Church of Christ

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Alternate meanings: see Church of Christ (disambiguation).

The Churches of Christ are a body of autonomous Christian congregations. Since the Churches of Christ claim to be a restoration of the first-century church, they trace their origin to the day of Pentecost.

The Churches of Christ have the following distinctive traits: the refusal to hold to any creeds other than those specifically mentioned in the Bible itself ; the practice of adult baptism for the remission of sins; autonomous congregational church organization, with congregations overseen by a plurality of elders; the weekly observance of The Lord's Supper; and the belief in a cappella congregational singing during worship. The American Restoration Movement of the 19th century promoted returning to the practices of the first century Christian churches. Other churches that were advanced by the Restoration Movement include the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ (Instrumental) and the Disciples of Christ.

The churches of Christ are distinct, in that they believe that they are not another denomination, but rather are striving to be the one, true Church. Many members today descrine themselves as "Christians only" ("but not the only Christians" is often added).

Some Churches of Christ are called non-institutional and may have strong disagreements with other Churches of Christ. It should be noted that some members, particularly older members, of this group are apt to object to being referred to as "Protestants", believing that Christ's Church was not founded as a protest against anything, other than perhaps the domination of the present world by Satan. The church of Christ has firm disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church and does not recognize the authority of the Holy See. Some, and probably most, members would also object to the categorization of their church as a "denomination", as one of the tenets of this movement is that they are not a denomination and that denominationalism is a sinful departure from the original plan laid down in the Bible for the Church.


Church organization

There is no headquarters for the Church of Christ; each congregation has its own structure, consisting of Elders, Deacons, and one or more Preachers/Ministers/Evangelists. Typically, the churches participate in a loose, informal network of other local Churches of Christ. From the beginning of the Restoration Movement, newspapers and magazines edited by church leaders have been important forces in unifying like-minded churches. Also, most congregations value the influence of church of Christ-affiliated colleges and universities, such as Abilene Christian University, Freed-Hardeman University, Harding University, Oklahoma Christian University, and Heritage Christian University (formerly International Bible College (IBC)) .

Elders are spiritually mature Christian men whose religious work may be in some specialized capacity of a spiritual nature. They provide moral guidance, and they or their designees approve and establish Bible study curriculum, select Sunday school teachers, and select the Preacher/Evangelist when the position becomes vacant. In some congregations, elders also select the deacons. Elders are also called pastors, shepherds, and bishops (all Biblical terms referring to the same office), but the use of "elder" is the most common by far. Elders are selected by the members of a congregation; the method of doing this varies considerably between congregations, but involves confirming that a potential elder does indeed embody all of the characteristics of elders which are listed in the Bible in 1 Timothy and Titus. In a decreasing number of congregations, the eldership is something of a self-perpetuating board in which its members are the determiners of the qualfications of their sucessors and announce whom they have selected to join them with little or no congregational input; this practice was at one time fairly widespread but is no longer acceptable to many members of many congregations.

Deacons are recognized special servants of the church and most often take care of specialized needs of the congregation. Typically, the physical building in which services are held is overseen by a Deacon. Like Elders, Deacons are generally selected by the congregations in a manner very similar to that of elders. Qualifications of Deacons are also listed in the Bible in 1 Timothy.

The Preacher/Evangelist/Minister prepares and delivers sermons, teaches Bible classes, performs weddings, preaches or evangelizes the gospel, and performs baptisms. This position is typically paid. (People associated with the Churches of Christ do not use the title "pastor" to refer to their pulpit minister, as this term is held to refer to the same position as "elder" or "bishop" in the Bible, which they feel requires a certain set of qualifications outlined in 1 Timothy and Titus.) Typically these ministers are not 'ordained' as is the tradition of many denominational organizations, and do not use the salutation 'Reverend' or 'Rev.' before their name, professing that only God should be recognized as Reverend.

Many congregations also employ other paid ministers besides the pulpit minister, such as ministers for youth. Some members of the church of Christ, and some groups within the churches of Christ, do not believe in paid ministers or youth ministers.


A closer look at the Church of Christ requires an understanding of its historically accepted hermeneutic. This hermeneutic is often summarized in three parts: "Command", "Example", and "Necessary Inference".

  • "Command" refers to a direct command found in the Scriptures (this being further complicated by what some mainstream evangelicals would refer to as the dispensation principle; for example, the command to build an ark was directed to Noah specifically, as opposed to being directed to Christians in general. Additionally, commands are classified as 'Specific' or 'Generic' in nature.)
  • "Example" is sometimes phrased as "an approved Apostolic example." The intent here is that the apostles or 1st century Christians performed some action or engaged in some practice that was approved of (or not condemned).
  • "Necessary inference" refers to some interpretational conclusion that would be necessary in order to obey a command or example.

The principle of silence is also observed by the Churches of Christ, to varying degrees. When the Bible does not specifically or indirectly allow a practice, it is considered forbidden. The disagreements within the Churches of Christ primarily derive from differences in interpretation of the meaning of "necessary inference", and the conclusions which can be rightly drawn from "silence". The non-instrumental Chuches of Christ agree that the absence of references to instrumental music in New Testament worship mean that their use is forbidden. (It should be noted, however, that the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ do use musical instruments and do not see their use as forbidden.) However, the New Testament is necessarily silent about many other issues, such as orphanages/children's homes, Sunday school, and congregationally-owned houses of worship ("church buildings"). In each case, the "mainstream" group has reasoned that "necessary inference" allows their use as a way of providing for otherwise-homeless children, facilitating study of the Scriptures, and providing for a reasonable and convenient setting for worship services. In each case, a dissident non-institutional faction, using the "principle of silence", finds these developments to be unwarranted and sinful innovations, although by far the majority (but not all) of the "non-institutional" congregations do own their own buildings for use as houses of worship, and most have likewise come to approve of Sunday school.

Specific teachings and prohibitions

Churches of Christ mostly agree with the theology of other Fundamentalist Christian groups, believing in Jesus as the Son of God, the death of Jesus by crucifixion as atonement for sin, and most other basic Christian teachings. However, there are many specific practices that distinguish them from these other bodies.

The Church of Christ believes that the organization and structure of the church was laid down by Jesus Christ himself through his apostles in the form of the New Testament. Since this church has no headquarters and each congregation is independent, the teachings may vary somewhat, but overall there is a remarkable degree of uniformity among Churches of Christ in each region. The common variances are over the institution of Bible classes, the method that the Lord's supper is served (whether the fruit of the vine is served in one cup or many), the role of women in public worship, and whether ministers should be paid professionals or serve on a volunteer basis.

Common beliefs and practices include:

  • The Bible was written by men who were inspired and guided by God the Father through the Holy Spirit. Most believe in "plenary" inspiration, whereby the inspired author is able to use his language to express divine truth, but the ultimate truthfulness is from God; this contrasts with "mechanical" inspiration, where the Biblical author is just a mortal "typewriter" for an immortal God, or a Divine "secretary" merely taking dictation.
  • No instrumental music in services (a cappella). The arguments against it are of two categories. A strong argument that claims that it is false doctrine prohibited by a principle or a law of silence, and a weak argument, similar to that originally held by Alexander Campbell, that such would be materialistic or inappropriate, but not necessarily false doctrine. Many congregations contain members with both positions. Commonly, larger congregations speak so as to not take sides between the weak or strong postion. More conservative congregations may still openly call it a sin, and more liberal congregations openly say that it is not a sin, while usually refusing to adopt instruments.
  • Children below the age of accountability are considered in a "safe" position in the eyes of God, and would not be condemned to hell if they died before the age of accountability (a denial of the common doctrine of Original Sin). Additionally, persons lacking the mental capacity to consciously choose between right or wrong are also saved, as they are incapable of truly choosing wrong.
  • The requirements for salvation are commonly presented in the following steps:
    • Hearing (the Word of God)
    • Believing (said Word)
    • Repenting (of one's sins)
    • Confessing (that Jesus Christ is Lord)
    • Being baptized (by immersion).
    • Continued faithfulness is enjoined because they do not believe in the doctrine of perseverance of the saints.
  • Because of the high value attached to the necessity of a believer's baptism by immersion, Churches of Christ are sometimes said to believe in "baptismal regeneration". Members deny that baptism without faith can bring salvation, but point out that the Bible does command believers to be baptized.
  • Celebration of religious holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, as religious holidays, is often discouraged, although secular observance of such days is usually tolerated. In recent years, this belief is in decline in many churches, and it is not unheard of for a church to have special events for such holidays or even to celebrate them with traditional religious significance. A number of churches, though, continue to practice complete rejection of holidays.
  • Women are not allowed to hold positions of spiritual authority over grown men.
  • The "lost" will be condemned to an eternity without God. The vast majority believe in a literal hell, while others believe it is a metaphorical eternity outside of the light of God.
  • Most churches forbid women from leading public worship when grown men are present. Women are generally not allowed to serve as elders, deacons, or preachers.
  • Worship can take place at any gathering of church members. Baptism can take place in any suitable body of water allowing total immersion, and may be administered by any member at any time of the day or day of the week.
  • There is no distinction between clergy and laity; all members are considered to be priests. Certain male members specialize in the field of teaching. These men are often called "Preachers" and, in mainstream Churches of Christ, are generally paid for their work.
  • The Lord's Supper can be served anywhere members are gathered on Sunday; no particularly "sanctified" location nor specifically "authorized" individual is needed to administer communion (except that those administering communion are almost invariably male as a matter of tradition in most congregations). The practice is to partake in the Lord's Supper each Sunday.
  • Divorce, except for reasons of marital unfaithfulness is condemned. Remarriage in these cases is considered adultery.
  • Abortion in most circumstances is considered to be a sin.
  • Homosexual activity is seen as a sin. They generally differentiate homosexual activity from homosexuality itself or homosexual people, often espousing the idea that while mere sexual orientation is not sinful per se, all homosexual acts are a choice. Many, however, denounce the idea of inherently homosexual people.
  • Satan is considered to be a literal being, not just a symbolic or allegorical representation of evil. He is seen as literally tempting Christ's followers away from their chosen path, usually by the use of human agents. His power is considerable, although vastly inferior to that of God, who allows Satan to exist so that God's followers worship and follow Him as a true act of free will, not predestination.
  • Many members of the Churches of Christ practice "closed fellowship" (fellowshipping only fellow members of the Churches of Christ), while others would extend the ties of fellowship to members of evangelical Protestant denominations. The issue of "fellowship" is a hotly debated one.
  • Generally, a belief that Churches of Christ are not a denomination. Most believe denominationalism itself is sinful, and hold that Christ established only one church. This doctrine is similar to earlier beliefs of Roman Catholicism.
  • In terms of eschatology, the Church of Christ is generally amillennial.
  • The theology of Churches of Christ is basically Arminian, although probably not often referred to as such. Original Sin and the whole idea of Total Depravity from which it ensues are rejected, although the human prediliction to sin due to temptations and the limitations of human nature is affirmed. Election and predestination are functions of the exercise of free will – those who freely choose God's way through Christ are elect and hence saved, others are lost. This decision can be changed based on the believer's behavior – he or she can consciously elect to cease following Christ and hence be lost ("fallen from grace"). God's sacrifice of Christ provided sufficient grace to save all persons from their sins, but it is imcumbent upon them to accept Christ's will and follow Him for this grace to save them personally.
  • A small subset of congregations are King James Only in orientation. Other, mostly older congregations use the KJV exclusively as a matter of tradition, but most congregations use a variety of translations of the Bible.
  • Miraculous Gifts – Most members of Churches of Christ do not believe supernatural miraculous events occur in the current times. They believe that these gifts died with those that were given supernatural Spiritual gifts during the time of Jesus and the apostles.
  • Several members of the Churches of Christ have claimed "conscientious objector" status during wartime. This opinion was "mainstream", at least in some circles, in the late 19th century and was the viewpoint frequenly published in mainstream Church of Christ publications such as David Lipscomb's Gospel Advocate. This movement lost most of its currency in the Churches of Christ during World War II, and has been fairly uncommon since World War II – the contemporary Church of Christ is not an historical peace church, but it is still listed as such by the US military for consideration of "conscientious objector" status. Most churches in the UK, consisted overwhelmingly of objectors.
  • Use of specialized vocabulary to circumvent common English usage which is in conflict with accepted doctrine.
    • "church" - The word is often left uncapitalized in the name "church of Christ" to emphasize that the churches are not a denomination.
    • "member of the church" - Many members of the Churches of Christ believe that only members of the Church of Christ are Christians. However, the English designation of "Christian" generally means anyone who calls himself a Christian. Thus the euphemism, "member of the church."
    • "obey the gospel" - be baptized
    • "religious" - Used instead of the word "Christian." For example, a conservative member of the Church of Christ might say "Religious Book Store," or "Religious Music" instead of "Christian Book Store," or "Christian Music," on the premise that only "real Christians", those found within the fellowship of his group, would actually make "Christian Music" or write truly "Christian" books.
    • "denomination" - Churches other than the Church of Christ, including the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
  • Words and phrases common to most evangelical churches are often absent or modified in the Churches of Christ.
    • "Altar call" becomes "invitation."
    • "Sanctuary" becomes "auditorium" because of the belief that it isn't the building that is holy.
    • "Pastor" is never used to mean "minister." The term "preacher," "evangelist," or "minister" is used instead, i.e. "youth pastor" becomes "youth minister." Consequently, the word "pastor" is rarely used to refer to elders.
    • "Minister of Music" is "song leader", or, in more progressive congregations, "worship leader," or "worship minister."

Because of the autonomous nature of Churches of Christ, practices vary greatly within Churches of Christ. As a whole this list reflects practices considered to be standard, with a focus on those beliefs that distinguish the Churches of Christ from Protestant groups.

Other Restoration Movement bodies

The Churches of Christ were advanced during the American Restoration Movement of the 19th century. As in the New Testament, this movement recognized the body as "The Churches of Christ" or "Christian Churches." After the American Civil War, there began to be divisions in this body over the issues of missionary societies and instrumental music in worship which reached a head in 1906 when the two groups formally split, agreeing to be listed separately in the religious census then conducted by the Bureau of the Census. Those holding to the prohibition of instrumental music are the Churches of Christ of today.

Instrumental congregations began to divide in the 20th century during the fundamentalist response to modernism which solidified in the 1960s with two groups: the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ.

Other groups related to the Restoration Movement were the Christian Connexion and The Christian Church, both of which merged into the Congregational Church during the 1930s and thus eventually became part of the United Church of Christ, a group now part of the Protestant Mainstream and unrelated to the Churches of Christ.

Disputes within the Church

A major disagreement over the establishment of "institutions" at a level over that of the local congregations in order to serve works such as children's homes came to a head in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, those who disagree with this idea are referred to as The non-institutional or often by the pejoratives "anti-cooperation" or "anti." They represent approximately 15% of U.S. membership and are also represented by missionaries in other countries as well.

What was called the International Churches of Christ (sometimes called "The Boston Movement" which was grounded in the Church of Christ "Crossroads Movement"), was often labeled a cult by mainstream congregations, had its origins in certain congregations of the Church of Christ. Since the late 1980s, however, some Church of Christ leaders had repudiated the Boston Movement as an apostatized, schismatic cult; the Boston Movement in turn declared itself to be a faithful remnant being called out of a dead or dying church, namely the mainstream Churches of Christ. The Crossroads/Boston/ICOC movement saw tremendous growth in comparison to the congregations led by the "mainstream" Church of Christ critics. (See the Paden article, second link below under the "ICOC" heading, for a fairly impartial examination of this subject.) Representatives of the ICOC and the mainstream Churches of Christ attended reconciliation meetings at the 2004 Abilene Christian University lectureships.

See Also

External links

General Websites:

  • Church of Christ Network (
  • (
  • What Do the Scriptures Say? (
  • ( by Bill Blue, "Provides a detailed analysis of the beliefs and practices of the church of Christ, a non-denominational, non-institutional assembly (or gathering) of Christians who worship God in truth and spirit according to the pattern set forth in the New Testament of the Bible."
  • (
  • PreachersFiles ( a site by G. E. Watkins and Kevin Cauley which contains hundreds of Bible Studies and Sermon Outlines on a variety of Bible Study topics.

Online Magazines:

  • The Christian Chronicle ( - a newspaper of the churches of Christ
  • Christian Courier ( - Investigating biblical apologetics, religious doctrine, and ethical issues
  • Restoration Quarterly ( - magazine devoted to study of the Restoration Movement and Churches of Christ


International Churches of Christ:

  • Selective amalgam of church ICOC related articles (
  • International Churches of Christ web site (
  • ( - a Support Group for former ICOC Members
  • From the Churches of Christ to the Boston Movement ( by Russell R. Paden. May 1994 thesis from the University of Kansas. An essential and thoroughgoing analysis and comparison of the history and development of the Church of Christ and its offshoot ICOC or Boston Movement faction, including the characteristics of "historylessness" and "traditionlessness." From the Abstract: "This thesis argues that while the Boston Movement has introduced some practices that are foreign to and have origins outside the Churches of Christ, both bodies remain quite similar in doctrine and attitude. This conclusion is supported through an historical examination of the Churches of Christ and the Boston Movement detailing the forces that have shaped the attitudes and doctrines of both religious bodies."
  • International Churches of Christ (ICOC) Main Website (No longer active) (

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