What is the Church of Christ? – Hoyt Houchen

Hoyt Houchen

It is frequently said that Alexander Campbell established the church of Christ and that the members of that institution are therefore Campbellites. Those who entertain this idea are honestly mistaken. Alexander Campbell did not establish the church of Christ. In fact, if we as members of the church of Christ thought for one moment that Campbell did found the church of which we are members, we would not wish to have anything more to do with it. Campbell himself denied that he was the founder of the church of Christ. In a letter written to the editors of the Commercial Bulletin, published in New Orleans, he addressed the following note:

I have always repudiated all human heads and human names for the people of the Lord, and shall feel very thankful if you will correct the erroneous impression which your article may have made in thus representing me as the founder of a religious denomination.

This man, who lived in the 19th century, was only doing what every Gospel preacher is trying to do today and that is to urge people to return to the New Testament as our only standard of authority. We are pleading that we lay aside our creed books, manuals, disciplines, and articles of faith, that we discard human names, human worship, and human teaching and practice. We admonish all men to return to the simple pattern of doctrine, work, and worship that is outlined in the New Testament. This was the work of Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Barton W. Stone and others who were prominent in the restoration movement of almost two hundred years ago. Those who returned to the New Testament plan for all matters that pertain to religion did not become Campbellites, Scottites, or Stonites; they simply became Christians—they were owned and recognized as such by the Lord. When one today will returns to the New Testament as his authority and will obey its teaching, and will worship and live as it directs, he will become a child of God, a member of the Lord’s church. For 2,000 years men have been preaching the Gospel of Christ. Regardless in what century the Gospel is preached and regardless of the man who proclaims it, when that Gospel is obeyed by people they simply become Christians, members of the church of Christ.

The Gospel is the seed which is planted into the hearts of men and women. Jesus said in Luke 8:13 that the seed is the word of God. When that seed is planted and received, it will produce Christians. Suppose that a bird flies over a field and drops cotton seed. That seed germinates, and what does it produce? It does not produce birds, but cotton. The instrument in planting is a bird, but the result is cotton. Seed produces after its own kind (Gen. 1:12), and the bird is merely the agent in delivering the seed.

The point is, when Campbell and other men of his day preached the pure Gospel of Christ, the people who heard it and who obeyed it did not become Campbellites. They became Christians. When one obeys the Gospel today, whether it is preached by me or someone else, he does not become a Houchenite; he becomes a Christian. Those then who refer to us as Campbellites do so, either because they are misinformed or because they are uninformed.

The church of Christ had its origin on the day of Pentecost, A.D. 33. This day was the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The origin of the church of Christ is truly found when we turn to the second chapter of the book of Acts. On that day, men and women were commanded to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). The divine record then tells us in verse 41, “they then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls.” This is how people became members of the church. Having become members of the church, we are then told what they did next. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Members of the church of Christ submit to that simple pattern of work and worship.

But where was the church of Christ during the dark ages? Jesus said that his church was to be everlasting. Did he not say that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Math 16:18)? Yes, this is true, but even though it is impossible to place our fingers upon church of Christ assemblies in every century, are we to suppose that the church did not exist? A train is entering a tunnel. We see the train distinctly and we mark its characteristics. It enters the tunnel and for a period of time we do not see it. Are we to conclude, therefore, that the train went out of existence? So it is with regard to the church. One does not have to trace the church of the Lord back through the links of an unbroken chain to prove that it has always existed. If the same Gospel is preached today that was preached 1900 years ago, it has the same power to produce today what it produced then. It produced Christians then and it will produce Christians now.

Jesus Christ did not build a denomination. The church of Christ is not a denomination and it is not to be so associated. We are not attempting to reform, but to restore. We must go to the New Testament, examine it, do what people did in order to become Christians, and worship and live as it authorizes. Christ alone is our authority and the New Testament is our only rule of faith and practice (Matt. 28:18; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is to be considered that people are not divided over what the Bible teaches; they are divided over what it does not teach. We must not take Jesus for what he does not say but for what he does say.

The simplicity of conversion is found in the New Testament. When the question is asked, “What must I do to be saved?” men may give many different answers, but the New Testament gives us the one true and positive answer. When we take all the statements that bear on this question and consider them together, we know what is required of us in order to be saved. The inspired writer of Hebrews 11:6 wrote: “and without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.” One then who comes to God must have faith. But how does that faith come? How does one get faith? We read in Romans 10:17, “So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” But after we believe, we are commanded to repent. In Acts 2:38, Peter told those who believed, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins.” Over in Romans 10:10, that one who is not a member of the church is none of his (Christ).

Paul contrasts the state of the Ephesians as “of the household of God” with their former state when they were “without God in the world.” This contrast is drawn out in Ephesians 2. According to Paul’s teaching to be “in Christ Jesus” is to be “of the household of God” (the house of God is the church, 1 Tim. 3:15). Those “in Christ” are “builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). Hence, as “being in Christ” is equivalent to being “of the household of God” it follows that the church is the habitation of God. The church comprises those “builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” Are you included in that number? This consideration impresses the thoughtful with the glory and value of the church.

God is no Respecter of Persons

If one accountable being can be saved out of the church then certainly in view of God’s character of impartiality, all could be saved without membership in that body, “For there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom. 2:11). “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34). As God’s character forbids respect of persons then whatever is required of one with reference to the church is required of all. You are not an exception.

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Author: Editor

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