Tom M. Roberts
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
Some denominations claim the ability to trace their historical lineage (an unbroken link of churches throughout history) directly to John the Baptist. Of course, this is impossible to do and is a false claim. The Lord's church was not in existence while John was alive.
John, himself, said,
"In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. And John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire . I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:1-12).
John was a prophet, pointing to Jesus and the kingdom yet to be built. Of John, Jesus said,
"As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You. Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matthew 11:7-11). How could John be so great and yet "the least in the kingdom be greater than John?" Very simply, John was never to see the kingdom of which he prophesied. He was beheaded by Herod before the kingdom (church) was established.
No church, Catholic or Protestant, can trace its historical lineage to New Testament times. The oldest denominations are too young in age to be a New Testament church. How far back can the roots of denominations be traced? Notice the following dates of origin:
As a matter of fact, at the time Jesus built his kingdom (church), no denomination of any kind was in existence. The church of Jesus Christ was established in 33 A.D., in the city of Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1, 2). Any denomination that had its origin by another founder than Jesus cannot be the church that belongs to Christ. Any denominaton that is younger than 33 A.D. cannot be the Lord's church. Any denomination that was begun in another location than Jerusalem cannot be the Lord's church. Any denomination that follows a creed other than the Bible cannot be the Lord's church. Notice the Biblical history of the Lord's church:
Thus, overwhelming evidence exists in scripture to prove that the church foreseen by the prophets and promised by Jesus actually started in Acts 2 in Jerusalem and spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond in New Testament times. Yet, as the New Testament ends, not a single denomination existed!
However, the Holy Spirit testified that the Lord's church would become divided, that apostasy (a great falling away from the faith) would occur. The apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders that such division would come (Acts 20:17-31).
Forces of division were already at work in Corinth during Paul's lifetime (1 Cor. 1:10-13). The Holy Spirit expressly testified about a "departure" from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-6; 2 Tim. 4:1-4). The apostle John warned of those who, though in the church, were not satisfied with the truth but who placed themselves above the truth (the Gnostic heresy) - 1 John 1; 2 John 9-11; 3 John 9. Satan was at work to combat the church by creating division among believers. This division remains to this day, growing worse as more denominations are formed.
The first full-fledged denomination, distinct from the church of Jesus Christ was the Roman Catholic church (see 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Thes. 2:1-15). The first pope (an office unknown to the New Testament), Boniface III, was appointed in 606 A.D. (600 years after the Lord's church began). This was a culmination of many departures from truth. Note the following traditions of men that led to the beginning of Roman Catholicism: church councils; hierarchy (diocesan bishops, cardinals, popes, synods, monks, nuns, convents, monasteries, etc.); holy water (about 120 A.D.); doctrine of penance (about 157 A.D.); worship of Mary (about the 4th century); doctrine of Purgatory (5-6th century); extreme unction (6th century); celibacy of priests and nuns (11th century); sale of indulgences (12th century); instruments of music in worship (666 A.D.); sprinkling for baptism (introduced in 3rd century, but fully adopted in 1311); plus the use of the Rosary, lighting of candles, burning of incense, sacramental system, Christmas, Easter, Lent, prayers to dead saints, etc.
Contrary to the teachings of Catholicism, Peter was never a pope. He was married, an equal among equal apostles, and rebuked by Paul for sins (Gal. 2:11-14). The church was not built upon Peter (a mere man), but upon the confession of the deity of Jesus as the Son of God, the true rock (Mt. 16:13-19).
As Roman Catholicism grew, it became abusive and authoritarian, forbidding common people (non-priests) to read the Bible, denying them access to God's grace except by the sacerdotal system of a corrupt priesthood. Religion plunged into darkness, persecution, and ignorance. Creeds, traditions of men and superstitions bound people to error while truth was withheld from them.
In these centuries of "dark ages," men arose who "protested" against the doctrines and practices of Roman Catholicism. From this crucible of persecution and error came a religious uprising known historically as the "Protestant Reformation." At the front of the battle was Martin Luther (followed by many others) who attempted to "reform" the apostate church. Unsuccessful at reform, their efforts led to a splintering of the Catholic church. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc. all had their beginnings as competing creeds were formed to explain departures from the Catholic church. These Protestant churches further divided, divided again, and continue to divide today. In America, there has been an explosion of denominations, too numerous to mention, but numbering in the hundreds. Most of us have become accustomed to the situation, not realizing that this is, indeed, a far cry from the unity that was intended for believers in Christ.
In this cauldron of boiling religious division, we need to recall the words of Jesus about the unity which we have failed to cultivate. He said:
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me."
In keeping with this, the apostle Paul commanded unity:
"Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloes household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, I am of Paul, or I am of Apollos, or I am of Cephas, or I am of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Cor. 1:10-13).
The Bible outlines the completeness of unity in Eph. 4:1-6:
"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."
Thus, Jesus prayed for unity, that "all believers might be one." Paul instructed that we should "all speak the same thing," "that there be no division," and that we all be "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." This unity is found in the one body of Christ, the church (Eph. 4:4-6; Eph. 1:22-23). It is to our shame today that Jesus' prayer goes unanswered, that Paul's instructions remain unheeded. Denominationalism, so common and accepted, is wrong and sinful. There has to be a way of unity for believers in Jesus Christ.
In early America, different religious leaders arose in diverse parts of pioneer days, that were appalled by the division around the world. They realized that believers could never be united as human creeds, traditions and superstitions existed. These men began to raise a plea for the complete abandonment of human creeds, with a return to New Testament Christianity. Rather than reform denominations, they suggested a restoration of the New Testament church in the twentieth century! Among these leaders were Alexander and Thomas Campbell, immigrants from Scotland. As they began to preach a restoration to New Testament Christianity, other men (independent from the Campbells) were teaching the same thing by tossing out the creeds and accepting the Bible as the sole guide of faith and practice in religion. Reacting to this message with fervor, many thousands responded to this pure Bible teaching. Just as recorded in the Book of Acts, men and women in America were baptized upon repentance and confession of their faith in Jesus and were added to the Lord's church. The church of Christ, identical to the faith and practice of the New Testament church, exists throughout the world today as it did in the days of the apostles.
No one who understands the Bible makes the claim for authentication of modern churches of Christ by a historical, unbroken link that connects back to Jerusalem. It cannot be done, historically, nor is it necessary that it be done to recognize the Lord's church today. How is it valid, then, for us to claim spiritual identity as the church of Christ without this link? What right do we have to say that we belong, spiritually and organically, to the Lord's church?
First of all, Jesus taught the validity of New Testament Christianity for all ages when he gave the "Great Commission" (Mt. 28:18-20). The gospel was to be for "the whole world" until the "end of the ages." The gospel is for all ages of time, for all nations, for every tribe, for every tongue. Faithful men in the first century were instructed to teach future generations (2 Tim. 2:2).
As the gospel of Christ is proclaimed in its purity, without the addition of creeds (Gal. 1:6-9), its simple message (1 Cor. 1:19--2:13) becomes the "power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16). Within the gospel is a divine power that is called "the seed" (Luke 8:1-15) by which spiritual life is generated in every age, wherever the gospel is proclaimed. No self-appointed clergy has the right to reject those who do not recognize their ecclesiastical oversight. Jesus is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23), and it is His right to determine who is saved and who is in His fellowship. The power of the gospel, the seed (Lk. 8:11) generates life wherever it is sown. Disciples are made when they obey the gospel (Mt. 28:18-20) and the Lord adds them to His church (Acts 2:47). As individual saints are born by the word, they meet with others saints in a locality in order to work and worship as New Testament Christians did. In this fashion, wherever the gospel is preached, churches of Christ will appear.
A local church of Christ is simply a congregation that belongs to Christ. It is organized after the New Testament pattern of "elders, deacons and saints" (Phil. 1:1). All creeds of men are rejected and the Bible is the only standard of faith and practice. As the gospel is planted in the hearts of honest men and women (Luke 8;11; Rom. 1:16), new Christians are born (John 3:1-5; Rom. 6:1-7). Upon the instructions of the New Testament, Christians meet on the Lord's day for the Lord's supper (Mt. 26:26-30; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-29), singing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), prayers (Acts 12:5), study of the scriptures (Acts 15:7-21) and giving contributions for the Lord's work (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
Each congregation is independent from every other congregation, claiming its autonomy under Christ (Phil. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:1-2). It recognizes no earthly head, belongs to no association of churches, stands free from denominational churches and supports no human institutions.
It recognizes its God-given responsibility to preach the gospel according to its own ability, to provide edification to its own members, and to provide benevolence for its own needy (Acts 6) and for those saints in need in other places (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8, 9).
As the early disciples "went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4), so do 20th Century Christians. Please consider the following material as a short explanation of God instructions to man for Salvation. It is important we answer through scripture what God require of us that we might be saved.
Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him anddine with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). The Lord is inviting you into His kingdom. He also said, "I am the good shepherd," and he is the "door of the sheep" (John 10:7, 11). He invites the lost into the fold of safety, for danger is outside. For the lost, Jesus is the good shepherd that leaves the "ninety and nine" and looks for the "sheep that is lost," for "the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost" (Mt. 18:11-14). Jesus' sheep hear his voice and follow him (John 10:27-28) for eternal life. How do the sheep hear the voice of Jesus? We are "called by the gospel" (2 Thes. 2:14), which is "power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16). It is by the word of God that faith is produced in the hearts of the lost (Rom. 10:17). Have you heard the gospel?
As the gospel story is read (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), Jesus is shown to be the Son of God (Jn. 20:27-31). Our faith rests in Him. We must believe that He is the Son of God, sacrificed for our sins (Mt. 16:13-16; John 8:24). Do you believe?
All of us have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and have died spiritually because of sin (Rom 6:23). We must face our sins and repent. Repentance is a change of mind, followed by a change of life, as illustrated in Matthew 21:28-31. The son "repented" (changed his mind) and "went" (changed his life). This repentance is required before one can be saved (Lk. 13:3-5; Acts 2:36-38). Have you repented?
Jesus warned that we must have the courage of our faith to openly confess Him with the mouth, an oral confession (Rom. 10:10). If we do not have this courage, Jesus will not confess our name as brethren (Mt. 10:32-33). People in the New Testament times confessed Jesus' name (Acts 4:10-12; 8:37). Have you confessed that Jesus is the Son of God?
Yes, baptism is a Bible doctrine, commanded by Jesus (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Luke 24:48). Baptism is not administered as a "rite of the church," as a work of human righteousness or merit, but as an act of faith (Mk. 16:16; James 2:17, 18, 20, 24). Regardless of the animosity toward baptism in the denominational world, and in spite of their denial of its place in salvation, it is administered by the authority of Jesus for the remission of sin.
Baptism is a burial (Rom. 6:1-7; Col. 2:12) in water (Jno. 3:1-5; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:38). It is for (unto, toward) the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and is viewed in scripture as involved in "washing away sins" (Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). It is understood by Bible students that forgiveness is not in the water, but in the blood of Christ (Mt. 26:26-28; Rom. 6:1-7). However, Jesus has placed the opportunity of reaching that blood in the act of baptism. It is at baptism that the sinner mets the blood of Christ, that the old man of sin dies, and the new birth takes place (Rom. 6:1-7; Jn. 3:1-5).
Baptism is a re-enactment of the sinner for what Jesus did for him (death, burial and resurrection, 1 Cor. 15:1-4). The sinner obeys, in baptism, a "form of the gospel" (Rom. 6:16-18) in that he becomes dead to sin as he repents, is buried in baptism, and arises to a new life in Christ (Rom., 6:1-7). There is no other act of obedience in the New Testament that so fittingly portrays the gospel in our life as baptism. It is an act of faithful obedience (Rom. 1:5; Jn. 6:28-29; 8:39), not an act of merit or of human righteousness (Tit. 3:5). At the time of baptism, Jesus forgives our sins by the power of the blood and adds us to His church (Acts 2:38, 47). Have you been baptized?
Disciples of Jesus wear no denominational names or support denominational doctrines. You are not Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, etc. No such names or denominations existed when Jesus built His church, and you now belong to that church (Mt. 16:18; Acts 2:47). The name of "Christian" is given for you to wear, and you glorify God in that name (Acts 11:26; 4:12; 1 Pet. 4:14-15).
As a Christian, you will meet with other Christians for worship and service (Heb. 10:25; Acts 2:42; 9:26-28; Eph. 4:11-16).
Christians begin as "babes" in Christ, having been born again (Jn. 3:1-5; Rom. 6:1-7; 1 Pet. 1:22-23; 1 Pet. 2:1-2). Each grows toward being a mature Christian (Eph. 4:11-15). They no longer live in sinful life-styles as in the past (Col. 3:1-17; Gal. 5:19-24). A Christian grows by adding the attributes of grace (2 Pet. 1:2-11).