It is fortunate that we live in a community in which the citizenry for the most part holds to the basic tenets of Christianity. But at the same time we often hear well-meaning statements with which we do not totally agree. The other day one such statement was made to me. It went something like this: “It really doesn’t matter what church you go to so long as you have a commitment to Jesus.” So what are we to make of such a statement? Can we give a hardy, “Amen” or does it contain a fundamental flaw?
First, let me say that it is a wonderful thing when anyone, anywhere has a commitment to Jesus. But then let me hasten to add that that is just the starting point. Those really committed to Jesus will spend a lifetime searching the Scriptures to know the way of the Lord more perfectly. Furthermore, as we come to a better understanding of God’s word, we make changes in our personal life in order to conform to it more perfectly. This is generally understood and accepted with regard to one’s personal life.
But the same is also true of our church life. Since churches do differ in both doctrine and practice, it is inevitable that some people, as they study the Scriptures, will find that the church of their forefathers, or the church that first introduced them to Jesus, is not adhering as closely as they should to God’s Word. What then should one do? Certainly we should always have the courage to step out and be a part of the church that most closely adheres to the teachings of Jesus.
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.