By Scripture Alone
For me, this boils down to two very simple truths: I believe that the Church of Christ is the best path to salvation and I am comfortable with the Church of Christ. So lets examine these statements.
Congregational autonomy and leadershipChurch government is congregational rather than denominational. Churches of Christ purposefully have no central headquarters, councils, or other organizational structure above the local church level. Rather, the independent congregations are a network with each congregation participating at its own discretion in various means of service and fellowship with other congregations Churches of Christ are linked by their shared commitment to restoration principles. For me, this is one of the strengths of the Churches of Christ, not a failing as some would say. We do not have a national or international convention, no sole authority other than the Bible to tell us how to govern our churches. Many Protestant denominations meet and form new doctrines or reinforce old one, some even have great arguments over doctrinal practices that cause divisions within the churches. This is not so with the Churches of Christ. For me, this means within my church, that I personally can make a change within my congregation if I can back that belief with the Bible. My congregation knows me and loves me, so they will not abandon me. This may not be true of all Churches of Christ, but it should be. We are to love one another.
Variations within Churches of ChristWhile there is an identifiable mainstream within the Churches of Christ, there are also significant variations within the fellowship. The approach taken to restoring the New Testament church has focused on "methods and procedures" such as church organization, the form of worship, and how the church should function. As a result, most divisions among Churches of Christ have been the result of "methodological" disputes. These are meaningful to members of this movement because of the seriousness with which they take the goal of "restoring the form and structure of the primitive church." At my church, we don't hear sermons on hellfire and damnation, we hear sermons on how to be a better Christian; how to love our fellow men and women, and how to encourage others to do the same.
“If it's not in the Bible, then these folks aren't going to do it.”— Carmen Renee Berry, The Unauthorized Guide to Choosing a ChurchChurches of Christ seek to practice the principle of the Bible being the only source to find doctrine (also known as "sola scriptura"). The Bible is generally regarded as inspired and inerrant. Also, the Churches of Christ believe strictly that the New Testament is the new covenant with God brought by Christ. Jesus, through his teachings, brought about a change in Judaism, that discarded many of the laws of the Old Testament. Therefore, those anti-gay scriptures in Genesis and Leviticus do not pertain to us today. The harshest “Christian” critics of homosexuality use the damnations of Leviticus 20:13 that states “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them.” The laws of Leviticus and its punishments in Chapter 20 are ludicrous for us today. The laws of civilized nations do not kill children for talking back to their parents, or any of the other myriad of capital offenses described in Leviticus 20.
Doctrine of Salvation
Churches of Christ are strongly anti-Calvinist in their understanding of salvation and generally present conversion as "obedience to the proclaimed facts of the gospel rather than as the result of an emotional, Spirit-initiated conversion". Churches of Christ hold the view that humans of accountable age are lost because of their sins. These lost souls can be redeemed because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice. Children too young to understand right from wrong, and make a conscious choice between the two, are believed to be innocent of sin. The age when this occurs is generally believed to be around 13, although it varies based on maturity.
The doctrine of salvation for the Churches of Christ is fairly simple. Basically, it is to believe and be baptized for the remission of your sins, then live a life of example as given by Christ. Churches of Christ generally teach that the process of salvation involves the following steps:
- One must be properly taught, and hear (Romans 10:17, Matthew 7:24);
- One must believe or have faith (Hebrews 11:6, Mark 16:15–16);
- One must repent, which means turning from one's former lifestyle and choosing God's ways (Acts 2:38, Acts 17:30, Luke 13:3);
- One must confess belief that Jesus is the son of God (Matthew 10:32–33; Acts 8:36–37);
- One must be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 1Peter 3:20–21; Romans 6:3–5; Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16); and
- One must remain faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10).
The Churches of Christ generally combine the lack of any historical evidence that the early church used musical instruments in worship and the belief that there is no scriptural support for using instruments in the church's worship service to decide that instruments should not be used today in worship. Churches of Christ have historically practiced a cappella music in worship services. And quite honestly, even if you have a church full of people who cannot sing, such as in my church, all of the voices together, and just their voices, is the most beautiful sound in this world. I have been to other churches, some that only use a piano or organ, others that have a full band: pianos, drums, tambourines, guitars, etc., and the musical instruments only drown out the beauty of the human voice. This is a personal preference of mine, but I do love a cappella music.
Also, the Church of Christ is my family. The small country congregation that I attend usually only has a maximum attendance of 25 on a good day. It is small and intimate. I have known these people all of my life, and though nearly a quarter of them are my family, the rest are like family to me. My grandmother was raised a Baptist, as so many southerners were, and she always told me that when she was baptized into the Church of Christ that it was truly like being welcomed home. I have always felt the same way. Some larger congregations of the Churches of Christ try to be more liberal in their practices to draw in a crowd, but at the same time are more conservative in their religious views. When I have attended such churches, I have not felt at home, but those churches that keep to the core beliefs of Christian love and fellowship do feel like I am entering a safe and loving place.
In the next post, I want to look at what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality.