The churches of Christ are not a denomination. There is no home office, no headquarters, and no written creed. The churches of Christ are a fellowship of congregations where each congregation is autonomous. There is no "official list" of congregations in the fellowship. Neither is there a governing board or "membership requirements" for a congregation to be in fellowship other than what is in the Bible. In other words, if a church is practicing and teaching the Bible in all its purity, and not a creed or any such thing, then the Bible demands fellowship, which we extend. The "Church of Christ", then, is not a denominational designation, but a description and identifier of who we are. Not all the churches in the fellowship wear the name "churches of Christ". We know of some who are called "Christ's church", and others that are called "Assembly of Christ".
Many do not understand that the Lord's church can, should, and must be a church without being a denomination. A denomination is a division or divided part. One example of the concept of "denomination" is the division of money. There are different denominations of bills: 1's, 5's, 10's 20's and 100's. If you have a pocket full of 5-dollar-bills, you would not have different denominations of bills, because they are all of the same identity. This is the way it must be in the church.
The only divisions spoken of in scripture are geographical ones which include the churches in Galatia, the churches in Macedonia, the church in Rome, the church in Antioch, etc. Open fellowship existed among these congregations. Preachers such as Apollos, Paul, Aquilla and Pricilla, and others, traveled among these churches and worked with them. Hospitality was openly extended to members of all these churches when they traveled. They worked together to preach the Gospel and give financial aid to poor Christians. As a matter in fact, there were no denominations. There was simply, "the church-of-Christ".
It is necessary to note that this open fellowship was based on doctrinal purity, or pure teaching and practice of the truth. (Galatians 1:6-9; I John 4:1)
Jesus prayed that his followers would be one just as he and the Father were one (John 17:11) Being divided up into denominations with the earthly headquarters, written creeds and earthly founders goes against the wishes of Jesus. Ephesians 4:4ff says there is one body (the church), and one faith. There are not many but one. I Corinthians 1:11-13 speaks directly to the problem of denominationalism. There were those who were following after men. Some were saying they followed Paul, others said they followed Apollos, and others said they followed Cephas. They were rebuked for these divisions among them. The problem has returned to the church today with different names. Instead of someone saying they followed Apollos, now they might say they follow Martin Luther, and even will call themselves "Lutheran" (which was against Luther's own wishes).
Our goal is not restoration of the first century church. A quick reading of scripture will reveal that even the church in the first century had its problems, which prompted the writing of part of the New Testament. Our goal is restoration of the "ideal" church. We see this as an ongoing process - never ending. We are not content to codify the results of our studies into a creed or formula, but are forever students of the word. Being simply "the church", we have no founder but Jesus, and no headquarters but Heaven. The "church of Christ" was founded 2000 years ago, that's what we want to be and no more. We step out of denominational ideals, and into simple New Testament Christianity as is prescribed in the Bible.
We believe that things such as creeds, or a confession of faith (such as the Westminster Confession of Faith), denominational titles, etc. have all contributed to the problem of denominationalism - the dividing up of the church of our Lord. We advocate discarding written creeds and having the Bible as our only creed. The problem with creeds is that they have a tendency to become the authority rather than the Bible. The creed is consulted rather than the Bible. Another problem of creeds is that they are generally not open to change and examination. They become the authority in a denomination, whether stated or un-stated. This is especially dangerous because history has shown that people can be wrong in their interpretations.
The New Testament says nothing of creeds. It does tell us to beware of teaching as doctrine the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9; Galatians 1:7-9). A creed is just as fallible as men, you could be wrong, and according to these scriptures, your service to God would be in vain. The solution is have the all sufficient word as your only creed. If God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, (2 Peter 1:3) why do we even need a creed?
The name "churches of Christ" is not a title (though it is usually used consistently for the benefit of those traveling to identify and differentiate us from a denomination), but rather a description. We use this name because it is in scripture (Romans 16:16), and it gives glory to our founder, Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus did say "I will build MY church" (Matthew 16:18); and the Bible tells us that Jesus established the church with his own blood (Acts 20:28). Why name His church after a man (Lutheran, Wesley, Mennonite), or after a form of government (Presbyterian, Episcopal), or even a particular doctrine (Baptist, Methodist), when the Bible simply calls it the churches of Christ, or church of God, or household of God? All of the names used in scripture give glory to God. Instead of focusing on a title, we strive to live up to the "descriptions" of the church in the Bible.
Terms of Membership
This is another topic that has obviously been either confused or muddled. Having no creed but the Bible alone, we look to the Bible to determine our terms of membership. As a result, we do not "vote" a person into the congregation. Neither do we have a probationary period, a special class, or any other such thing to become a member. These things are simply not mentioned or even implied in scripture.
Terms of membership into the Lord's church are the same as those for Salvation. Ephesians 1:1-14 tells us that God has blessed those "In Him" or "In Christ" with every spiritual blessing, with redemption and forgiveness of sins, with an inheritance of Heaven, and with the Holy Spirit. The 2nd chapter of Ephesians tells how all Christians, whether they were a Jew or Gentile (non-Jew) have been brought together in Christ. This happened at the moment one was saved. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). God's part was extending his grace (undeserved mercy), our part is faith. The passage concludes: "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, God's household..." (Ephesians 2:19).
So then, when one is saved, he becomes part of God's household. This example is clearly seen in Acts 2:37-41. The people heard the message, repented (turned their life over to Christ), were Baptized, received the Holy Spirit, and were added to the church (verse 41). There was no other requirement but what was required to become a Christian - Repentance, Baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit, which was promised to all those who would be converted to Christ.
I Corinthians 12:13 makes it even more clear: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...". "Body" or "Body of Christ" with Christ as the "head" is a common metaphor used in the New Testament to refer to the church. Salvation, receiving the Holy Spirit, becoming a part of the body of Christ (the church) all happen together at conversion. When one has faith in Christ, and that faith leads him to repent and turn his life over to Christ to make Jesus his Lord and Savior, which leads hims to confess that faith and be Baptized to demonstrate his faith in the death burial and resurrection of Jesus for our sins - that person becomes a child of God and a part of the body of Christ, the church.
The church is simply the "assembly" of those who are saved. We do not and will not impose any man made rules on any Christian to be a member of the Lord's church. After all, it is the church of "Christ", not our church. We take seriously Jesus' saying "In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).
According to scripture, there is no such thing as a seperate Clergy and Laity in the church as is commonly understood in the religious world. All Christians are called "priests" in the Kingdom of God (I Peter 2:5, 9-10). The Bible teaches that every Christian is a minister. The original Greek word for minister is "Diakonos", which means servant, attendant or minister. This description applies to all Christians. The Greek word for the man who preaches in the pulpit is "kerux", which simply means "Preacher". Another term is "euangelistes", which means preacher of the good news, or "gospel preacher". These are the only words that designate the special ministry of preaching.
Based on this, ministry opportunities are available to all members of the church. None of the ministries are strictly placed on our Preacher, including the ministry of preaching. Any Christian man in the congregation with the desire and some training who wishes to preach or teach may do so. Those who did have done a marvelous job preaching the word of God.
The congregation is in the process of building its programs and ministries with opportunites for every member to serve. When you see an opportunity, the Bible says grab it and don't bury it in the ground (Matthew 25:14-30). The church as a whole is to do good, but so is each individual Christian.
Note: The following is an excerpt on the churches of Christ taken from the book "Handbook of Denominations in the United States", 9th edition, written by Frank S. Mead and Samuel S. Hill, 1990.
The largest of the three principal bodies in the American restoration movement. ... Because this is not a denomination but a brotherhood with no central headquarters, activities such as recordkeeping are very difficult. Recent efforts show the membership to be about 1,250,000 in nearly 13,000 churches.
A distinctive plea for unity - a unity that is Bible-based - lies at the heart of Churches of Christ. It is believed that the Bible is "the beginning place," in and through which God-fearing people can achieve spiritual oneness - to "speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where the Bible is silent: in all matters pertaining to faith and morals. Consequently, members recognize no other written creed or confession of faith. In all religious matters, there must be a "thus said the Lord."
The churches are related to the restoration movement - the work and thinking of James O'Kelly in Virginia, Abner Jones and Elias Smith in New England, Barton Stone in Kentucky, and Thomas and Alexander Campbell in West Virginia. ... These four movements, all once completely independent, eventually became one strong religious stream because of their common purpose and plea.
...The groups claim to be nondenominational, with no headquarters, no governing bodies, and no clergy. they cooperate voluntarily in international radio programs sponsored by any congregation.
Today one of the outstanding features of Churches of Christ lies in the acceptance of the Bible as a true and completely adequate revelation. This basic concept has resulted in such practices as weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, baptism by immersion, a cappella singing, a vigorous prayer life, support of church needs through voluntary giving, and a program of preaching and teaching the Bible. This concept also explains the autonomy of local churches, governed by elders and deacons appointed under New Testament qualifications; dignified worship services, enthusiastic mission campaigns, and far-flung benevolence, all financed by local churches.
The scriptural doctrines usually classified as conservative are found in Churches of Christ: belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as members of one Godhead; the incarnation, Virgin birth, and bodily resurrection of Christ; the universality of sin after the age of accountability, its only remedy the vicarious atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Strong emphasis is also laid on the church as the Body and bride of Christ. A figurative rather than a literal view is prevalent with reference to the book of Revelation. Membership is contingent upon an individual's faith in Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son o god, repentance, confession of faith, and baptism by immersion for remission of sins. Church attendance is stressed.
Churches of Christ maintain that the final judgment of all religious groups is reserved unto the Lord. This view, however, still allows for a vigorous evangelism that finds unacceptable the doctrines, practices, names, titles, and creeds that have been grafted onto the original Christianity.
Ministers are ordained rather than licensed, and they hold tenure in their pulpits under mutual agreement with the elders of the churches in which they preach. their authority is moral rather than arbitrary, the actual government of the church being vested in its elders.
A vigorous missionary program is carried on in 75 nations outside the U.S., and in recent years a strong movement to extend the influence of the church in the northeastern states has developed. Counting native workers in the foreign field and mission activities within the U.S., more than 1,000 missionaries or evangelists are supported by groups other than those to which they preach. A quota of chaplains is maintained in the U.S. Air Force and Army.
Properties owned by the group probably exceed $2.5 billion in value. there are 21 colleges, including one in Japan and several in Europe; 70 secondary and elementary schools; 83 child-care facilities; 46 senior citizen facilities; and 117 periodicals, newspapers, and magazines published throughout the country. The oldest publication, The Gospel Advocate, has been published continually since the 1850's, except when it ceased during the Civil War due to lack of mail delivery. Since the status of these institutions is unofficial, not authorized to speak for the entire church, their conformity in ideas and teachings is all the more remarkable..."