Anyone who would take a serious look at the modern church in comparison to the church of the first century as portrayed on the pages of the New Testament would in all probability be able to see that something is awry. The face of the church in today’s world is quite different from how it was in the days of the apostles of Christ. Why is there such a wide disparity between the apostolic church and that of the 21st century?
The Epistle of Paul to the church at Ephesus is a good place to start in order to get a handle on the problem. Paul wrote and reminded them that they were “Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Ephesians 2:20) Furthermore what was true of the church at Ephesus was true also of all the individual churches scattered throughout the first century world so that all of them together formed a “holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:21-22)
By way of contrast in today’s Christian world we have a host of different denominations not content to be built simply upon the “foundation of the apostles and prophets” with Jesus Christ himself as the “chief corner stone” but rather have added two additional things which were not a part of God’s original design. First, each individual denomination has its own distinctive rule of faith and practice called either a creed, manual, discipline, or catechism, etc. This rule of faith and practice spells out how the denomination and each congregation is to function. Second, each denomination has its own central governing body which exercises varying degrees of authority over the individual congregations. Neither of these two is authorized in the Bible.
Would it not be better if all the man-made rules of faith and practice were dropped and we all stood upon the Bible, and the Bible alone, as our only rule of faith and practice in religion? Also would it not be better if all denominational governing bodies were dissolved and each individual congregation became answerable to Christ, and Christ alone, as the only head of the Church? Furthermore should not each individual step out of the whole denominational system and be a part of a congregation subject only to Christ as its head and the Bible as its only rule of faith and practice? Many of us have done just that.
Modern Christianity is a divided Christianity. There are in this country several hundred rival religious groups. Each has its own denominational name. Each has a different creed or book of church order. Each has its own separate organization. Yet all claim Christ as their King.
Jesus wanted his followers to be united. In praying to His Father He said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20,21)
How can we in the twenty-first century achieve the unity Christ desired? (1) We must discard all denominational names which divide men religiously, (See 1 Corinthians 1:12,13) and unite under the name of Christ. (See Acts 11:26; Romans 16:16). (2) We must abandon all ecclesiastical authority (popes, councils, synods, presbyteries, conferences, assemblies and associations) and accept only the authority of Jesus Christ. (3) We must discard all man-made creeds and books of church order and accept Christ as our only creed and the New Testament as the sufficient book of discipline for the church. Unity in Christ is not to be achieved on the basis of documents written and approved by men, but on the Bible and the Bible alone.
Protestantism began as a protest against the edicts (decrees) of the Roman Church and called for freedom of conscience for all believers. The problem is that the protestants turned around and formed their own institutional church imposing their own rules and regulations.
Today all protestant denominations have their own institutional organization which sets the rules and regulations for member churches. They write and rewrite these rules as the leadership sees fit. It never seems to occur to them that in the church of the Bible, Christ is the only head and the law of Christ the only rule of faith and practice. There was no institutional authority over the individual congregations. All were subject only to Christ.
The churches of Christ are all autonomous (independent). We have no denominational or institutional structure. While there are thousands of individual churches of Christ throughout the world, we are all in conscience and organization free – subject only to Christ as the head and the law of Christ as our only rule of faith and practice.
Christ himself is the Christian’s creed or more fully stated – “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) This is the original creed of Christianity. It is this that the first Christians believed, confessed and lived by.
All man-made creeds, theological opinions, commands of men, and human traditions are irrelevant at best and often worse. No man is required to subscribe to any theological system devised by men.
What is required is faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and obedience to Him as Lord and King. It is the belief of this fact and the obedience it implies that is the very foundation of Christianity. (Matthew 16:18)