Those who visit us for the first time may well have this question in mind. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of them before. What do they do?” Because there are so many religious groups and therefore a number of similar designations, some may have us confused with the United Church of Christ, the Church of God, or organizations like them. We are, however, different from all of these. Below are some things you might want to know about us.
In the New Testament, God uses several terms to describe the followers of Jesus. Oftentimes, they were referred to as disciples, meaning “learners.” We are still disciples, and we have a responsibility to continue to learn and grow throughout our lives (2 Peter 2:2; 3:18; Heb. 5:12).
To be called Christians, however, brings honor to Jesus the Christ (the Messiah or “anointed one”). The disciples were called Christians first in Acts 11:26, and the name has been used ever since. To call oneself a Christian is to claim that Jesus owns us, that we belong to Him, and that we obey Him in all things.
The New Testament also calls Christians saints because Jesus has made us holy (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:9-11) and brethren because, as brothers and sisters, we are all equal before God (Gal. 3:26-29). All these words have their own meaning and are appropriate.
Many people call themselves by names that have resulted from manmade organizations. We only use the names that are in the Bible. We are brethren, saints, disciples; we are Christians. That name is both appropriate and sufficient. If you were a member of this congregation, that is all you would be—a Christian. If our brethren in the first century were content with being called by such a name, so are we.
As you have probably already noticed, we cite the Scriptures often. You may wonder why. Although we live in a time where people want to be free to do their own thing, Christianity is not our religion in that we did not invent it. Jesus (at the Father’s bidding) did. He told His disciples: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18).
Actually, we have never been our own; we belong to the One Who created us in the first place, which is described in the very beginning of the Bible (Gen. 1-2). He gave us the free will to decide whether to serve Him or to please ourselves instead. Since the latter option carries with it eternal punishment, He encourages us to worship and serve Him—so that we can have an eternal reward.
In order to save us from the punishment that our sins deserve, He sent Jesus to die on the cross and pay the debt that we owed (John 3:16). Since God is the one Who created us and Jesus is the One Who died for us, we belong to them—“For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20).
If we choose to accept the salvation that God offers us through Christ, then we must realize that we are not in charge of determining how to worship or serve Him; God is. He did not need to consult with us; He already knows what is the best way to love Him and to live for Him.
Jesus gave His life for the church (Acts 20:28), and He is the Head over it (Eph. 1:22-23); therefore, what He says is right, and our own opinions are not valid. Because Jesus is the authority, we cite what He and His apostles wrote to demonstrate that we are doing what He wants rather than following our own ideas.
The Word of God
We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. What we need to know about God cannot be boiled down to sound bytes to be presented on the evening news. Phrases such as God is love and Jesus saves are true, but the Bible would be considerably shorter if that were all we needed to know. Following are some things that the Bible says about itself, beginning with what Jesus told His followers:
“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
“And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
“He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
These are just a few Scriptures which show the value of God’s Word and show the reason we need to know it. For these reasons, you will find that we study the Bible here. Although literary works of men may be referenced, as Paul cited a Grecian poet to show that his point was not one that was strange or unfamiliar, nevertheless our focus is upon the Scriptures, because they were inspired of God (Acts 17:28).
Many devout men have formulated creeds, which members of a particular group must accept. Many of these creeds contain valid Biblical principles, and the motives of those who designed them were usually good, but they are still the thoughts of men. The churches of Christ have no written creed. The Bible is our only authority. No one is ever asked to memorize or repeat a creed.
Everyone is, however, encouraged to read, study, mediate upon, and know the Holy Scriptures. Both the Old and New Testaments are worthy of our attention, but we are under the New Testament of Jesus Christ, and not under the Law of Moses. Failing to make that distinction has led to much confusion. Jesus is our mediator of a better covenant (Heb. 8:6-7).
Many people may think of the church as a sort of “religion thing” for some pious souls—but not something needed by most folks. All too often our ideas are shaped more by society than by what the Bible teaches. Did you know, for example, that God had the church in mind before He even created the world (Eph. 1:4)? He also knew that, if He created man, Jesus would need to be sent to die for our sins (Rev. 13:8); so He planned that all of those who would be saved by the blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5) would become part of this special body of Christ, the church (Eph. 1:22-23).
Because of what would later occur, the church was prophesied of in advance; usually it is referred to as a kingdom. Consider this prophecy:
“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44).
When John the Baptizer began to preach: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2), people began to take notice. Jesus is King over this kingdom. In fact, the Jews wanted Jesus to be their earthly king, but He rejected that honor (John 6:15) because His kingdom is not of this world, as He told Pilate (John 18:36). The kingdom of heaven is spiritual, and Jesus received it after His resurrection. Daniel had said:
“I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14).
This passage brings to mind Jesus ascending into Heaven after His resurrection: “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1: 9). Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, affirmed that God had raised Jesus up, that He had been “exalted to the right hand of God,” and that David’s prophecy (a different one than Daniel’s) was fulfilled in Christ because “David did not ascend into the heavens” (Acts 2:32-34). Many other passages relate to this event of Jesus ascending to heaven to receive His kingdom.
This spiritual kingdom is the church; it is a privilege to be part of the kingdom designed from eternity, built (Matt. 16:18) and purchased by Jesus (Acts 20:28), over which He is Head (Col. 1:18). The church and the kingdom are the same thing; Jesus equated these two designations (Matt. 16:18-19).
God has always expected those whom He created to worship Him. He is worthy of worship because He is the Creator and because He is the Redeemer as well, having made salvation available to us (Rev. 4:11; 5: 12). The Lord, however, never said, “Worship Me however you want.” As Jesus told the woman at the well, the Father is seeking true worshippers, adding: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
Worship that is not sincere would be worthless, and in Malachi’s day God’s people approached worship as a weariness (Mal. 1:13). Enthusiastic worship, however, does not mean jumping, clapping, swaying, or involve other fleshly exhibitions; it is more a matter of concentration. We focus our attention on God—on the message being presented, the thoughts expressed in prayer, the significance of the Lord’s Supper, and the words of the songs we sing.
Sincerity, however, is not enough. Since Jesus has all authority, our worship must also be according to truth. In the Old Testament God had ordained certain things to be done certain ways, but Jeroboam changed the object of worship (to golden calves), the place of worship (Dan and Bethel rather than Jerusalem), the time of worship (from the seventh to the eighth month); he even changed the priesthood from those whom God had authorized (the Levites) to just anyone from any tribe (1 Kings 12:25-33). Needless to say, God was displeased, and He refused to accept this worship. No matter how sincere the people might have been, their worship was not according to truth, and they were eventually destroyed because of it (2 Kings 17:21).
Our worship may not be what you are accustomed to, but we do only those things that God has commanded. The preaching and teaching of the Word is our emphasis, just as it is in the Scriptures. We also pray together when we meet (1 Thess. 5:17). And we sing, period. You will notice that we use no instruments of music. Yes, people sang to the accompaniment of instruments in the Old Testament, but we are not subject to that covenant. We are under the New Testament of Christ, and neither He, the apostles, nor any of the Christians in any of the churches in the first century sang to the accompaniment of musical instruments. We can only do the things that are authorized (Col. 3:16-17).
Two things are limited to the Lord’s Day (Sunday): the Lord’s Supper and giving. The New Testament teaches that giving was done on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2), along with remembering the death of Jesus (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:22-29). Many do not emphasize the death of Jesus, but it was the shedding of His blood that made salvation possible (Heb. 10:4). Therefore, Christians partake of His body and blood (symbolically) in the way that He showed His disciples on the night He was betrayed (Matt. 26:26-29). These five things the church in the New Testament practiced.
Since being saved from one’s sins is vital, we make certain that we teach only what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches a great deal about God’s grace, but some make the mistake of thinking that it is universally applied instead of universally offered. The grace of God is avail-able to all (Titus 2:11-14), but God placed requirements on its reception.
First of all, one must believe in God and believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus performed numerous miracles to confirm this truth (John 21:25). John recorded a sampling of miracles to prove the Lord’s Deity (John 20:30-31). Many verses of Scripture emphasize the necessity of faith (John 3:16; 8:24; Heb. 11:6). But God requires more.
The hardest thing to do is to take this next step—repentance. Why is it so hard? Most of us are fond of certain sins—whether it be coveting what is not ours, desiring to fulfill fleshly appetites in an unlawful way (such as committing adultery), or simply by being willful and stubborn (1 John 2:15-17). We might find that giving them up is difficult, but in order to follow Jesus we must let go of all these and turn from them, practicing them no more. Yet repentance is just as essential as faith is. Jesus taught: “…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). We must realize that Jesus has something much better to offer than sin—eternal life.
If one is willing to repent, then confessing the name of Jesus as the Son of God will surely not be a stumbling block (1 Tim. 6:12). Neither will being baptized so that your sins can be washed away. Some try to minimize or explain away baptism (usually the same ones who fail to mention repentance), but consider the first time the gospel was preached after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
This great sermon was preached on the Day of Pentecost when Peter proved that Jesus is the Messiah the Jews were looking for. He affirmed that Jesus had ascended into heaven, as we mentioned earlier, and proclaimed the risen Savior as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). The message pricked the hearts of those present, and they asked what they should do (v. 37). Now, you have heard many answers to this question of how to be saved, but how many of them match what the inspired apostle told the people on that day? He said: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). This is what the Bible teaches, and this is, therefore, what we teach when people ask the same question today.
Now you know a little bit about us—who we are and why we do what we do. We pray that you will want to know more and want to schedule a private Bible study. You may have been taught other ideas, and we welcome the opportunity to look at areas of disagreement with you. Please visit with us again and remember Paul’s recommendation of the Word (Acts 20:32).