July 15, 2007
by Sam Willcut, John Taber, and Michael Gilbert
Due to the tragic death of Matthew Winkler (a preacher who preached for the Fourth Street church of Christ in Selmer, TN), and the subsequent murder trial of Mary Winkler, the church of Christ has received quite a bit of publicity over the past year (most recently on Dateline NBC, which aired 7-9-07).
However, the mainstream media has not always reported accurate information about the churches of Christ. For example, CNN’s Nancy Grace invited a Baptist preacher to speak about the beliefs of the church of Christ and he referred to us as a cult. Such a judgmental attack on churches of Christ is unwarranted and baseless. Nevertheless, the church of Christ is unique. There is a great deal of difference, however, between being unique and being a cult.
The church of Christ is unique in its establishment. Isaiah prophesied of the Lord’s church some 700 years before its existence (Isaiah 2:2-3). Thus, the prophecy by Isaiah was fulfilled in Acts 2, because Acts 2:47 speaks of the church in the present established sense for the first time. From the early chapters of Acts, we see that the church began at Jerusalem and spread from there (Acts 8:1-4), just as Isaiah prophesied. Even Christ prophesied about the establishment of church (Mark 1:15; Matthew 16:18-19; Mark 9:1). Therefore, the church of Christ is unique in that Christ established it on the Day of Pentecost (c. AD 33) in the city of Jerusalem.
History shows that Catholics and Protestant denominations cannot trace their roots back to the first century. In fact, the first “pope” wasn’t named until around 400-500 AD. Most of the protestant denominations didn’t appear on the scene until after 1,200 AD.
Therefore, it is the urgent plea of the churches of Christ to practice Christianity according to the pattern of the New Testament, untainted by the influence of man-made religious organizations. Jesus said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15: 13). Churches of Christ believe that if we preach the Bible only, that it will make Christians only, and those Christians are members of the same church that Jesus established.
The church of Christ is unique in its organization. According to the New Testament, Christ is the head of his church (Colossians 1: 18). Paul refers to the members of Christ’s church as the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:27). Christ has delegated authority in the management of the local congregation to the office of elders (Acts 20: 17), also called pastors, bishops or overseers. These qualified leaders of the congregation (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; Hebrews 13:17) serve in a plurality (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Thus, the church of Christ has no earthly headquarters or universal organization-each congregation is autonomous or independent of every other congregation.
Other offices of service in the church of Christ include deacons (I Timothy 3:8-13) and preachers (I Timothy 4:6; II Timothy 4:5). Although women are not biblically authorized to serve publicly in mixed-assemblies of the church of Christ, they do play a vital part in the health of the church. The church of Christ, therefore, respects the Christian woman and the Christian woman respects her God-given role in the church (Ephesians 5:22-24; 1 Timothy 2:9-15; Titus 2:1-5).
The church of Christ is unique in its name. The name “church of Christ” on our building is not a title designating a denomination, but is simply a descriptive term that shows Christ’s ownership of the church. The term “church of Christ’ (Romans 16:16) is not an exclusive name (cf. Acts 20:28; I Corinthians 12:27; I Timothy 3:15; I Peter 5:2). However, because of the necessity of registering with the government, and in light of numerous “churches” today, we have been forced to choose a name by which we are collectively called for the sake of identification. However, the term “Church of Christ” is descriptive, not an “official title”.
In the Bible, God’s people (in a collective sense) are called by several names including (1) church of Christ (Rom. 16:16), (2) church of God (1 Cor. 1:2), (3) household of God (Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15), (4) body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27), etc. These names simply show the Lord as the owner of His church (i.e., the church of Christ or Christ’s church – either way is proper).
The Bible teaches that Divine designations are important, since they originate with God and not with man (Acts 4:12; Colossians 3:16-17). In an individual sense, members of the churches of Christ are not called “Church of Christers”, or “Church of Christ members”. Also, our preachers are not called “Church of Christ preachers”. The Bible describes God’s people in certain ways, therefore, we are content with letting the Bible dictate what we call ourselves – saints, Christians, priests, children of God, etc.
The church of Christ is unique in its worship (John 4:24). The Bible discusses such acts of worship as teaching and preaching (Acts 2:14; 20:7), praying (Acts 2:42; I Corinthians 14:15), giving (I Corinthians 16:2), a cappella singing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), and a weekly memorial of the death of our Lord (Matthew 26:26-28; I Corinthians 11:23-29; Acts 20:7). These five simple acts of worship distinguish the church of Christ from denominationalism, since, in performing these acts of worship we are striving to maintain the purity of worship according to the New Testament. As any casual observer would note, most of today’s worship to God is based on the individual’s preference rather than Biblical mandate. We believe this to be a tragedy.
Therefore, while the church of Christ is not a cult, it is truly unique when we compare it to the religious institutions founded by men. The question for all is, “Does your church originate from God or from man?”
We also must ask – why would CNN and Nancy Grace first go to a Baptist preacher to learn about the church of Christ? Would it not be better to ask a faithful member of the church of Christ?
The churches of Christ are open, visible, and willing to speak to anyone about our beliefs. In fact, many in the DeKalb area are receiving a publication via the mail called House To House/Heart To Heart. We have nothing to hide – cults usually are not very open about what they believe. Check us out. We will be glad to answer any critic with an open Bible, loving hearts, and a sincere devotion to Christ and His people.