I saw a post on Facebook asserting that the Church of Christ is the oldest church. It dated the Church of Christ at AD 33, the Catholic Church at AD 311, and the Baptist Church at AD 1608. Here is the chart I screen grabbed from one of many posts:
The last line says, “If your church is not mention [sic], that means it is recent.” The argument is that there is only one church mentioned in the Bible, so if your church isn’t on the chart, then it must not be the church Jesus set up in AD 33. There are several problems with this chart; here are a few:
- It equates the description a church uses with the name of the church.
- It assumes a church with “Church of Christ” on the sign is the true church.
- It doesn’t consider that the Bible describes the church with other expressions.
Church of Christ is a Description, Not a Name
There is only one place in the New Testament that uses the description churches of Christ: Romans 16:16.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.Romans 16:16
In this passage, the phrase “churches of Christ” is not an official name given to the body of believers; it is simply a description of who they were. “The assemblies of individuals belonging to Christ” sent greetings to the church at Rome. Earlier in the same chapter Paul wrote, “…who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Romans 16:4). “Churches of Christ” is no more a name than “churches of the Gentiles.”
In trying to stay away from denominationalism, this chart ends up committing the very error it attempts to avoid. Placing an agreed upon name upon a group of congregations with specific beliefs and doctrines to distinguish themselves from other groups of believers with other beliefs is literally the definition of a denomination.
Instead, the expression “churches of Christ” is a description, not a name. One can be a member of the churches of Christ without having “Church of Christ” on the sign out front. Jesus never gives His followers a name in the New Testament. This is where we come to the second problem with this chart.
Which Church of Christ?
Everyone who shared this chart, or has the same mindset, assumes that they are The One True Church™. What I mean by that is they believe that the congregation they attend is The One established on the day of Pentecost in AD 33. The problem with this is the congregation down the street also has the name Church of Christ on the sign, but that church won’t have anything to do with the other. Why?
Well, one church in town uses instruments. The other has a praise team with no instruments. One church has a solo singer while the other claps their hands. One congregation clapped at a baptism one time, so they are out. Another has a fellowship building to have meals in. The big Church of Christ down the road uses individual cups in the Lord’s Supper, while the one in the country only has one cup from which the entire congregation drinks. Then one man and his wife meet alone as The One True Church of Christ because everyone else has located preachers.
Which Church of Christ is the right one? Whoever reads this says “mine.” But that reveals the problem with the chart. The Church of Christ denomination is just as divided as any other group. This chart is very ambiguous and apparently teaches that any church can be The Church as long as they have the right name on the sign, but when one digs a little deeper, one finds a world of division because of so-called patterns. See my friend Dallas’s article called Oddities in Pattern Theology for more information.
Now, some may argue that the Church of Christ as it exists in America is not a denomination. Of course, we must ask “which one?” Alexander Campbell was one pioneer of the American Reformation Movement, which differs from the devolved “Restoration Movement.” Here is what he said about the movement that produced the Church of Christ as we know it today:
Whenever the history of this effort at reformation shall have been faithfully written, it will appear, we think, bright as the sun, that our career has been marked with a spirit of forbearance, moderation, and love of union with an unequivocal desire for preserving the integrity, harmony, and co-operation of all who teach one faith, one Lord, and one immersion. In confirmation of this fact I am happy to add that no Baptist of good character for piety and morality has ever been, because of a diverse theory or opinion, excluded from our communion or communities. We, as a denomination, are as desirous as ever to unite and co-operate with all Christians on the broad and vital principles of the New and everlasting Covenant.Alexander Campbell, “The Editor’s Response to Mr. Broaddus,” Millennial Harbinger, New Series, 4, no. XII (December 1840): 556. [taken from Dallas Burdette’s From Legalism to Freedom]
The Church of God
While the description “churches of Christ” (not even “Church of Christ”) occurs only one time in the New Testament, the expression “church(es) of God” occurs eleven times. It is interesting that the person who made this chart didn’t list the Church of God. Technically, it falls somewhere under Pentecostals, but hopefully you see the problem. The Church of God, based upon the criteria of the chart, has just as much claim, if not more, to the title of The One True Church as the Church of Christ does.
The Oldest Church
The oldest church has no official name. The New Testament uses several descriptions causally. Jesus never issued a name by which every faithful congregation must identify themselves. This is an invention of men that creates the very divisions the American Reformation Movement sought to tear down. There are members of the Church of Christ in the oldest church, just as there are members of the Baptist Church in the oldest church. One’s membership in the Church of God is not dependent upon a sign but by their faith.