Church of Christ? What is it?

Church? What is it to you?

I ask these questions and challenge our thinking in the context of the churches of Christ, a fellowship I have enjoyed for almost a decade now. I have come to know and appreciate some of the most dedicated, humble servants of Jesus Christ I have known anywhere, and as in every group, some folks not so desirable.

It is common to hear someone say to another of a mutual acquaintance “He is a member of the church” or “She was not a member of the church”. This is not uncommon phrases but it takes on a different meaning than if spoken by a Baptist or a Methodist. In the circles in which I travel it almost always means not the body of Christ but more narrowly, the Church of Christ. And to make things more complicated many CoC people believe the body of Christ and the Church of Christ are one and the same.

Many of our folks will add the words “The Lord’s…” before church. This way of conveying the same thought makes it more definite what is intended, at least to other CoC people.

The inevitable end of this line of logic is that every other group on earth who claim to be followers of Jesus are not a part of “The Lord’s church” or the “True church” and are something other than genuine Christians.

Ideas about what others who claim to be Christians are ranges from “false prophets”, “lost sinners” to a kinder and gentler “in error” and “seekers”. And, there is the rather odd and completely unscriptural idea that some people are sort of saved, but not completely. You can never get anyone to say it this clearly but it is certainly what is implied. The truth is, one either has eternal life or he doesn’t. You know, either Becky is pregnant or she isn’t. Or a better illustration is either Uncle John is dead or he is alive, there is no in between.

Followers of Jesus are called in the Bible “disciples”, “the way”, “believers”, and as a group “the church”, “the church of God”, “the assembly of God”, “the church of the firstborn,  “the body of Christ”, and “the Bride of Christ”. These terms all are descriptions of the sum total of all believers in most cases.

There are also references to the earthly representations of the one body, local churches. They are mentioned as being tied to geographical areas or cities. Then there are those identified by the person who owned the house where they met.

I think it would be good if we (Church of Christ people) agreed on these facts.

Church of Christ, and other Restoration Movement groups are not the only ones saved. Remember the old phrase “We are only Christians but not the only Christians“? The RM fathers ideal was to unify ALL believers into one church. How could that have been a worthy goal if all the others were lost?

Every member of every Church of Christ is not saved. EVERY member of EVERY church would need to be saved for some of our outrageous statements to be true. I recently read a blog where the author was trying to make the case that only Church of Christ members are saved. That is a tough assignment!

The “church”, the universal body of Christ which includes all redeemed people from every age, is not the same as the local churches. The exact reason is that there are tares growing with the wheat. There are impostors who are no more than actors. Only believers are in the body of Christ, not make believers!

Perhaps the most odd, and the most compelling, evidence that people who embrace the sectarian idea that only their group is saved comes to us courtesy of many of our most “conservative” Church of Christ preachers.

They will quickly tell you that only those in “the Lord’s Church”, (the churches of Christ) are going to heaven. These same men will then insist that so and so Church of Christ is lost because they have musical instruments accompany singing on Sunday morning. And, there are perhaps dozens of other sins that will send a whole congregation of “The Lord’s Church” to hell, like raising your hands in worship, women speaking in church, serving communion from the rear of the auditorium rather than the front, having a kitchen, and teaching anything that brother Holier-than-thou disagrees with.

How can Church of Christ people be the only ones saved and at the same time some of them be lost? It is rather confusing isn’t it. The glaring problem for the people who teach such nonsense is that it cannot be defended in any coherent way.

What so you think?



17 comments on “Church of Christ? What is it?

  1. What!? You mean to tell me that saved people could actually exist outside our fellowship? You mean we don’t have a lock on truth? You mean there could actually be believers in groups other than ours? Say it ain’t so!
    Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. I think you just described the reasons I am no longer worshipping at a “church of Christ”…..


    There is little doubt that many more people would have left the CoC but would have to do so at the loss of friendships and even family in some cases. And, some people are afraid of being forever lost.

    I have not quarrel with anyone who does leave legalism and bondage but I also admire those who stay and gently but consistently teach grace and do so with unmistakable love.


    • Thanks Trey.

      They will not be alone. I think people who know better but remain silent only facilitate and encourage false teaching. Be they elders or only members like me, a person bears some guilt who condones what he knows it not true.


  3. Well stated, brother Royce, and it needs to be repeated frequently. To refuse Christian fellowship to believers outside one’s own group is sectarian. To deny that believers outside one’s own group are saved is legalism and a perversion of the gospel. Praise God that many sectarians and legalists are being touched by the grace of God in Christ and being delivered from both errors. We may rejoice that many who call themselves “the church of Christ” are becoming more and more “of CHRIST” and less and less “THE church.”

    Brother Edward,

    I too praise our God that in many quarters truth is prevailing to the glory of God. I know few people in our fellowship who understand and teach the message of the gospel of the grace of God who were not once under the yoke of legal bondage. Truth always wins, it can’t be shut out forever.

    (Interestingly, I know of no one who once embraced the message of grace and the freedom of knowing and serving Christ as a love slave who decided upon further study to become a legalist.)

    As is true in most areas of life, many men have suffered the scorn and contempt of those who are threatened by the grace message. You are one of those who has paid the price and have done so with great dignity and Christ likeness.

    I am please to call you my friend.


  4. We are saved by the grace of God and for those that know the truth but do not abide by the truth will face judgement in the condition in which they die and this is each of our choice. Jesus sacrificed Himself so that we may be saved by the grace of God but we have to strive to be like Jesus daily. Going to a building or having our name in a directory or on a role does not make us a Christian. Without striving to become like Jesus and studying the word of God to see what He wants and how He wants us to worship Him we will be lost whether or not we are considered as “in” the body of Christ by men. If we know to do good and do not do it, we are sinning. We know teaching others about Christ is good, so leaving a congregation because we do not agree with their teaching could be considered as not having enough love for the other brethen to want to try and teach them the way of Christ better. One could say we do not love our brethen as much as we should. Some have a hard time speaking out about what the Lord teaches us in His word in fear of hurting someone’s “feelings”. We are to be bold in teaching the word of God. Christ teaches us that rebuking someone that we consider to be in the wrong according to God’s word means we love them. Who knows, once we rebuke them we may get to know them better , if we rebuke because we love their soul and want to help them , and understand them better so that we can help them more and they may wind up helping us to become stronger in our own faith. The more we understand others, the more we love them and want to do whatever we can to help them. to be saved. We are to edify everyone and not tear down but to build up. In order to build up with the truth we have to know the truth and speak the truth as God has stated it in His word. It is a “thus saith the Lord” not a “thus saith me or someone else. ” Until we are willing to accept what God teaches us we cannot teach others. I believe there are more scriptures on love and forgiveness in the Bible than anything else. The Lord teaches us that we are to hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized and then to live. It is the beginning and through patience, study and love God will show us the way and will see to it we know what we are doing is right and will save us through the sacrifice of Jesus, His son and His grace. Sometimes we get bogged down with worring about the wrong things and what others think. We need only to worry about what God thinks and if we do this we will not have time enough to worry about other things.


    Thanks for your visit and your comment.

    For sure everyone who has been born again wants to please God and obey what Christ has commanded. It is also true that not one of us can obey perfectly and not one of us can live continually above all sinful acts. It is because of these truths that Jesus died in our place for our sins, lived a life of perfect obedience that we could not, and never sinned unlike us. Based wholly upon the work and worth of Jesus God can now declare wicked sinners just and still be just.

    In the same way no person can be good enough to be approved by God for salvation initially, no person can be good enough to stay saved. We must have Christ’s righteousness and not our own from start to finish.


  5. Leviticus 10
    Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were killed because they used “unauthorized” fire before God contrary to His command. This is and example to us. Even though Christ has given His life so that we might be saved because of our inability to live a perfect life, we still must be careful not to worship in an unauthorized way. We also would be worshiping Him in vain as it says in Matthew 15:9 by following the doctrines and commandments of men. We use the Old Testament as history and examples but live by the law of Christ for which Jesus put into effect when He died. So if we have unauthorized items , things , or actions in our worship to God would we not be worshiping Him in vain and be lost? Is it possible for all of the many many “different” beliefs to be right in the sight of God. Mathew 7 22-24 tells us that many who think they are Christians He will say “I never knew you”. This tells me we have got to worship only in the way God has authorized and that even though we became a Christian at one point we can again be in a lost state.
    Let us pray that we are Christians in our hearts and that God guides us to do all that we are to do no matter what some man may teach or tell us.
    Let us pray that our life shines in such a way to others that it leads others to God’s way and not our way but let us do everything that God teaches in His word in our worship to Him. To leave out what He has not authorized and include what He has authoized.


    One of the best examples of how we are to worship is Romans 12:1,2.

    As for Sunday morning the Bible has very little to say. Church of Christ preachers and elders have much more to say than the Bible does. And, to complicate things even more, they don’t all have the same rules (pattern) and so one group says the other is lost or in danger of being lost when most of what they are disputing is personal preferences, traditions, and very little Scripture.

    To one group a Sunday night service is just as holy and important as the a.m. service and even can be a “salvation issue” and the Bible says not one word about meeting on Sunday night. We make much of what can be done or not done in the “building” and the Bible is silent on that as well. The Bible says to lift hands is ok and CoC elders and preachers says no, that is “strange fire”. And, serving communion from the back of the building is not authorized and from the front is, one song leader is scriptural but two or more is damnable.

    For people who claim to follow the Bible only, we do a sorry job of practicing what we preach. I’m sure you agree?


  6. The story of Nadab and Abihu is often used to support a detailed pattern of Christian worship based on supposedly logical deductions from various Scripture verses, and to condemn others who do not conform exactly to that pattern. Yet there is not one example in the whole Bible, so far as I can find, of any person whom God punished or even reprimanded, for making an honest mistake while clearly trying to do the right thing with a reverent attitude.

    Nadab and Abihu are no exception. These were men of unusual privilege and spiritual background. They had enjoyed a special appearance and view of God, with Moses and Aaron on Mount Sinai (Ex. 24:9-11). They were sons of Aaron, the first high priest. The very story of their judgment and deaths in Leviticus 10 itself indicates that they did not reverence God (v. 1-3). The text suggests that they might even have been intoxicated when they went into the Tent of Meeting with their “strange fire” (v. 8-9). Their problem was not the honest mistake of humble men, but the presumptuous acts of men who did not reverence God.

    The rest of the story tells how their two younger brothers, Eleazer and Ithamar, also violated a specific command of God by not eating the meat of the sin offering (v.16-18). Moses was angry about this transgression, but Aaron explained that these younger brothers disobeyed the command to eat the offering because they felt unworthy (v. 19). “And when Moses heard that, it seemed good in his sight” (v. 20). Apparently God agreed with Moses about the matter, because these brothers lived on and Eleazar became the high priest upon Aaron’s death (for more on true worship, go to .

    Thanks Edward for a great clarification of an abused text.


  7. I agree attitude has everything to do with everything we do. I also agree that the “building” in which we worship is made too much of. It is only a building. What is in our hearts is what counts and some can be physically in service but not spiritually in service which means we are not there at all and our worship to God is in vain. I was using the story of Nadab and Abihu to show the importance of worshiping God the way He wants and not the way men want . We are to have reverance, the right frame of mind and obedience in our worship. The same could be said about Cain, that it was his attitude and not his offering that God was against. Either way he had jealousy in his heart toward his brother and this is what led him to do what he did. We cannot have bad feelings toward brethren and worship God in truth and spirit. We must first get rid of that and then come back to worship God. God’s grace saves us but we have to strive to do all we can do but we still fall short and this is where His grace picks up. But if we just sit back and do not strive to follow God’s commandments God is not going to allow His grace to save us. Do you agree?

    Romans 12:1,2 is a scripture that tells us how our attitude should be in worship to God. The renewing of our minds comes from the reading of God’s word every time we hear it whether it is in a worship service or not.
    I have heard many discussions on whether or not we should miss services on Sunday night and also Bible study on Wednesday nights with different ones getting upset over what was being said and this is not the attitude for a Christian to take but understandable because they may just feel on the defensive . We need to learn from our discussions, Bible studies and worship services as to how to be more pleasing to God and not take offense to something that is said but let it make us want to search deeper into the truth and ask God to help us understand better.

    There was a conversation once about singing spiritual songs and listening to them and it was stated that this is a form of worship whether or not we are in a worship service or not and all agreed. I think because of the frame of mind singing and listening to gospel music puts us in. Then it was asked if we truely believe that instrumental music is wrong to use in worship to God that it would seem it would be wrong to listen to it accompanied with instruments at other times. We are to worship in spirit and truth and I truly beleve this. We are to be like-minded. Are we being like-minded with our own selves if we say we believe it is wrong to have instruments in a worship service but yet we listen to songs of praise at other times accompanied by instruments ? Are we not to be consistant in our beliefs?

    I gather from your comments that you are a member of a church of Christ congregation but you disagree with some of the beliefs and/or teachings. How can we agree with some of the beliefs of the church we attend and not agree with all when we are to be like-minded, especially about spiriual matters. I know we can have different opinions on things that are of principle but not on things that are scriptural. Sometimes it is hard to separate what is principle and what is scriptural.

    I may have misjudged your comments, if so I apologize.


    I am a member of a church of Christ and I disagree with very little that is taught in my congregation. However, I disagree with “most” of what is taught in many church of Christ congregations.

    You are right about music in my view. If I believed instruments in worship is wrong ( I do not) then it would be inconsistent to listen to it at other times. That is unless I believed also, what many church of Christ people believe that worship can only happen on Sunday morning (I do not), then it would be OK.

    By any legalistic/traditional/conservative standards I am aware of a huge percentage of the brotherhood sincerely believes that another large percentage is lost or about to be lost at any given time. I think history, if you and I are honest, does not show much unity and thinking alike in churches of Christ. Many of us live in a religious cocoon isolated from the rest of professing Christians. Unfortunately, we are know by a watching world as people who fight with each other, who believe we are the only ones saved, and think pianos in church will cause people to go to hell. I don’t identify myself with that sort of history.

    Pat, our only ground of unity is our mutual faith in Jesus Christ. It is our relationship with him that makes us brothers, one of the same spiritual body. Worship styles, singing, clapping, communion bread, what’s in the cup, and a thousand other things pale in comparison to faith in the Son of God who alone gives eternal life to those who trust him.

    I am convinced Alexander Campbell would be embarrassed to see how far removed from his noble ideals much of the RM are. He said “…Christians, but not the only Christians”. And most of todays coc people say “…Christians only and the only Christians”. My God have mercy on us.


  8. Thank you for your responce. Does the congregation you attend have instrumental music? Just curious. In reading past history of many denominatiions I actually found where some of them left their “churches” because of instrumental music being a part of the worship and then others put it back in later.

    There are only a few areas that separate believers.

    1. style and type of music in worship
    where I attend there is no instruments but as you said if someone did something out of the ordinary and raised their hands in worship or clapped during a song it would be considered wrong. But there are those that will play instruments with songs of praise at other times. This is confusing to me and I study on it a lot in my own mind.

    2. communion…..whether it is to be every Sunday or periodically
    Of course, as most coc congregations do , we have it every Sunday morning and at the evening services for those that did not make it that morning. My thought is what about all of the shut-ins and sick people that miss several Sundays. Would they have to go up for repentance of this when they got back to service after an illness. Wouldn’t we as a church be in error if we did not make sure all of the shut-in’s and elderly that can’t come at all do not have a chance to receive communion?
    My mom was sick and missed services for over a year prior to her death. Do I believe she was lost because of this, no I do not. Do I feel a little inconsistant in my belief with this……..yes, because I believe communion is an important part of worship.

    3. immersion or sprinkling in baptism
    I believe with no doubt in immersion

    4. at what point do we put on Christ and are saved
    I believe with no doubt that we put on Christ with baptism and it is through baptism that our sins are washed away.

    These are the only visible outward things that separate the coc from other denominations.

    Most people go to the church or denomination they were raised in and would not consider leaving because Mama and Dad were a Baptist, Methodist or even coc. I think this is wrong even in our own minds because we should focus on Jesus and what He has told us. When we are doing something only because our parents did it we are following them and not Jesus. I think about this a lot because I was raised in the coc.

    I believe that we worship God every day and every waking moment in all that we do, our thoughts and our deeds. We attend worship on Sunday’s to be with like-minded believers for edification and support. It’s just hard sometimes to tell if we really are “like-minded” when you really listen to what others say.

    Thanks and God Bless


    Your loving, gentle heart comes through in your writing. I appreciate that very much.

    I worship with an a capella congregation. We have some of the best singing on earth and we love it! We don’t however believe we are commanded to do so by scripture. It just isn’t there. It is a part of our rich heritage and we continue in that tradition.

    I have already mentioned my thoughts on raising hands. The things you mention in item #1 are not forbidden in scripture and so we should not go further than the Bible does in my view.

    Communion. First as to when, “as often as you do it” is pretty vague. There is wide agreement among the best Bible scholars that for many years early Christians observed the Lord’s Supper every day. And, of course there were almost certainly those who incorporated the supper into their weekly gatherings on the first day of the week.

    Taking the bread and cup is not a means of grace. It is to remember the body and blood of the Lord Jesus and to remind us he is coming again. Again, we have made participating in the Lord’s Supper more than the Bible makes it and that is not good. There is no way anyone can prove from the Bible that missing the Lord’s supper, especially when a person is sick, is a sin, or that God will judge someone harshly because of it. We should just follow the Bible in this matter. I have written some posts on the Lord’s Supper that you might want to read ,

    You might want to read this post where I discussed baptism.

    I agree with you about what motivates people to go to church. God doesn’t have any grandchildren. Each person must have his or her own faith. It is not inherited.

    When you and I come to an open Bible we should come with an open heart and search for truth, even if that truth goes against what we have been taught. Far too often we use God’s word only to find proof texts for what we like rather than searching for God’s truth and then adjusting our lives to that truth.


  9. I have read your post on baptism and enjoyed reading it. I have never heard it put quite the way you wrote and I want to make sure I am understanding your view. Faith comes from hearing and believing and after hearing and believing we confess and repent. If I am understanding what you are saying one is saved at this point by the grace of God. Baptism is only an announcement to others that are present that you have decided to follow Christ. I have always believed that you are not saved until your sins are forgiven and that this is through baptism and at this time through striving to live by the grace of God we are saved. I also have always believed the bible teaches we do not put on Christ until you have been baptized. I understand and it makes sense that one that is turning his life around by repenting (this is what repenting is, stopping what you are doing and a change of heart and mind) you are saying this is when one puts on Christ and therefore is now saved by the grace of God. Just wanted to clarify.

    A lady remarked one time that she did not want to go to the coc because it was to hard to get to heaven going to a coc. I think of her remark sometimes and feel that she might have had a point.

    If being a Christian is too hard then we are not totally committed to Christ is the way I see it. Although we all slip and fall but through God’s grace we have the opportunity to start again. He picks us up, dusts us off and points us back in His direction but only if we are sincere in our hearts and want this.

    I will be reading your other post.

    God Bless


    It is my view that when we study the Bible we must consider what I call “the weight of scripture”. Let me explain what I mean in this context. Perhaps less than a dozen verses that seem to say one thing do not over-rule and make meaningless almost a hundred that say something else. Such is the case about how a person, or when a person is justified and counted righteous.

    Paul took a whole chapter in his letter to the Romans (chapter 4) to explain this. One of the clearest passages that explains exactly the questions you are asking is Romans 10. Verse 9 says “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

    In verse 10 he further explains, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved”. This is consistent with what Jesus taught, what Paul preached, and what Peter taught.

    It was Peter who spoke the words of Acts 2:38. When Peter started to baptize Gentiles the Jewish believers were alarmed. This is what Peter said in Acts 11. I encourage you to carefully read this whole chapter. Note especially what Peter said concerning when he received the Holy Spirit who is given only to those who are saved. “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?””

    He said the same thing later in Acts 15 when he was defending salvation by faith alone (the Jewish believers wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised) to the counsel at Jerusalem. “Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.”

    Pat, these are not my words, they are Peter’s words and they are exactly what Jesus and the other Apostles taught. Peter’s testimony was that his heart was cleansed by faith and that he received the Holy Spirit when he believed. I am confident Peter was immersed but we have no record of any of the Apostles baptisms.

    Finally, Peter again made a strong statement in Acts 10 after he preached the gospel of Christ clearly he said this, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (vs 43) And while Peter was speaking the ones listening to this message of the gospel of Christ received the Holy Spirit and since no one could deny they had indeed received the gift of the Holy Spirit Peter declared that they should be baptized.

    Your disagreement is not with me it is with these plain truths of scripture taught over and over again. Just because good people have taught something different since back in the 1800’s does not change the truth in the least. We are to believe the Bible not what someone says about it. I think you agree.

    God bless you,

  10. I was actually looking for someone else’s blog which I have not found yet but still looking when I came across yours. I am thankful I came across it as it has been a blessing as it is anytime to discuss God’s word with others. God speaks to us through His word but one of His many blessings is getting to know other Christians and their love for Jesus and their love for teaching and discussing God’s word with others. I will be studying with more enlightment and understanding than ever now and I thank you.

    God Bless


    And God bless you.


  11. Royce,
    Thank you so much for this site. It has blessed me immensely. I am from a “denomination” other than yours. As a teenager I was cornered by a group of elders from a coc church and told that because I worshipped with instruments that I would not be fit for heaven. Because I was baptized by immersion, but not for salvation, I was not saved. Because I observed the Lord’s Supper monthly instead of weekly, I was not saved. Even as a young man I thought these views to be legalistic and foreign to scripture. It caused considerable heartache and doubt. It did, however, cause me to search the Word. I have found a peace through grace that I don’t think I ever would through legalism. I am encouraged that not all RM churches view me as lost.

    Don’t get me wrong, my church has its own traditions that have been formed by man. We work through the same temptations to cater to personal preferences and “styles.” Praise God He forgives our weekness and redeems us, not through our flawed effort, but by His perfect Grace.

    I am pleased to have found a brother in Christ in an unexpected place. God bless you and your congregation… and the Church universal.

    It seems that every group of believers has their share of knuckle heads. The first century church had them as well. I appreciate the kind words. They are encouraging. Swimming up stream is not easy but in this case it is right. I trust that my posts honor Christ and keep him at the center of everything doctrinal, theological, and in daily living.


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  14. Since the Stone and Campbell ideas changed significantly over time how could it alone be divinely inspired? Did it not strive for unity, then turn sectarian? Which of the splits is the correct one to follow?

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