For those of us who are members of the church of Christ, it is interesting from time to time to examine how those outside our number view us. In many instances, misconceptions and stereotypes abound, and these misunderstandings often hinder effective evangelism. A statement that perhaps best embodies the skewed view of the world towards the church of Christ is: "You members of the church of Christ believe you are the only ones going to heaven." Jokes circulate that reinforce this view, as in the following:
A Baptist and Methodist were surveying the crowd that had gathered in heaven. The Baptist man looked around and noticed a group off to itself. "Who are they?" he asked. In a low voice, the Methodist man replied, "Shhh-they're from the church of Christ, and they think they're the only ones here."
So what about it? Do-and should-members of the church of Christ believe that they are the only ones going to heaven? Before this question can be adequately answered, a few considerations are in order.
The church of Christ is not a denomination
Unfortunately, members of the church of Christ contribute-at least partially-to the misconceptions many have. I often hear Gospel preachers referred to as "church-of-Christ-preachers." As well, when identifying someone with our number, some might say, "He's church-of- Christ," in the same way that another might be described as "Baptist" or "Methodist." Often, this denominational view of the Lord's body is behind the statement mentioned earlier. The actual thought process of a denominational member might go something like this: In the diverse buffet that makes up the "Christian" landscape, one small segment (denomination) has the arrogance to claim that they are the only ones going to heaven.
Therefore, to erase the misconceptions, we must strive to prove that the church of Christ is not a denomination. To do so, it must first be understood that "church of Christ" is a descriptive phrase, not a denominational title. The church is "of Christ" in that it belongs to Christ. Christ promised to build it (Matthew 16:18-My church), and He purchased it with His own blood (Acts 20:28; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). Have you ever noticed that in print, the "church" in "church of Christ" is spelled with a lower-case "c"? This is done to emphasize the undenominational nature of Christ's church, to reinforce the descriptive purpose of the title.
As well, the Bible clearly condemns denominationalism. Paul demands by inspiration:
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)?
There is but one church for which Christ died (Ephesians 4:4-6; cf. 1:22-23), and this church is not to be divided or denominated. When 1st century Christians identified themselves as such, they did not have to further elaborate concerning which denomination they belonged to-"Christian" meant that they were members of Christ's church.
Finally-and this must not be misunderstood-"church of Christ" can only be applied to congregations that are identical in nature and teaching to the church mentioned in the Bible. As an expedient, "church of Christ" was chosen by our number so that members and congregations could identify one another. It was chosen because it described the group's goal (to be the church that belongs to Christ) and was a Scriptural title (Romans 16:16). However, the name has been adopted by other groups whose teachings are vastly different from the Bible (International Church of Christ, Church of Christ/Crossroads, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, etc.). As well, there are congregations whose signs designate them as churches of Christ, but whose teachings indicate they have left the New Testament pattern. In order truly to be the church of Christ, a congregation must be made up of members who have entered into Christ's body, the church (Ephesians 1:10-23; Galatians 3:27; Acts 2:38-47), who live as the New Testament directs (Romans 12:1-2), and who worship according to the New Testament pattern (John 4:24). Jesus made clear in His letters to the seven churches that those who would not follow His precepts were not worthy of His name (Revelation 2-3, especially 2:5).
Not all who claim to be members of the church of Christ will be saved
Having noted that "church of Christ" is not a denominational title, but is rather a descriptive term describing those who follow the New Testament, it must now be pointed out that there are some who identify with our number but ultimately will not enter heaven. This is true for a number of reasons. First, there are likely some who were not truly converted (Luke 22:32). As human beings, we can only judge according to fruit (Matthew 7:16, 20), and there might surely be those who "draweth nigh unto [Christ] with their mouth, and honoureth [Him] with their lips; but their heart is far from [Him]" (Matthew 15:8). For those, the perfect judgment of Christ awaits (Matthew 13:47-50).
As well, some who are now faithful members of the body of Christ will not remain "faithful unto death" (Revelation 2:10). As with those described as thorny ground in Jesus' parable of the soils, "the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22). Sadly, those of this group will not have followed Peter's guidance in 2 Peter 1:10: "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall."
So, again, the $20,000,000 question asked by many in the world is: "Are members of the church of Christ the only ones going to heaven?" To those who mean the "church of Christ" in some denominational sense, the answer is a resounding "NO!" To those who are asking if a name in a church directory constitutes salvation, the answer is again, "NO!" But if by the "church of Christ" they mean the church called by the right name, entered into in the right way, and directed by God's word in worship and life, it might be wise to let Christ answer the question once and for all:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:4-6, emphasis added).
So the real $20,000,000 question is: Are you in Christ?
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