Some members of the church of Christ say it is unique among the 33,000 churches in the world.
Since unique means “the only one of its kind,” could this really be true? Making the claim proves nothing, so let’s test the hypothesis by looking at things some think are unique about the church of Christ.
Is the church of Christ the only church that tries to follow the Bible exactly?
The church of Christ believes the Bible is the verbally inspired Word of God, and that God gave it as the only guide for churches (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
Surprisingly, this is not the case in all religious groups. Many would be taken aback to learn that their preachers, if pressured, would admit they do not believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God.
Some doubt the creation account (Genesis 1–3), saying that Adam and Eve are invented characters.
Some deny that Noah built a literal ark to survive a global flood (Genesis 6–9).
Moses parting the Red Sea? Only an overexcited writer embellishing a boring exodus account (Exodus 14:21–30).
Jonah and the fish? A fish fairy tale.
Prophecies foretelling events in Jesus’ life? Coincidences.
Feeding five thousand? Just a boy’s generosity inspiring people to share what they had hoarded (John 6:1–14).
Walking on water? He knew where the rocks were (Mark 6:48).
Virgin-born (Matthew 1) and third-day resurrected? (Matthew 28). Just legends.
There is no middle ground when it comes to the Bible: Either it is a fraud and should all be rejected, or it is from God and should all be accepted. It claims inspiration (2 Peter 1:21); it claims perfection (Psalm 19:7). Strong evidence supports it, such as fulfilled prophecies, prescientific statements, freedom from contradictions, honest portrayal of heroes, brevity of expression, and archeological/manuscript evidence.
We cannot choose what we deem acceptable. That puts man over Scripture instead of Scripture over man. Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”
But the church of Christ is not unique in defending the Bible or in trying to follow it. Many churches have high regard for Scripture and defend inspiration, creation, and miracles, while opposing evolution, humanism, and modernism.
Is the church of Christ unique in its members’ love for each other and others?
Jesus said that love would be the distinguishing characteristic of true disciples (John 13:33–34). A church that is harsh, caustic, negligent, and unmerciful loses the spirit of the one whose body it claims to be (1 Peter 2:21; John 8:1–11).
Churches of Christ take love seriously. Possibly no subject is preached more often, but it is more than just a message. Churches operate homes for orphans, abused children, and seniors. Members sit with families in surgery waiting rooms. They also mow grass and clean houses for those with injuries, help addicts, send needy students to summer camp and college, take older members to doctors’ visits, provide mothers days out, help with divorce recovery, provide counseling for depression and grief, and pray daily for those who request it.
Youth groups frequently take to the streets to paint houses, clean up unsightly areas, and give food and clothes to the poor. Elders send relief money to congregations in disaster areas to distribute among the displaced and suffering. Some load trucks and drive hundreds of miles to pass out street by street bottled water, packaged food, toiletries, and cleaning supplies. Others go to foreign lands to help with medical needs, farming techniques, well-digging, and literacy.
Is this unique? It would be untrue to say churches of Christ alone have a spirit of compassion. Many churches, including Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists, do amazing things in their communities and make a lasting difference around the world.
Is the church of Christ the only group that believes in one body and one faith? (Ephesians 4:4–5).
The church of Christ believes in “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit” based on the seven great unifiers: One body, one Spirit, one hope; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God (Ephesians 4:3–6).
God desires unity of fellowship (one body) based on the standard of the gospel (one faith). Like the early disciples, unity can be had today by continuing “stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Divisions caused by preacher-following and denominational allegiances violate Jesus’ prayer (John 17:20–21) and Paul’s instruction (1 Corinthians 1:10–13). Since the Bible only makes Christians only (Luke 8:11; Acts 11:26), all should prefer “Christian” to man-made labels. In matters of faith, strive for unity; in opinions, grant liberty; and in all things, practice love.
Let us have no creed but Christ; follow no Book but the Bible; desire no home but heaven. In pursuit of unity, replace man’s creeds with Christ’s Testament. If a creed says less, it does not say enough; if more, too much; if the same, it is unnecessary. If all speak only where Scripture speaks and are silent where it is silent, unity will inevitably follow. Everything we believe and practice needs a book, chapter, and verse (Colossians 3:17).
Is the church of Christ unique in calling for one body based on one faith? Not entirely. Other churches have broken sectarian ties to pursue undenominational Christianity.
Is the church of Christ unique in a weekly observance of the Lord’s supper?
Most groups serve communion infrequently. For instance, Lifeway surveyed 1,066 Southern Baptist pastors and found that
- 1 percent offered the Lord’s supper weekly,
- 18 percent once a month,
- 15 percent 5–10 times a year,
- 57 percent quarterly, and
- 8 percent 0–3 times a year.
Many mainline churches would have similar practices. The Roman Catholic Church requires taking the Eucharist (bread) only once a year, but it does offer mass daily.
The church of Christ takes the Lord’s supper every Lord’s day, since that was the practice of the early church (Acts 20:7). Bible scholars agree that the early church had weekly communion:
- John Calvin: “We ought always to provide that no meeting of the church is held without the word, prayer, the dispensation of the Supper, and alms. We may gather from Paul that this was the order observed by the Corinthians, and it is certain that this was the practice many ages after” (Institutes of Christian Religion).
- Adam Clarke, Methodist: “Intimating by this, that they were accustomed to receive the holy sacrament on each Lord’s Day.”
- A. C. Hervey, Church of England: “This is also an important example of weekly communion as the practice of the first Christians” (Pulpit Commentary).
- Albert Barnes, Presbyterian: “It is probable that the apostles and early Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper on every Lord’s Day” (Barnes’ Notes).
The language used in Acts 20:7 of the supper (“upon the first day of the week”) is identical to that used in 1 Corinthians 16:2 of giving. Since all churches (so far as I know) use 1 Corinthians 16:2 as authority to take a weekly collection, why not interpret the same language the same way and have weekly communion?
Jesus left the supper as a memorial of His death. It connects His first and second comings with weekly markers of His sacrifice. If a serviceman visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and found no soldier guarding it, would he take it as an affront? If one went to JFK’s grave in Arlington, only to find that caretakers had let the “eternal flame” go out, would she feel Kennedy’s name was slighted? We might wonder how Jesus feels when Sunday after Sunday passes with no memorial feast.
Is this unique? No—at least three other churches (Catholic, Christian Church, Disciples of Christ) offer weekly communion.
Is the church of Christ unique because it is “politically incorrect”?
The church of Christ pledges primary allegiance to Christ and not to any nation, political figure, party, or view (Acts 4:19; 5:29). Its pulpits stress holy living (Galatians 5:19–21). While some denominations have modified their views over the years, churches of Christ still teach the same things as two hundred years ago—even as they did two thousand years ago.
Since the Bible has not changed—and must all be preached (Acts 20:26–27)—churches of Christ still speak against such sins as abortion (Proverbs 6:17), adultery (Romans 13:9), animal cruelty (Deuteronomy 25:4; Proverbs 12:10), child abuse (Matthew 18:6; Titus 2:4), civil disobedience (Romans 13:1–6), cursing (Colossians 3:8), dancing (Matthew 14:6; Galatians 5:19–21), fornication (Colossians 3:5), hatred (Proverbs 10:12), homosexuality (Romans 1:18–32), hypocrisy (Luke 12:1), immodest dress (1 Timothy 2:9), judging (Matthew 7:1), lying (Colossians 3:9), poor stewardship (money, environment) (1 Corinthians 4:2), pornography (Matthew 5:8, 28), pride (Proverbs 6:16–17), racism (Acts 10:34), rape (Deuteronomy 22:25), self-righteousness (Matthew 5:20), and social drinking (Proverbs 20:1; Ephesians 5:18).
But others, such as the Church of God, Church of God in Christ, Pentecostals, and Seventh Day Adventists, are known for strong moral convictions. Many members of most churches live morally pure lives and stand for what is right. This is not unique.
Is the church of Christ unique because it sings a cappella?
In seeking to follow the New Testament exactly, churches of Christ do not use mechanical instruments in worship. Every New Testament passage on church music refers to singing: Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; and James 5:13. Instruments were available to the early church, and were used in Jewish worship, yet they sang a cappella. Historically, no instruments were used for centuries, and were opposed by such reformers as Luther and Calvin. Since worship must be in spirit and truth (John 4:24; 17:17), it is unsafe to go beyond New Testament instruction (2 John 1:9).
Is this unique? No; millions of worshippers around the world will sing a cappella next Sunday, including the Greek Orthodox and many Primitive Baptist churches.
Is the church of Christ unique in its vision to carry the whole gospel to the whole world?
Filled with aspiration and longing for heaven, churches of Christ have hope to share with others. World evangelism has always been the church’s major task and joy (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). Churches of Christ have missionaries scattered across the globe, with many dedicating their lives to reaching a nation with the gospel.
But this is not unique. Catholics, Baptists, Adventists, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, are all known for world evangelism.
Is the church of Christ unique in its teaching on baptism?
Churches of Christ practice baptism of believers (Acts 8:37). At their stage of development, infants are incapable of belief and confession (Mark 16:15–16; Romans 10:9–10), and have no sins of which to repent (Acts 2:38; Matthew 18:3), so they are not baptized. This is not unique, though, since many groups baptize only believers.
Churches of Christ practice baptism by immersion in water, since the New Testament word baptize means “to submerge.” In Bible times, baptisms were always “burials” (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). There is no historical example of sprinkling until a.d. 251 when Eusebius wrote of Novation’s “baptism” (Ecclesiastical History). Eusebius doubted that it qualified as a baptism even though “buckets” or “barrels” were used.
Unique? No. Baptist churches, for instance, insist on immersion. Hiscox dedicates sixteen pages to defend the practice in the Standard Manual for Baptist Churches.
Churches of Christ practice baptism for the remission of sins, based on the Bible’s teaching that baptism saves (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21), is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), and washes away sins (Acts 22:16).
Is this unique? Millions outside the church of Christ practice baptism for remission of sins. Catholics, the Christian Church, the Disciples of Christ, and Mormons all teach baptism as necessary for salvation.
So is the church of Christ unique? Yes!
How can this be if there is not a single doctrine or practice that is found only in the church of Christ? The answer is that the church of Christ is the only group that believes and practices all of these things. All churches practice some, and some practice many, but only one teaches all.
God is so wonderful. He wants to bless us. He wants to save us. He does not want a single person to be lost (1 Timothy 2:4). He gave His Son for us.
Consider this your invitation. Feel free to come Sunday and make your own evaluation. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Author’s Note: I once heard W. T. Allison preach an excellent sermon similar to this study. And I recently found a published sermon by the late Bobby Duncan that provided many of the thoughts in this article. “He being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4).