This post simplifies the distinctions of the church of Christ and is not comprehensive.
How the Churches of Christ Agree with Other Churches
People may describe the churches of Christ as “evangelical” because they match the description. These congregations believe in the triune nature of God in three persons as God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are God (Isa 48:16; Matt 28:19–20; 1 Cor 8:6; 2 Cor 13:14). The churches of Christ uphold the Scriptures as guided by the Spirit, inerrant, and infallible as breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16–17; 2 Pet 1:20–21). Churches of Christ believe the gospel that Jesus died, was buried, and bodily rose on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:1–5). The churches of Christ believe that salvation is by grace through faith from being raised with Christ (Eph 2:4–10; Col 2:12–13; cf. Rom 6:3–5). By faith in the Genesis account of creation, the churches of Christ believe that God created man and woman in His image and that humanity fell by sin to death with its suffering and so humanity needs a Savior to conquer sin’s death (Gen 1–3). For Jesus’s affirmation of Genesis and more, the churches of Christ are morally conservative valuing the life of the unborn opposing abortion and upholding marriage between one man and one woman for life (Mark 10:6).
How the Churches of Christ Are Different
1. Churches of Christ see the Bible as harmonious truth without error, and the Scriptures are the complete guide for teaching and every good work.
The churches of Christ believe that Jesus is without sin, and therefore, Jesus’s words are also infallible and inerrant (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22). Jesus is the Word who is God come in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). Jesus revealed that His words are spirit and life (John 6:63). Jesus also declared that His words will never pass away (Matt 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). Christ gave His words to His apostles and prophets through the Spirit of God (John 15:20; 16:12–13; 17:8).
The apostles and prophets produced the New Testament Scriptures (Eph 3:3–5). The first churches collected the Scriptures under the oversight of the apostles (Luke 1:1–3; 1 Tim 5:18; 2 Pet 3:16; 1 John 1:4). The churches of Christ recognize that Jesus accepted all the Old Testament Scriptures as inspired by God (Luke 24:44; cf. 2 Pet 1:20–21). The Scriptures are inerrant and breathed out by God, and the Bible is the all-sufficient authority for Christian beliefs and practices (2 Tim 3:16–17).
For these reasons, the churches of Christ believe that the Bible consists of no contradictions, and the Bible harmonizes as revealed truth from God. Christians can unite in the same mind and judgment (1 Cor 1:10). Christians can rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). Therefore, the churches of Christ look to how Jesus, his apostles, and all prophets handled Scripture.
2. Churches of Christ believe that baptism is the moment of salvation when God forgives sins of repentant believers and unites them with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
Jesus commanded baptism for specific reasons, and the churches of Christ emphasize the gospel in baptism more than other churches. The gospel is in baptism as the repentant believer partakes of the reality Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection in baptism (1 Cor 15:1–4). The apostle Paul expressed, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4 ESV). Baptism represents burial and unites the believer with Jesus in His death and raised with Christ by God’s powerful working (Col 2:12–13). Churches of Christ see harmony in the Scriptures teaching that salvation is by grace through faith and the believer with rising from baptism to new life. Repentant believers are baptized in in faith of Jesus’s bodily resurrection and for the hope of bodily resurrecting like Jesus who resurrected “flesh and bone” and put on immortality upon His body (Rom 6:5; 8:11; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:12–23, 42–53; cf. Luke 24:39).
Because all repentant believers were baptized immediately throughout the New Testament, churches of Christ do the same. Churches of Christ accept what the apostles taught that baptism is for and into the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Churches of Christ recognize that baptism in Jesus’s name is a necessary part of God’s salvation plan (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet 3:21; cf. Matt 28:19–20). Baptism is only for repentant believers, and not for innocent children and infants “for such are the kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 19:14; 16:16; Acts 2:38). God saves by grace when He raises believers alive in Christ from our death in sin, and thereby God saves believers apart from works (Eph 2:1–10; Col 2:12–13).
3. Churches of Christ follow the biblical organization of churches with elders as their pastors and men acting as servant leaders.
Jesus built the church and bought the church with His blood (Matt 16:18; Acts 20:28). The church is God’s people (1 Pet 2:5, 9). Jesus also cleansed the church by the washing of water (Eph 5:26). For this reason, these churches are convinced to obey God’s instruction that elders shepherd each church (Titus 1:5–9). These elders are the shepherds or “pastors” in each individual congregation (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1–3). An eldership leads one congregation since there is no mention of church leaders overseeing more than one congregation in the Scriptures. Churches of Christ understand that every church of Christ follows the Scriptures in worship, organization, salvation, evangelism, and service in love. As in the Bible, each congregation is not perfect because churches consist of imperfect people who have all sinned, yet Christians have repented and continue to walk in the light being cleansed of all sins by the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7).
Churches of Christ stand by biblical leadership and do not hinder male leadership. Homes need fathers and husbands to lead. The Scriptures reveal that because God made Adam first, God gave men the responsibility to lead. The churches of Christ seek that men lead in loving service and that women neither exercise authority nor teach over them (Mark 10:42–45; 1 Tim 2:11–15). Churches of Christ stand that men are to lead in the assembly by speaking orderly according to God’s command (1 Cor 14:34–37).
4. Churches of Christ seek to worship God as “true worshipers” differing from worship in the Old Testament and from contemporary traditions.
Jesus described true worship as “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). David brought tabernacle worship with musical instruments into Jerusalem (1 Chr 16:1–7). However, Jesus revealed a change in worship, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24). Worship from David in Jerusalem has changed to Christ’s worship of spirit and truth.
In the Bible, the assemblies of congregations consist of preaching, reading, praying, singing, communion, and collection. The churches of Christ partake of the Lord’s Supper in the assembly as communion with Christ (1 Cor 10:16, 21; 11:17–34). In the New Testament, disciples assembled every first day of the week, which is the day that Jesus rose from the dead (Acts 20:7; cf. John 20:19; 1 Cor 16:1–2). They also meet on other days if not daily (Acts 2:46).
The first churches praised God with their lips singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs among themselves (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). The churches of Christ would no more change the fruit of the grapevine for the Lord’s Supper than change the fruit of the lips for praise to God (Heb 13:15). The Bible describes musical instruments as lifeless that do not align with worshiping and edifying one another with words (1 Cor 14:1–20). The churches of Christ have not added musical instruments or body percussion to congregational singing as commanded for the church in the Scriptures (1 Cor 4:6; 2 John 9). They see musical instruments as an addition to God’s Word. The churches of Jesus Christ obey Paul’s instruction to “maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor 11:2; cf. 2 Thess 2:15).
5. Churches of Christ avoid denominational divisions to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace bearing with one another in love.
This may be the most important difference. The common experiences of Christians among the churches of Christ is that their congregation is a family of God. They strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1–3). Christians must rely and trust in one another more than other body of people on earth. Jesus revealed, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
The churches of Christ do not consist of perfect people. Prideful, resentful, selfish people, and false teachers come among them just as among the churches in the New Testament. However, mature brothers and sisters in Christ love all and set examples like Christ. The church of Christ avoids denominational sectarianism caused by false teaching (1 Cor 1:10; Eph 1:22–23; 4:4). Denominating the church is dividing the church. This is wrong according to Scripture (Rom 16:17; 1 Cor 1:10; Gal 5:19–21; cf. Prov 6:19). Denominations err and divide among one another on the authority of Scripture, worship, organization, salvation, evangelism, fellowship, and benevolence. Churches of Christ desire and strive for unity in Christ and want no part of division.
Loving for God and loving one another helps to keep the church unified (Eph 4:1–3). Christian love for one another comes from God. The apostle John expressed, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Christian love also includes loving God and keeping His commands. John also revealed, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2–3).
The churches of Christ welcome all guests to follow Jesus Christ and want all to follow the Scriptures as the complete guide for all teaching and every good work. Anyone can visit and study with the Christians among these churches. “All the churches of Christ greet you” (Rom 16:16).