Tag Archives: the church of Christ

“You’re A Cult!” — Michael Grooms

The accusation that one is a member of a cult is one that is usually taken in offense, and for a good reason. The word “cult” as normally used is a pejorative term that is relative in definition. Many people use the term to insult a group of people with whom they disagree. Most of these people would be hard pressed to define the word. A perusal of web sites and Facebook groups which accuse the churches of Christ of being a cult reveals a wide variety of reasons for the accusation, and as wide a variety of definitions attributed to the word. Dictionaries give several meanings for the word “cult.” The Oxford Dictionary entry that is most relevant to this discussion is: “A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members.” The reader may notice that even this definition is relative, as illustrated by the phrase, “regarded by others.” It is beneficial to observe some of the characteristics of cults and see if churches of Christ fit the description.

Cults usually follow a single human leader or authoritative organization. The leader’s word is considered gospel by the cult. His teachings constitute the basis for their belief. Some cults have such a strong belief in their leaders that their members will follow them to their deaths. Some examples are the Branch Davidians who followed David Koresh and were killed in a standoff with FBI agents in Waco, Texas, the Heaven’s Gate cult which committed mass suicide at the arrival of the Hale-Bop comet, and The People’s Temple, which is famous for the mass murder-suicide which occurred in Jonestown, Guyana at the behest of its leader, Jim Jones. There are other religious groups that are defined by their strict adherence to the doctrine of their human leader or organization.

In contrast, churches of Christ decry the elevation of any man. Jesus Christ is the only person followed by those in the churches of Christ, and He is not merely a man, but deity (John 1:1). Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 NKJV). It is ironic that many of those who accuse churches of Christ of being a cult are associated with denominations that were begun by men and whose doctrine is based on the teachings of that man, or an authoritative organization. Such is not true of the churches of Christ. A plea of the churches of Christ is to “have no creed, but Christ.” In many denominations, there is a separation of “clergy” from the “laity.” The “clergy” is revered and attributed such titles as reverend, pope, father, and priest. Churches of Christ follow the command of Jesus to avoid elevating men in such manner (Matt. 23:2-12).

Cults usually have the practice of deceptive or manipulative discipleship practices. People are often misled concerning the teachings of the cult. They often find out the true nature of the cult only after having committed to it, at which time it is hard to leave. Those who teach and preach in the churches of Christ are often known for their willingness to invite others to examine their teachings to be sure what is taught is in accordance with the Bible. Members of the churches of Christ generally expect to be given the “book, chapter, and verse” in the Bible to verify for themselves that what is taught is from the Bible. Since churches of Christ do not follow any creed or manual written by men, only the Bible is used as a basis for doctrine. This author is a preacher in the churches of Christ, and as such knows many preachers in the church. All the preachers known by this author take very seriously the injunction given in 1 Peter 4:11: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.” It is believed and practiced that members in the church have the responsibility to “test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1) and should be like the noble Bereans who searched the scriptures to be sure the things they were taught were true (Acts 17:11).

Another attribute of cults is that they often exercise extreme control over their members. Members of cults are expected to follow without question the directives of their leaders and are often emotionally manipulated to ensure compliance. Churches of Christ are the opposite of this. It is believed and taught that members should follow only Christ and should do so out of love and of their free will. The scriptures forbid certain things as sins, and it is taught that Christians should obey the scriptures. When someone does sin, they are entreated in love to repent of that sin and seek God’s forgiveness. Unlike some religions, churches of Christ do not require a person to go through a man to receive forgiveness by God. On the contrary, it is taught that all Christians are priests (1 Pet. 2:5,9) and as such may go to God directly through our mediator, Jesus Christ (Phil 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:5).

Churches of Christ are clearly not a cult, but this accusation against churches of Christ is nothing new. A similar accusation was made against the church by its enemies in Acts 24. The enemies of the church accused Paul of being “a creator of dissension” and “a ring leader of the sect of Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). Paul confessed that he worshipped “according to the Way which they call a sect” (Acts 24:14). This Way to which Paul referred and which his enemies called a sect (cult) was the church which Jesus established (Matt. 16:18). This church was referred to as “the churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16).

Jesus warned His disciples that they would be hated for His sake (Matt. 10:22). He then stated: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” (Matt. 10:24-25, NKJV).

If such terms of derision as “cult” are hurled at His church, so be it. He suffered much more for us. It is fitting that we should suffer such insults for Him. Rather than return evil for evil, let us love and pray for those who use such words with malice. Perhaps when they see our love, they will know we are His disciples (John 13:35) and will want to be one too!

Michael preaches at the Boiling Springs congregation in Boiling Springs, SC. He is vice-chairman of the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.

“You Believe You’re The Only Ones Going To Heaven!” — Victor M. Eskew

This statement is made often by people who hear members of the church advocate for the divinely authorized existence of only one church. It is a statement designed to be extremely controversial. Those who put it in question form usually want a “yes” or “no” answer. They want us to say: “Yes.” If we do, they will turn away in anger, or, they will continue to argue and fight, or, they will seek to shame and embarrass the individual. They want to convince us that we are excluding others. In reality, we are trying to include them in a very special group of people, those who have been redeemed, that is, purchased by the blood of Christ (cf. Acts 20:28).

One question I like to ask individuals when discussing the church is: “Did a church exist in the first century?” Some do not comprehend the importance of the first century, so I ask: “Did a church exist when the apostles lived on the earth?” Most have never contemplated the question. When asked, they do not really know how to respond. They might say: “I guess,” or, “I suppose.” This is not something that is very important to most denominations. They do not teach about the first century church. If they are a little surprised by the question, show them one or two Scriptures that mention the church: “…And the Lord added to the church daily church as should be saved” (Acts 2:47), or, “…And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem…” (Acts 8:1). There is no doubt that church existed. You might inform them that the word “church” is used 80 times in the New Testament. Again, a church existed some two thousand years ago.

This leads to a second question: “What church existed two thousand years ago?” Again, this question often stuns the one to whom it is directed. Why? Because he has never considered it. A church existed in the first century. Which church was it? It was not one denomination that is here today because not one denomination existed until much later. However, during His earthly ministry, Jesus said: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus promised to build His church. Acts 20:28 reveals that it was purchased with His blood: “…to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Jesus built it. Jesus purchased it. It is His church. It belongs to the Christ. When it was established on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:47), it was the only church that existed. In order to be saved from sin, death, and condemnation, a person had to be a member of that church. If not, why not?

The next consideration involves a choice between true or false. Question: “All denominations that exist today are man-made organizations.” The correct answer to this question is true. They did not exist in the first century. They were founded by men during what is known as the Reformation Movement. Therefore, they cannot be the church of the first century.

Does the church that existed in the first century exist today?  Remember Jesus’ words: “…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Nothing, absolutely nothing, could have destroyed the Lords church. The prophets of old declared that “it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44). It must exist today. Where is it? How does one find it? First, he examines the church about which we read in the Bible, the first century church. He looks at its name. He learns about it organization. He comes to understand it doctrine. He studies its worship. He comprehends what a person had to do to become a member of that church. These are what some refer to as “identification marks.” Once these marks are understood, a person then searches all the churches until he finds the true church. It is definitely here. “It shall stand forever.”

Is the church of Christ that church? Those who are members of it believe that it is. We believe that we meet the identification marks of that church about which we read in the Bible. Since the church is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33), we wear only His name. In Romans 16:16, Paul wrote: “…The churches of Christ salute you.” In order to enter this church, we exhort men and women to do only what those on the day of Pentecost did. They heard Peter’s words (Acts 2:22). They were pricked in their hearts, “and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter’s answer is the same one we give men today. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Some of those that heard Peter that day, obeyed (Acts 2:41). Having obeyed, they were saved (Mark 16:16). Those saved individuals were added by the Lord to His church (Acts 2:47). He still does the same thing for the saved today. These are just two of the identification marks of the church. We could discuss others as well.

When Paul wrote to the church as Ephesus, he set forth in one section of that epistle what some refer to as “the seven ones” (Eph. 4:4-6). He opened those “seven ones” with these words: “There is one body…” In Ephesians 1:22-23, he had already revealed what that one body is. It is the church. Thus, there is one church. That is the plain teaching of the New Testament of Jesus Christ. My friends, members of that body are going to Heaven.

Those who deny the teaching and the significance of the one church need to consider some Bible history. In the days of Noah, there was only one ark in which one could be saved. Would they have asked Noah: “So you believe only those on the ark are going to be saved from the flood?” In the days of Moses, only those who were in houses with the two side posts and upper door post covered with blood were going to be saved from the angel of death. Would they have asked Moses: “So you think the Israelites are the only ones who will have their firstborn spared from the tenth plague?” In the days of Joshua, the city of Jericho was destroyed. One house, the house of Rahab was spared. It was spared because it was the only one with a scarlet line in the window (Josh. 2:18-19). Would they have asked Joshua: “So you believe only those in Rahab’s house will be saved?” The answer to these questions would have all been: “Yes.” If a yes answer was given then, why is a yes answer so unusual today? God has always designed a place of salvation for man. Today that place of safety is the church of Christ.

Victor is a graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching, University of Memphis, and Ambridge University. He is married to Kathleen, and they have three children and six grandchildren. He preaches for the Oceanside congregation in Atlantic Beach, FL.