A lot of people will ask, “What is the difference between the church of Christ and the church I attend?” I don’t consider myself an expert on denominational doctrines because they change from year to year and from person to person. However, I do consider myself an expert on what the church of Christ is and what it stands for because it never changes and is contained in the scripture. Thus, this is my answer to all who may be curious but never truly asked: What is the church of Christ?
The word “denomination” is used as a part of the whole, and that is precisely what a denomination is: one among many, all together forming the whole. Thus, we would have the “Church of Christ” made up of many churches and many faiths, no two alike, all divided. This is not the church of Christ. The Apostle Paul said, “There is one body,” which is the “church” (Eph 1:22-23 f; Eph 4:4). The church of Christ is the pillar and ground of the truth and contains the manifold wisdom of God (Eph 3:10 f; 1 Tim 3:15).
The Bible always reveals the church as one. Jesus built it (Matt 16:18). He alone is its Head (Col 1:18). It is entered into by baptism (1 Cor 12:13). It is composed of its members (Acts 2:47), each sustaining his own spiritual relationship to God.
The New Testament church that saves and perfects in his relationship with the Lord is a spiritual relationship, not a visible and active function to carry out the purposes of God. It was God’s will for local communities of people (local congregations) to perform this latter work. Each of these is to function by itself, independently, as not the others existed. They are not considered collective making up the whole church. What is the work of the church?
Work of Evangelism
Mankind is lost in sin (Rom 3:23). The gospel is the only power to save (Rom. 1:16). Consequently, God wants the gospel preached (Mk 16:15 f; 1 Cor. 1:21), and has given the obligation to the church.
The church’s marching orders to evangelize are given in Matt 28:19, Mk 16:15. Jesus said to go and preach the gospel to every creature. In the parable of the sower, Jesus showed that the church is the sowing agency (Matt 13:3-9). The church is to hold forth the words of life (Phil 2:16).
First-century congregations sent preachers out into the world to preach the gospel. The church at Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas. “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers. . . . As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away,” (Acts 13:1-3).
Paul reminded the Thessalonian congregation how they had sounded out the gospel. “For from you sounded out the words of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything,” (1 Thess 1:8).
While Paul preached at Corinth, his financial support was supplied by congregations of Macedonia. He took wages of other congregations to do a service at Corinth (2 Cor 11: 8). Congregations in Macedonia helped spread the gospel through Paul. Though it is noteworthy that later Paul rejected support, being able to support himself, that he abuse not his power in the gospel (1 Cor 9:18 f; 2 Thess 3:7-9). “Even so has the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel,” (1 Cor 9:14).
The congregation at Philippi assisted Paul financially in preaching the gospel. “Now you Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent once and again unto my necessity,” (Phil 4:15-16).
Friends, the church of the first century was missionary minded. In a period of about 30 years, the whole world had an opportunity to hear the gospel (Col 1:23). Twenty-first-century congregations need to exemplify their interest in the lost and put forth every effort to take the gospel to the world.
Work of Edification
In addition to evangelizing the world, the church is to develop its own spiritual strength by edification (Eph 4:16). In God’s divine arrangement, he set offices in the church for the equipping or perfecting of the saints.
Referring to offices or functions in the church, Paul said that the Lord “gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edification of the body of Christ,” (Eph 4:11-12).
The apostles and prophets revealed the truth (Eph 3:5), the evangelists are to proclaim the truth (2 Tim 4:2) and the pastors (elders [deacons and bishops]) are to guide the church and protect it from false teachers (Acts 20:28-31). By the faithful teaching of the truth, the saints will be perfected to do the work of the ministry (service) and the building up (evangelizing) of the body of Christ.
Members of the church are to be mature, coming to the “unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive,” (Eph 4:13-14). It is the business of the church to ground and stabilize itself to prevent false doctrine from leading it astray (Col 2:6-7).
Paul instructed the Corinthians that “forasmuch as you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that you may excel to the edifying of the church,” (1 Cor 14:12). In verse 26 of this same chapter, Paul stated that when the Corinthians came together to exercise spiritual gifts, “Let all things be done unto edifying.”
May each congregation be committed to developing itself to the extent that its members can teach others (Heb 5:12), have love, knowledge and discernment (Phil 1:9), a growing faith and an abounding love toward each other (2 Thess 1:3) and can resist the devil in all of his devices (Jam 4:7 ff; 1 Pet 5: 9; 2 Cor 2:11).
Work of Benevolence
Along with evangelism and edification is the work of benevolence. This work is limited, however, in its scope as the Scriptures plainly teach. Some have a misconception that church benevolence should be general, helping all humanity, but this would be an impossible task, exhausting all of its supplies with no resources left to do any other work God gave the church to perform.
God even limits the saints whom the church may help. Listen to Paul: “If any man or woman that believes have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed,” (1 Tim 5:16). God says we are to take care of our own, and not burden the church so that the church can relieve those saints who have no one to care for them. If we do not provide for our own, we are worse than an infidel (1 Tim 5:8).
The church at Jerusalem relieved the needs of its destitute members who remained in Jerusalem after their conversion to the Lord (Acts 2:44-45 cf; 4:32-35). The needs of widows were supplied by the liberality of the saints (Acts 6:1-6). When a great dearth came throughout the world and affected the saints in Judea, the church at Antioch sent relief to the brethren in Judea, sending it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30).
At another time, when the saints of the Jerusalem church became destitute and in want, congregations in Macedonia, Achaia and Galatia sent money to alleviate the need at Jerusalem. We read, “For it pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem,” (Rom 15:26). “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do you . . . And when I come whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem,” (1 Cor. 16:1, 3).
We can clearly see that when a need arose among the people of God, the church rallied to their aid. Brethren were concerned for one another and they demonstrated their love by giving to help their physical wants. May we reflect the same interest for each other.
Brethren, the foregoing things constitute the work of the church. Let us be satisfied with the mission that God gave the church and not prostitute its work into unauthorized activities.
Conclusion: This is enough to describe what the church of Christ is as described in the scriptures. There is only one way to enter the church of Christ and they are all united in this truth. One must hear the gospel and believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and confess such before men (Rom 10:17, 9-10). Secondly, they must repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Upon their obedience to the gospel, they are added to the Lord’s church by Christ himself (Acts 2:47). Thus, they become members of the body (church) of Christ (1 Cor 12:12, 27).
The Lord’s church meets each first day of the week to remember the Lord’s death by partaking of the communion and to give of its means (Acts 20:7 f; 1 Cor 16:1-3). They sing without the use of instruments (Eph 5:19), they sing and pray with the spirit and understanding also (1 Cor 14:15), they study to be approved of God (2 Tim 2:15), and they hear the word by the means of preaching (2 Tim 4:2-5).
The church of Christ is the only church of which Christ is the head and adds the saints to in order to be saved. Not all of its members will be saved, but all who are not added to it will be lost (Acts 2:47).