Churches of Christ: A Quick Primer

I know that some of you are not members of churches of Christ. And I’m guessing that, in light of the recent events surrounding the murder of Matthew Winkler and his wife’s apparent confession to the killing, you are probably a little curious about what we are all about.

I haven’t had a chance to watch any of the Nancy Grace shows involving the churches of Christ, but there have apparently been some accusations that Churches of Christ are a “cult”, and that this murder was somehow cult-related because Matthew Winkler was a minister in the churches of Christ.

Here, in short order, are the facts that I think are most important for you to know about churches of Christ:

1. Churches of Christ are not “cults”, at least not in the popular sense of that word. We do not kidnap and brainwash people. We do not encourage killing. To the contrary, as is the case in all Christian faiths of which I am aware, murder is considered to be a sin. A murder of this nature is virtually unheard of within our fellowship of churches.

2. We are a part of the American restoration movement, a movement that calls people to be “just Christians”, rather than identifying themselves with a particular denomination. Arguably, over time, we ultimately became – in effect – a denomination of our own. However, to this day, all of our churches function independently of each other.

3. During our brief history, we have developed a few practices that make us distinctive from other Christian faiths. Among those practices are: (1) immersion baptism “for the forgiveness of sins”, (2) the exclusive use of singing without instrumental accompaniment during worship, and (3) a weekly eucharist, which we usually call “the Lord’s supper.” Also, women have not traditionally been permitted to participate in leadership roles.

4. Unfortunately, during the mid-twentieth century, most of our leaders became very dogmatic about these distinctive issues, insisting that only those who follow such practices are going to heaven. There were many reasons for this, which I won’t go into here – but this is an admittedly sad part of our heritage.

5. Because of the somewhat voiciferous and dogmatic voices that dominated our fellowship during the mid twentieth century, we managed to alienate most other denominations and their leaders. We kept to ourselves, and told other believers that they were going to hell. It was probably during this time that people began to think of us as a cult. Wikipedia does a good job of describing our traditional, distinctive practices. However, it is a little more thin on the changes that have developed during the last few decades.

6. There are still a few members and leaders that adhere to the teaching that our distnictive practices are necessary for personal salvation. However, many (I might even say “most”) of our leaders and church members have dismissed those ideas as relics of an older age.

7. In fact, a major debate among members of churches of Christ these days is whether some of our distinctive practices – the refusal to use instrumental music in worship being the prime example – should be abandoned. Many of our churches are also reconsidering the role that women should play in our fellowships. Our ability to reconsider and adapt to our understanding of scripture, free from the constraints of formal denominational creeds, is one of the reasons that I continue to be a member of this fellowship of churches.

Of course, our history is much more diverse and rich than what I can describe here. Suffice it to say that, like any other protestant denomination, we have our problems. However, it is not really fair to characterize the churches of Christ as a cult.

If you’re new to this blog or to churches of Christ generally, please feel free to have a look around. You’ll find several discussions here that are important in our fellowship these days. You may also want to read from the blogs of some of our leaders, such as Mike Cope, Wade Hodges, and Phil Ware.

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