On the March 27th Nancy Grace show on FOX, the question was raised, "Is the Church of Christ a cult?" I would like to respond to that question. In case you are wondering who I am and what my affiliation is, I am one of four elders in the Church of Christ which meets in Dover, Arkansas (a local congregation with about 140-150 on Sunday mornings). I was reared in the Church of Christ while growing up in the 1950s and 60s near Anson, Texas. I attended Abilene Christian University from 1968-72, and have been a faithful member of the Church of Christ since 1958.

If you want to know what the Church of Christ believes, ask a member. Ask a preacher, deacon, or elder. Don't ask someone from some other belief. The person you are asking may have no interest in representing us accurately.

To speak to the question: What do I think of when I hear about a cult? I envision David Koresh and the Waco Branch Dividians of about 1993, or Jim Jones and his group of 900 who moved to Guyana in the 1980s to get away from the world. I see a separatist group--one that does not really want very many more members, and to whom admission is a secretive ordeal. I see weapons, lots of guns and ammunition, and a distrust toward our government and its laws and restrictions. I see a group that focuses almost exclusively on hard-to-interpret parts of the Bible such as the Revelation or the latter half of Daniel or Ezekiel, all of which are books that have a lot of figurative language, and that do not spend much time looking at the rest of the Bible and its depiction of the deity of Jesus Christ. As an elder in the church with a lifetime career in teacher education, if I am looking at a cult, I don't usually see people applying conventional rules of scholarship very well to a study of the Bible. In a cult, most often it is the case that both the interpretation of Scripture and the administrative power of the cult reside in one person, who is doing the thinking for everyone else.

If that impression of a cult is a correct one, the churches of Christ are far from being a cult. Religious, yes; somewhat different in the way we approach life, also yes; and firm in our beliefs, well, I hope so. But we are not a separatist movement or a secretive society.

What do congregations of the churches of Christ believe? I should be careful to not be presumptuous--there are over 13,000 individual congregations, and there are some variations among that many congregations and 1.6 million or more members in the U. S. alone. Within a given locale, you can find these congregations in your phone book. Churches of Christ do not have a national organization and do not have a national spokesperson. This is intentional; the Lord's church as depicted in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus1 had elders, deacons, and members in each congregation, without having any organization in authority above that of the local congregation. Elders oversee only their one local congregation. This scriptural design prevents Satan from infiltrating at the top of a big pyramidal design. If Satan infiltrates the eldership of a local congregation, one congregation out of the 13,000 is all he gets. He doesn't get everybody in the whole organization, as can and does happen in the more typical pyramidal patterns of some other beliefs.

If I were to summarize some of the major beliefs fo the churches of Christ, a "starter list" might appear as follows:

1. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (John 3:16). We believe that Jesus and his mission are the central part of all of man's history, man's present, and his future.

2. Religious bodies do not have the right to wear men's names. We read passages such as Acts 4:12 and 1 Corinthians 1:10-16 and realize that we must wear Christ's name or one of the names He approved, such as Church of God (1 Corinthians 1:2), the Way (Acts 9:2), the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:21-30), or a short list of other and less frequently mentioned biblical names. It is for this reason that we also do not wear the names of John the Baptizer, Martin Luther, or other men.

On this and many other points we are often unfairly criticized. Wearing the name of Church of Christ (Romans 16:16) is not an ego thing to us. To the contrary--we do it in utmost humility. We would make a lot more friends and be misunderstood far less frequently if we would wear some name that did not have such a high profile. But think of it this way--if the church is the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27), why would She wear another man's name? Would I want my wife wearing the name of a Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones? No, I would want her to wear the name "Mrs. Womack." Should I expect Christ to feel any differently about His Bride?

3. Churches of Christ take most passages of the Old and New Testament fairly literally. We allow for exceptions in books like Ezekiel or Revelation when the context begins to speak of fantastic heavenly creatures or when it says that this is a prophecy of things yet to come. The rules of scholarly interpretation that we apply to Scripture could just as easily be applied to the reading of Shakespeare, Milton, Robert Blake, or the daily newspaper, and have those texts make sense. We also heed the warning of Scripture in 2 Peter 1:20-21, that the ultimate author of the Bible is the Holy Spirit of God, and man has no right to construct an interpretation of the Bible that is totally foreign to what the Holy Spirit meant when He inspired the earthly writers of the Bible to compose what they did (also Revelation 22:18-19).

4. Members of churches of Christ tend to be careful about their own soul's salvation. Will people who do not worship as we worship, or organize themselves as we are organized, or who teach different doctrines from us, be saved? That is for God to decide (Matthew 7:1-2). But the usual tone and tenor of our viewpoint is that we do not want to take a chance on our souls. We read of Nadab and Abihu in the Old Testament (Leviticus 10:1-3), and how they changed just a thing or two (strange fire) from how God told them to worship, and were struck down with fire immediately . . . and where the passages say specifically to sing, we sing (Colossians 3: 16; Ephesians 5: 18, 19).

5. Churches of Christ do not believe in organizing the Lord's church into entities above the level of the local congregation. We find no evidence in the New Testament of synods, conventions, or other pyramidal administrative structures. In fact, it was because those structures were allowed to be created that the original church of the first century apostatized from the New Testament pattern. This is how there came to be the degree of religious division that there is in the world today. People stopped doing what the Bible said. They started adding on to God's Word. Some of Scriptures' harshest warnings were given against those who would add to or take away from what the Bible said (Galatians 1:8-9; Revelation 22:18-19).

6. Churches of Christ teach that a person begins his walk with Christ by hearing God's Word, believing it, repenting of his past sins, confessing his faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and being baptized in order to receive forgiveness of sins. Four of these five steps are found in Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:37-47. The confession step is found in natural context in the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8:26-40 (see verse 37). Or see Matthew 10:32-33 or Romans 10:9-10.

7. We in the churches of Christ believe in a "walking-together" relationship of the Christian with God as it is described in 1 John 1:6-2:5. I do not fear that if I commit a sin or two that is not yet repented of and prayed for (Acts 8:12-20) just before I die, that God will condemn me. But a person can stop walking with the Lord. The passage in 1 John begins with an "if." The entire second chapter of Second Peter talks about people who had become Christians, but turned away, and how they would be lost in Hell if they did not turn back to the Lord. The Acts 8 passage about Simon the sorcerer tells how Simon, though he had become a Christian, needed to repent because of the sin he had committed. Members of the Church of Christ do not believe in "once saved, always saved." They believe that living like the devil after once being redeemed by Jesus makes a mockery of God--a mockery that He will not tolerate at the Judgment. One only has to read the numerous admonitions of the book of Mark to see the many warnings to live righteously, for we do not know when Jesus will come again. Why would He make such a warning if being lost was not even a possibility?

8. We believe in Bible study (2 Timothy 2:15). We read that faith is absolutely essential to pleasing God (Hebrews 11:6) and that to build faith, we must hear (Romans 10:17). So we study.

9. Yes, we believe that faith is important (Hebrews 11:6). We believe that real faith will show itself in works (James 2:14-26).

10. We believe in grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). I don't know a Christian who plans to go to judgment with a bill in his hand to present to God, saying, "Pay me what you owe me!" God does not owe man anything. But we do not believe in abusing grace (Romans 6:1-15). Grace is no excuse for not doing all we can to turn away from sin (Romans 6:1-2; also vs. 15) or for not developing and using our talents to serve God (Matthew 25:14-30).

11. We believe in the sanctity of human life, even that of the unborn (Psalms 139:1-15)

12. We believe in regular and weekly worship service (Hebrews 10:24-26), including taking the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7) and giving weekly as we have been prospered (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

13. We believe in evangelism because that is what the Bible said to do (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16). The congregation that supports this web site has also helped in supporting the preaching of the gospel at a local jail and has baptized over 400 inmates (and restored 670 more) in the past six years. This should also speak to the issue about churches of Christ trying to be selective or elitist about whom we try to induct as members.

14. We teach submission to earthly governments (Romans 13:1-7). The only way we would be in opposition to our government would be if it directly and immediately interfered with the preaching of God's Word (see the example in Acts 5:27-32). Our manner of opposition to such a law, if it existed, would not be through violence (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

I could say more, but I am not trying to write a creed. Man has written more than enough of those. Read your Bible to find out the rest about the Church of Christ . There are no special rules of interpretation needed to get to where we are. We try to "speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent."

Our goal is to restore New Testament Christianity. Where commands seem generic, we obey generically. But where they are specific, we try to respond in those specific ways.

Sid Womack

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