Being a member of the church of Christ, I hear this question more times than I could count and answer. The question sometimes arises from those that want to define the church of Christ as a denomination. Other times, the question may arise when someone is trying to refute their beliefs that do not align with those of what I consider the doctrine of Christ described in Jude 3.
So, is it a valid argument or question? The simple answer is no. The more complex answer is no. While this blog is not intended to answer every question related to the era of Thomas and Alexander Campbell or Barton Stone, Racoon Smith, or any of the other known "Restoration Leaders" of that time, it is my hope that you will take a few minutes to compare the church of Christ to the church of Acts 2.
The concept of what is called the "Restoration Movement" at Cane Ridge, KY in the early 1800's or at Bethany, VA is a very unique and exciting story to research and read. These men, Campbell and Stone more specifically, sought to return to the church of the Bible once they realized that the denominations that they were members of were not truly that church. Presbyterian doctrines were not found to align with the things that both Stone and Campbell compared. What did they do about it? The same thing that I am doing about it, as well as asking you to do about it...go BACK to the Bible for the answers! Hence, the name "restoration movement" in an effort to "restore" simple Biblical Christianity.
What is that truth? How do we know that the church of Christ is the same as the church of Acts, the church of the Bible, the church that Jesus bought with His own blood (Acts 20:28)?
1. In the book of Acts, the story of the church starts on the day of Pentecost with Peter, the remaining apostles and about 120 "members" of the first meeting of the church. When Peter preached that powerful lesson (as well as the other disciples that were speaking in the languages for all to hear), those that were pricked in the heart asked a profound question..."what shall we do to be saved?" The reply, found in Acts 2:38, reads "repent and be baptized for the remission of sins in the name of Jesus Christ..." In Acts 2:42, the text says that about 3000 souls were baptized...and added to the church (Acts 2:47).
2. Ephesians 4:4-6 states that there is ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE hope, ONE God, ONE body, ONE Spirit, and ONE baptism (Not in that order). That would imply that the ONE baptism that we read of in Acts 2:38, would add one to the ONE body described as the church in Acts 2:47. (see 1 Cor 10:17, Heb 13:3, Eph 5:23, and Col 1:24). Since this is the case described in the church of the Bible, then that is the church that one should desire to become a part of today still.
3. Campbell, Stone, Smith...none of these men started a "denomination." As a matter of fact, they were doing everything that they could in order to get away from a mindset of being in a "division," or denomination. Many of the congregations that established as a result of the efforts of these men were named (for identification, not denomination) Disciples of Christ, Christian church, and the beloved name church of Christ. While these congregations favored in most things, eventually there was some division including things like instrumental music (something that the Restoration preachers did not teach nor condone), and other divisive doctrines that would segregate once again...the church of the Bible and a congregation of people following the doctrines of men. Paul wrote in 1 Cor 1:10 "let there be no divisions among you..." He asked if Christ was divided. This is simple context. Divided is not whole. Divided is no longer ONE. Divided is truly what is defined as "denomination" (denominating/dividing).
4. I only want to be a member of the church that can be found in the Bible. My dear friends that are parts of denominational bodies - Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, and so forth, my biggest plea unto you is simply this: Can you find "your church" matching the description and the pattern of the church of the Lord, the body of Christ, the church that Christ said that HE would build (Matt 16:18), not that man would build, or doctrines that would be listed in some creed or handbook that completely cause the identity of the body of Christ to be unrecognizable. They were called Christians first at Antioch. The "churches of Christ" salute you. There simply is not authority to be a so-and-so Christian or a member of a man-made church.
Friends, I know that most likely this short blog will not be fully convincing that a.) the church of Christ is not a denomination, b.) the church of Christ was started by Christ and not by Campbell or Stone or any other man, or c.) there may be a difference in the church that you are a member of and the church of Acts, the church of the Bible, the church of the Lord, the church of Christ. However, I do hope that you may have read something that will help you to consider a deeper study regarding the church - the body of Christ and where you may fit in.
If you would like more information or a deeper study on this topic, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out on Facebook. All of this is said in love for your soul and for the truth of God's word and Christ's church.
May God bless you.