What is the church of Christ? I believe that some well-meaning brethren have wrongly approached this question. They have approached this from the idea of perfection. For example: (1) The church of Christ teaches the correct plan of salvation. (2) The church of Christ wears a scriptural name. (3) The church of Christ has no creed book but the Bible. (4) The church of Christ partakes of the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week. (5) The church of Christ does not use mechanical instruments of music in worship. (6) The church of Christ is supported by free-will offerings by its members each first day of the week. (7) The church of Christ is properly organized, etc. “Identifying marks” are listed. If each may be checked off, then one may know that he has found the church of Christ.
This may help one identify a church which is following (at least in these points) the Biblical pattern. However, I do not truly believe that this accurately answers the question: What is the church of Christ?
The simple answer is: it is the called-out of Christ. He has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). It is composed of those who have been baptized into Christ. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13 cf. Acts 18:8; Acts 2:41, 47). I do not believe that this refers to the baptism with the Holy Spirit (see my article – The Holy Spirit: In Conversion, Part 2).
The baptism to which we each are to submit is based on the authority of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38). It is described as a burial and resurrection (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). It is for believers (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:12; 8:36-37; 18:8), who are willing to repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19). It is done for the purpose of washing away sin (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 22:16).
What about the other “identifying marks”? Once one has been added by the Lord to His church, he should meet with other members of the church of Christ and worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; Hebrews 10:24-25). He should seek to do this in a manner which is pleasing to the Lord (John 4:24; Colossians 3:16-17).
Not all worship is pleasing to God. The Bible speaks of vain worship (Mark 7:6-7), ignorant worship (Acts 17:22-24); and will or self-impose worship (Colossians 2:20-23). We should worship God in spirit/proper attitude and in truth/proper action (John 4:24 cf. Joshua 24:14). However, these “identifying marks” are not what constitutes the church of Christ. The church at Corinth was still a part of the church of Christ, though they were doing many things wrong in practice. This is not intended to condone error. It is simply to understand that perfect practice is not what makes a church of Christ to be a church of Christ.
Must I be a member of the Church of Christ to be saved? When someone asks me this, I answer, “One certainly must be a member of the church you read about in the New Testament. Can we study together about how one can be added to that church?”
T. Pierce Brown has written, “When a person asks, ‘Do I have to be a member of the church of Christ to be saved?’ the implications to the average questioner are: 1. That means that a person ‘gets membership’ in the church of Christ, and that saves him. 2. Membership comes first and salvation comes second in a logical and chronological order. 3. The church of Christ is a sort of religious organization similar to any denomination, except it claims (somewhat like the Roman Catholic Church) that salvation is found by ‘getting membership’ in that organization.
“I contend… that these implications are wrong! It would be at least accurate (or more so) in view of Acts 2:47 to say, ‘A person has to be saved in order to be a member of the church of Christ.’ However, since that might suggest that a person ‘gets saved’ and then becomes a member of the church, that would also have to be explained.
“…The truth of the matter is that the moment a person becomes a member of the church of the Lord he is saved, or the moment he is saved he becomes a member of the church of the Lord, and neither is the consequence or antecedent of the other, but both are the concurrent or simultaneous result of something else…
“The church is the saved (the group that has received God’s salvation, B.H.). If he understood that, he would not ask the question in the first place, for it would be, ‘Must a person be a member of the saved group in order to be saved?’ Which would sound rather stupid” (Article: Do I Have To Be A Member of The Church of Christ? By T. Pierce Brown).
Wendell Winkler correctly said, “There was no such thing as a man being saved on Monday and joining the church the following Sunday. Rather, the moment he was saved… he became a member of the New Testament church (Wendell Winkler, The Church Everybody is Asking About, p. 106). This is true (Acts 2:47).
What does the Church of Christ Believe/Teach about X, Y, and Z? I have been asked this many times through the years. In a radio interview a preacher worded his questions to me this way. I do not like the wording. (1) The church is not the ultimate authority. It does not matter, in a sense, what the church believes/teaches. It matters what the Bible teaches (Galatians 1:8). (2) One can find a wide variety of things taught, by members of the church of Christ, on a given subject. I suppose that this has always been true (cf. Acts 15:5; 1 Corinthians 15:12). Each of us must, “Be diligent to present (ourselves) approved to God… rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
How does one become a member? The term “church” is used in two senses in scripture. (1) It is used of the universal church (e.g. Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 15:9). One becomes a member of the universal church when he is baptized into Christ (Acts 2:36-38, 41, 47). (2) It is used of the local church (e.g. Acts 14:23; James 5:14). Specific names were associated with certain local churches (e.g. Acts 13:1; Romans 16:14-15; 2 John 9-12). One must be a member of the universal church to be a member of the local church. While there is no specific formula, it seems that in some way one should make known that he desires to be identified with the local church. How else could proper care and effective work be done together? (Consider Acts 6:1-5; 1 peter 5:1-2 cf. Luke 15:4-ff; 1 Corinthians 12:12-ff; Romans 12:4-ff; Ephesians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14; Hebrews 10:24-25). One should be a part of a local church and not hop around without any commitment to a local church.
Why do some not capitalize church in church of Christ? It is for the same reason that one does not capitalize bride in bride of Christ. It does not seem to be a proper name, but a descriptive phrase of relationship. Whether to capitalize or not is a personal choice and matter of opinion or writing style.