What is the Church of Christ?

What is the Church of Christ?

Imagine that a time machine has taken us back to A.D. 30, Jerusalem. A group of Jesus' disciples are gathered in a room. Their minds were on Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and His command to "go into all the world and preach the gospel." (Matthew 28:29,30) They had as yet gone nowhere because Jesus said they should wait for "power" that would enable them to teach authoritatively and offer proofs of the incredible events they had just experienced (John 16:12–14). Acts chapter 2 tells how the power came and the result of that first day's preaching was the baptism of three thousand people. These people, together with those added during the following days and weeks, were immediately called "the church." (e.g. Acts 5:11; 8:1) No particular name, just "the church." Surely the apostles recalled Jesus' promise to "build my church." (Matthew 16:18) So, it was simply Jesus' church—not a physical building, but a fellowship of people who had come to believe in Jesus, had turned from past sins in repentance, and were baptized for the forgiveness of past sins. (Acts 2:38) Thus the church of Christ started. The rest of the New Testament tells the history and teaching of that church.

So, what were these people? Were they Protestants? Hardly, for the Protestant Reformation came centuries later. Were they Catholics? Hardly, for there were none of the features of the Catholic church such as Pope, cardinals, priests, and nuns. So what "denomination" were they? The obvious answer is "no denomination" but rather "just Christians," members of Jesus' church. And this is exactly what the Silver Spring church of Christ wants to be, that is, a local group of undenominational Christians who have come to Jesus as those first Christians did, and who are dedicated to following the pattern set by Jesus and his apostles in our personal lives as well as in our church life and worship. Like them, we will make mistakes but that's who we are.

Transplanted into the modern world, that undenominational church of Acts chapter 2 cannot avoid being viewed as just another Christian denomination. But scholars of all religious groups acknowledge that Jesus established only one church and at the very end of His life prayed that "they all may be one." (John 17:21) Any hint of division within that one church was forcefully condemned. (I Corinthians 1:10). Paul emphasized the basis for the one church by affirming that there is only "one faith." (Ephesians 4:4–6). To avoid becoming a denomination, we try to teach, preach and practice only what is written in the Scriptures without addition or subtraction. We seek to have Biblical authority for all that we do. We use the term "church of Christ" simply as a statement of ownership, that is, the church that belongs to Jesus just as Paul did in Romans 16:16. It has no denominational reference, there is no denominational headquarters, no denominational creed or manual. We seek to be simply an extension in our place and time of that first group of 3,000 Christians in Jerusalem.

How can one be a member?

The book of Acts helps answer this question since it is our intention to be the same non-denominational fellowship as the church of the first century. Over and over in Acts one reads about how the apostles carried out Jesus' instructions to preach the gospel throughout the known world. The result on that first day in Jerusalem (Acts 2) was not only the conversion of 3,000 people, but their formation into a church. So whether the preaching was done in Jerusalem, in Athens or Corinth or Rome, the result was the establishment of Jesus' church in each place where people responded to gospel preaching.

But how did they respond? The apostles preached the fact that Jesus was the "son of God," that He died to forgive the sins of all people, and that He was resurrected and had ascended to heaven. Whenever people responded to this gospel message, three things were always a part of their response. First was belief in the deity of Jesus as illustrated by the Ethiopian treasurer who confessed "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." (Acts 8:37) Second, acknowledgement and repentance for past sins were commanded and exhibited. Those first Christians were "pricked in their hearts" by Peter's preaching, and he commanded them to "repent." (Acts 2:37,38) Finally, conversion and entrance into Jesus' church were always completed by baptism (immersion) in water. Scholars of all denominations agree that the New Testament knows nothing about any unbaptized Christians.

So any person who has responded to the gospel message by believing in Jesus, repenting of past sins, and being baptized for the forgiveness of those past sins is already a member of the church of Christ (Acts 2:41,47), and may become a member of this local congregation simply by expressing the desire to be a part of this body of Christians and providing evidence of past obedience to the gospel. One who has not responded to the gospel in this way is welcome to attend our Bible classes and worship services and may respond Biblically to the gospel at any time.

Membership is not limited to any special class or group of people. We are all sinners who have been saved by God's grace. Whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, American or foreign born, of whatever race, all alike need Jesus. In the diversity of our membership we seek to practice the Biblical principle that "God is no respecter of persons." (Acts 10:34,35)

What are the church services like?

Both the New Testament and early church records show that Christians met together frequently for prayer, for teaching, mutual encouragement and fellowship. While such meetings were held at different times, one practice stands out as uniform. The church met on the "first day of the week" (Sunday) at which time they listened to the reading of scripture and to preaching, sang (a capella) songs and hymns of praise to God (Ephesians 5:19,20), prayed, and observed the Lord's Supper which was a memorial of Jesus. (I Corinthians 11) In the Silver Spring church, you will find all these things being done under the leadership of various men of the church. There is no special "clergy" class, so Christian men lead according to their abilities. At the Sunday meetings, an "invitation" for people to become Christians is usually extended following the sermon and provisions for immediate baptism are made. Opportunity is also given for members of the church to make financial contributions to the work of the church. Within this Biblical pattern of church worship there is room for judgment and expediency as to specific arrangements according to the convenience and preferences of the members.

The church also meets regularly for formal Bible study in class situations. Adults usually have a choice of several topics and classes are taught by a variety of methods including lecture and discussion. Bible classes for children of all ages are also offered. Devotionals and Bible study sessions may also be scheduled throughout the week in the church building or in private homes.

How is the church run?

We also look to the New Testament for the pattern as to how the first Christians organized and operated local congregations. Philippians 1:1 mentions that there were elders, deacons, and "saints" (members). Elders are also called "bishops," "pastors" or "shepherds" and were appointed in each local church (Acts 14:23). They were charged with overseeing the affairs of that church (Acts 20:28–30). Deacons were appointed to service roles (Acts 6:1–6). assisting the elders. The Silver Spring church supports two full time ministers of the word who preach to the English speaking church and the Spanish speaking church respectively. Individual church members staff a variety of volunteer ministries which serve both the congregation and the community.

What is expected of members?

Our expectations are no different from what Jesus expects from any disciple. Jesus set an example by attending and participating regularly in synagogue worship, engaging in prayer, teaching the gospel to all who would listen, and living a life above sin. We therefore expect members to attend worship on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:25; Acts 2:42), to give financially to the work of the church (I Corinthians 16:1,2), to engage in the study of Scripture (I Peter 2:2), to share the gospel with others, and to live lives of honesty and uprightness in imitation of Jesus. (Romans 12). The church has no rules or regulations binding on its members other than the guidelines for Christian living found in the New Testament.

What does the church believe?

The Silver Spring church of Christ has no formal statement of beliefs, nor is it obligated to follow any denominational creed or manual. The church is independent under God and acknowledges no religious authority except the Scriptures, commonly called the Old Testament and the New Testament. There will naturally be some diversity of belief among individual members but we seek to avoid striving about words to no profit and to accept one another just as God has accepted each one. In common with other religious groups, we acknowledge one supreme, omnipotent God and Jesus Christ who was God in human form. Again we share with other religious groups belief in the inspiration of Scripture and recognize it as definitive for doctrine and morals. In all situations we believe the solution to disagreements is to "search the Scriptures" to see what is true. (Acts 17:11)

What is the history of the church of Christ?

Jesus told a parable about a farmer who went out to sow his seed. Some fell on good ground and produced bountifully, some fell on shallow, rocky ground and soon withered, some fell among weeds which quickly choked them out. He said, "The seed is the word of God." (Luke 8:11) When the apostles went out from Jerusalem preaching the word, the church of Christ was planted wherever the "seed" found lodging in good and honest hearts. The same pure gospel message produced non-denominational Christians wherever it was preached in the centuries following the apostles. As the apostles predicted, people corrupted the gospel message and sowed impure seed (2 Peter 2:1). Over the centuries, some who had accepted a corrupted gospel eventually became aware of the corruption and sought a return to the Biblical pattern. One such movement was the Reformation in 16th Century Europe. In 19th Century America another religious movement has come to be called the Restoration Movement because of the common desire of many people to restore the doctrinal purity and religious unity which the apostles commanded. However, totally independent of any particular movement, people in many parts of the world have established churches of Christ simply by taking the New Testament as the pattern authority and building on that. Thus the parable of the farmer was appropriate indeed since pure seed produces a pure crop regardless of when or where it is sown. Churches of Christ come into existence whenever and wherever the pure gospel is taught and accepted so that no chain of historical continuity is needed, only good seed planted in good hearts that receive it by surrendered faith.

Shortly after World War II as the Washington metropolitan area expanded, some members of the church of Christ at 16th & Decatur Streets decided to begin a congregation in Silver Spring so as to be more convenient to their homes. Initially they met in a public building in downtown Silver Spring, but soon purchased the lot on Franklin Avenue where the church now meets. They constructed a basement and met there for several years until an auditorium was erected on top. Then in the late 1990's plans were developed to renovate and enlarge the building. This work was completed in Spring, 2003, resulting in an enlarged auditorium, new classrooms, office spaces, and a paved parking lot.

About 15 years ago, Spanish speaking Christians passing the building, saw the sign, and requested permission to use space for their worship instead of crowding in their homes. They were welcomed as fellow Christians and were considered full members of the church. Due to language differences, they continue to meet separately but are provided a full time Spanish speaking minister.

As the church grew along with the suburban area, it became clear that we were constrained for space and had no room for further building expansion. Thus a decision was made to establish new congregations further out in the suburbs. As a result, congregations were established in Rockville, Olney, Columbia, and Frederick. Each of these is now a self supporting congregation.

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