Lord committed to our spiritual marriage, His own life!  And remembering also that, just as He gave himself for us without holding back, so we give ourselves to Him.  Everything we promised to Him in baptism, we promise still and so honor the covenant of grace.

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What kind of music is used in the worship?

As a result of the distinctive pleas of the church, a return to New Testament faith and practice, a cappella singing is the only music used in the worship.  This singing, unaccompanied by mechanical instruments of music, conforms to the music in the apostolic church and for many centuries thereafter (Ephesians 5:15-21).  It is felt that there is no authority for engaging in acts of worship not found in the New Testament.

This is significant.  The early church could have continued the tradition of instrumental music from the Old Testament worship of Israel in the Jerusalem temple.  Or, the earliest Christians could have accepted the influence of popular Greco-Roman culture and its use of instruments.  But the church refused both sources of influence and sang with pure voices offered by all members.  This prevents external stimulation of emotion through instruments (that are played with skill and sometimes amplification) by relying on internal drives to praise in song.  It also eliminates music that lends itself to performance before other people rather than to from-the-heart praise to God.  In similar fashion, we do not use choirs or employ soloists.  Our group performance may not be polished, but we trust that God is pleased by the sincere offer of praise and reverence that genuinely reflects our hearts.

Keep in mind that we are striving for a common denominator on which to unify people of different opinions.  While some might prefer instrumental worship, for others this seems to be a tradition that originates with humans rather than with God.  This is a Biblical concern: “‘But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:7-8, quoting Isaiah 29:13).  And since we agree to elevate God’s will over tradition, and since this gives us the safest ground of compromise, we give up instrumental music for vocal.  History has shown that battles over such opinions, unfortunately, have divided church fellowships.  Even those of us who love instrumental music willingly sacrifice it for the greater good of us all.

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Does the church of Christ believe in heaven and hell?

Yes.  The statement of Christ in Matthew 25, and elsewhere, are taken at face value.   It is believed that after death each man must come before God in judgment and that he will be judged according to the deeds done while he lived (Hebrews 9:27).  After judgment is pronounced, he will spend eternity either in heaven or hell.

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Does the church of Christ believe in purgatory?

No.  The absence of any reference in the scriptures to the temporary place of punishment from which the soul will eventually be released into heaven prevents the acceptance of the doctrine of purgatory.

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By what means does the church secure financial support?

Each first day of the week the members of the church lay by and store as they have prospered (1 Corinthians 16:2).  The amount of any individual gift is generally known only to the one who gave it and to the Lord.  This free-will offering is the only call which the church makes.  NO assessments or other levies are made.  No money making activities such as bazaars or suppers are engaged in.  Also, we do not solicit funds from non-Christians either in our collection at worship or through any other fundraiser.  This is in accordance with the practice of early Christians (3 John 7) and keeps us free from any accusation of peddling the Word of God for profit (2 Corinthians 2:17).  When we hold our hand out to unbelievers, we want there to be something in it to give to them.  We do not want any association with the shameful beggars who use the Gospel to fleece the hearers and (often) to enrich themselves.  We want no part of broadcasts tagged with the line, “Without the generous support of our audience this broadcast would not be possible”.

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Does the church of Christ have a creed?

No.  At least there is no creed in the usual sense of the word.  The belief of the church is stated fully and completely in the Bible.  There is no manual or discipline to which the members of the church of Christ give their allegiance.  The Bible is considered as the only infallible guide to heaven.

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How does one become a member of the church of Christ?

In the salvation of man’s soul there are two necessary parts: God’s part and man’s part.   God’s part is the big part, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man glory” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  The love which God felt for man led him to send Christ into the world to redeem man.  The life and teaching of Jesus, the sacrifice on the cross, and the proclaiming of the gospel to men constitute God’s part in salvation.

Though God’s part is the big part, man’s part is also necessary if man is to reach heaven.  This is explained further in our section on “Sin & Salvation“.

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Open Invitation

Now that you are aware of a church in the 21st century which is built according to the blue prints of Christ’s original church, why not become a member of it?  In becoming a member of it, you will be called upon to do nothing which you cannot read in the New Testament.  You will then live and worship just as the apostle-guided Christians of the first century did.

Not only is this return to New Testament Christianity a wonderful basis upon which all believers in Christ can unite, it is absolutely solid ground.  If we do just what our Lord commanded, we know that our salvation is certain.  Come with us as we go back to the Bible, back to Christ and His church.

If you need help in locating a congregation of the churches of Christ nearest you, please e-mail us at john@newcastlechurchofchrist.org, and we will be more than happy to find you one.  Please come by and visit us soon.  We care about you and your family.

 

All Bible quotations are from the NASB.

Adapted, updated and revised from “Who are the churches of Christ?  And what do they believe in?” by Batsell Barrett Baxter.