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.
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.
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.