There is no official name for the church of the New Testament… Yes, there is one true church. I know of no substantial argument that would discredit these two statements. Besides, there was only one church… established in Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost in fulfillment of what Jesus had said in Matthew 16:18 “…upon this rock I will build my church…” I do not believe one church is as good as another, nor in Universalism.
New Testament church. Referred to as: “the church”, “the church of God…”, “the household of God…”, “the church of the Firstborn..”, “churches of Christ…”, “kingdom of God”, “the way”, “the body of Christ”. Yet these names were not taken, or used as an official names. They were not divisive names, nor denominational names. The church was identified and known by many things…. Luke records some of these things, “41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread (fellowship) and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47). It grew even in days of great persecution… even the “gates of hell” could not destroy it. It was from within that the church had it’s most danger, then and now. What is the church of Christ? It is the saved… all of them…
Fast forward to the Restoration Movement. The Restoration movement was an effort to restore New Testament Christianity by many who were seeking to re-kindle the ‘fires’ of First Century Christianity in modern times. This was a marvelous idea and effort. However there were also others who had this idea.
Jay Guinn, in his book, “The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace”, summarizes the restoration movement very well. “In the early 1800’s, a number of religious movements developed in the American frontier which then consisted of such states as Kentucky and Illinois. Among these was a movement by a former Presbyterian minister, Barton W. Stone…… Stone called for Christians to give up their denominational ties and become Christians only. Differences of opinion would be tolerated among church members so long as the members professed faith in Jesus and evidenced their salvation by live in the Christian lifestyle. Stone was a strong believer in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He felt that the one true test of salvation is whether the Holy Spirit has been received by the believer as evidenced by Christian living…..
“Alexander soon became the intellectual champion of this movement and developed a national reputation for his debates on religious issues. He came to the conclusion that baptism by immersion was essential to salvation thus, Campbell emphasized baptism as the true test of whether a believer has been saved…..
The stone and Campbell movements soon overlapped territories, with many towns having congregations of both persuasions. Many within the Stone movement became persuaded as to Campbell’s beliefs regarding baptism, and soon efforts were made to unite the congregations into a common fellowship.” (ibid. Pgs 1-2))
(In his book “Christians Only”, James De Forrest Murch said on page 93 “at first Stone gave little attention to the subject of baptism. He even considered it an optional practice. When controversy arose among his followers, he finally began the study of the Scriptures which led him to the conclusion that immersion of believers was the divinely ordained baptism, and he himself was immersed. Thereafter he began to preach that baptism “is ordained by the King” and that the Bible clearly taught the ordinance was “for the remission of sins.”)
Quoting Jay Guinn again, “Stone and Campbell themselves were initially reluctant to condone a merger. However, the churches were eager to merge, and many merged without the blessings of the leaders of the movement. Since most movements also stressed that the church is completely independent (congregational autonomy), neither leader had any authority to prohibit or compel a merger of the movements. But eventually the two men came to recommend the merger gladly. The combined movements came to be known as the Restoration Movement…… The leaders disagreed on the name of the church (Christian church vs. Disciples of Christ) and the name of the members (Christians or Disciples)…” (Of course these two leaders had disagreements, yet), “these and other more subtle differences were put aside, with the men agreeing to “think and let think” and to preach and write only on those subjects that would edify the church. Although each was the publisher of a periodical that was highly influential in the movement, in the interest of unity each chose to avoid the temptation toward controversies over theological speculation…”
“The combined movement, known most commonly as the Disciples of Christ or Christian church in the north and as the Churches of Christ in the South, was greatly invigorated by the merger, and spread rapidly throughout the country as a young nation expanded westward into the Deep South.” (ibid, pgs 2-3).
The point of this (incomplete) rendering of the beginning of the great restoration movement, is to help us think about what is really is involved in maintaining unity in the body of Christ. Is unity, being one body, dependant on agreeing on everything? Can a better understanding of God’s grace help in all of this? If we seek unity based on everyone agreeing on everything, unity is beyond our grasp, yet with God’s grace, unity is very attainable.
The unity of the restoration movement did not last long, since in 1906 a great division took place over the subject of instrumental music, as well as other things. Things which had been pushed and ‘fired-up’ not only by writers in church Publications, but by preachers who took advantage of their pulpits who promoted a ‘legalistic’, graceless Christianity. Talk of “grace” seems have been largly missing in dealing with this, and other ‘issues’, when a better understanding of grace may have helped us avoid this costly division. A proper understanding of grace may have helped us to at least continue to treat each other like brethren which we are because of the blood of Christ.
Paul encourages the Roman church in Romans 16:16 by saying “the churches of Christ salute you, greet one another with a holy kiss.” By encouragement in this article is for Christians, all who have been baptized for the remission of their sins into Christ, and have received the gift of the Holy Spirit according to the Scriptures to simply understand what Paul is saying. When he says “the churches of Christ salute you”, he is not using this term as an official name for the church, but as a designation which is as powerful and meaningful as the other designations mentioned throughout the epistles in the book of Acts. Names that we put on the signs seem to have divided us. Whether we put the name “Church of Christ” or “Christian Church” or Country Church “Where Christians meet”… What puts us into Christ is obeying the gospel of Christ.
Paul also in this verse encourages or should we say commands all Christians to greet one another with a holy kiss, which today means treat each other with love, accept each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. This includes weaker brothers as well as a stronger ones, this includes those who hold certain days as holy, and those who hold all days are like. This includes those who eat meat and those who do not. Find the principal in Romans 14, apply it, use it. It will help us in understanding grace.
The question seems to be can we deal with our differences, or must we continue to divide? Can we sit in the Bible class and with love for each other, respect for each other, and a deep desire to please Jesus… determined that we are going to study irregardless of where the truth leads, we will stand on the Scriptures. If we differ on opinion or things upon which the Scriptures do not speak then we can respect each other’s opinions. In God’s grace we are accepted because of the finished work of Jesus Christ not because we agree on everything.
This is important: because I know that there will be some that will read this and say “Jack is gone off the deep end!” What I’m trying to do is encourage balance in Scriptures. Since much division is caused by taking a truth and pushing it to an extreme. Obviously there are things that we cannot disagree on. We cannot disagree for example on baptism for the remission of sins. We cannot disagree on the importance of assembling on the Lord’s day. We cannot disagree on the Lord’s supper being taken, nor the bread and fruit of the vine. We cannot disagree on Jesus the son of God come in the flesh. We cannot disagree that we are saved by grace through faith. However we are left open to think about and to decide for ourselves on many things…. Are we going to be baptized in a pool or do we have to be baptized in a river? Do we have to use one cup in the Lord Supper, or can we use many cups which is far more hygienic? Do we have to break the bread and then offer thanks, and distribute it, and repeat this process for the grape juice, or can we say one prayer for both the bread and the fruit of the vine? Surely we can see that we are left open in many areas to make up our own minds as to what is expedient and helpful in our situation and in our culture. Can we clap hands during worship? Can we use an instrument of music? Must we divide over these things. Of course we could list many many other things but I think that the idea is obvious, whether you agree with me on everything or not…. (By the way I disagree with myself quite often, so don’t give up on me yet.)(I’m a work in progress.)
Today we can indeed make a difference… and learn form the past… One by one, class by class, congregation by congregation, we can re-study, and re-consider these things in light of scripture… We can insist on doing it better.
Never do you find in the New Testament, where on congregation withdraws fellowship from another congregation…. Yet today we find this happening over and over again. My question where is the Scripture that gives congregations are leaderships the right to do this? If it isn’t there then why we doing it? What happened to autonomy?
It seems to me that when there is something that comes up which is questionable or causes a bit of friction, that it should be noted, leaders should sit down and discuss it, and classes and individuals should be allowed and willing to sit down and study together on what the Bible says on the matter… WITHOUT FEAR. Truth has nothing to fear or hide… It is the argumentative “I am right, you are wrong”, “if I don’t get my way I’ll leave” attitude, that is hurting us.
I am convinced that in our Bible classes we should be willing and able to study any subject that comes up with an attitude of love than simply searching the Scriptures to find out what is right not who is right. If we find that we are wrong when, okay we change. If we find we are right, okay we stand. But through it all we must maintain the spirit of loving each other.
Labels have become the norm the church today. (“Liberal”, Conservative”, “Anti” “One Cupper””Instrumental”, “Non-Instrumental”, “Bible Class”, “Non-Bible Class” etc…Depending on what label one has been given, will determine whether they are “in” or “out”. Whether we will eat with them or not, whether they will be accepted with Christian love or treated like an outsider who doesn’t belong, and encouraged to “find another place”. Problem with ‘labels’ is people change, but labels seem to never go away. A bigger problem is I’m not sure God approves of this. If so, where are the scriptures?
It takes wisdom and love for each other not to divide or push something which may be a matter of freedom in Christ, but may be offensive and harmful to the body of Christ. In past years, we have not exibited much wisdom nor love for each other in dealing with differences… but perhaps it is not too late to begin.
My goal is simply to encourage Christians to be more willing to study the Scriptures with each other in love, before drawing a line of fellowship where God has not drawn them….
“The churches of Christ salute you”….