In Romans 16:16 Paul wrote: “All the churches of Christ salute you." What did Paul mean by “churches of Christ”?
The word “church” is translated from the Greek word “ekklesia”. It was a common word used for any assembly or group of people which was called together. The phrase “of Christ” tells us which people they were. These churches (assemblies) belonged to Christ. Therefore when Paul said “churches of Christ” he meant “those groups of people who belong to Christ.”
Since those who belong to Christ are the ones who have been saved, the church of Christ is “those people who have been saved.” This is what we find in Acts 2:47 where Luke wrote, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." The Lord adds all saved persons to His church; therefore saved persons are in His church. No one has to join Christ’s church. The idea that one is saved and then afterwards joins the church of his choice is not found in the Bible. When a person is saved, the Lord adds that person to the church of God’s choice - the church which Paul called “the church of Christ.”
Not only does the church belong to Christ, but He is the one who built it. Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18) Therefore if we are today in the church of Christ, we are in the church He built, not a denomination which was built by Luther, Calvin, Shembe or some other man.
Since these churches were “of Christ”, the members were loyal to Him. They listened only to the words of Jesus and His apostles and prophets. Jesus asked, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46) Jesus is only Lord when we obey Him. If we teach the commandments of men we will be rejected by Him (Matthew 15:8-9). Therefore the members of the churches of Christ listened to Him and rejected the teachings not found in His word.
The commandments of Jesus are the New Covenant, or New Testament. Those people who followed Jesus did not follow the commandments of the Old Testament because that covenant ended when Jesus died on the cross. (Colossians 2:14-17; Galatians 3:24-25). The will of Jesus is in the New Testament (Hebrews 9:15-17). Nor did they follow the creeds which men wrote for various denominations. Everything God wants His people to follow is found in the Bible, and the New Testament contains the perfect and complete instructions for His church. (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Jude 3.)
When Paul wrote “churches of Christ” he indicated that there were many. In every place where there were Christians there was a church of Christ - at Jerusalem, at Corinth, at Antioch. and a thousand other places. Each group of Christians was a church of Christ, obeying Jesus, carrying out His will in that place.
Each church was separate and self-governing. In the churches where there were qualified men there were elders and deacons. (Read Acts 14:23; 20:17,28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-3.) Each church carried on the work given to it by Christ. There was no other organisation. There was no headquarters, no missionary society, no presiding bishop. The Bible says “churches”- and nothing else!
These churches were given three works to accomplish:
When Christians gathered “in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:19,23) to worship God, they were commanded to sing, preach and teach, eat the Lord’s Supper, give their money for the work the church must do, and pray. Clear instructions concerning each of these acts of worship are given in the New Testament. Those who followed Christ did not worship according to the Old Testament law with animal sacrifices, burning of incense, instrumental music and feast days. They worshiped “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24) as Jesus and His apostles directed.
Are there churches of Christ today? The answer is a confident “Yes!” They are found wherever saved people are listening to Jesus and carrying out His will. These churches are filled with people who refuse to follow the creeds of denominations and refuse to be called by denominational names. They gather together to worship God as Jesus has directed. They strive to live pure, humble, dedicated lives like Jesus who is their example. They therefore have the bright hope of eternity in heaven with Him.
In Eshowe, which is in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, a church of Christ meets at 76 Main Street - on Sundays at 9 a.m. for Bible classes; at 10:30 for singing, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, giving and preaching; and again at 6:00 p.m. for worship. On Wednesdays there are Bible classes at 6:00 p.m. We invite you to attend - and to ask questions. If you want to know more about the church of Christ, read your New Testament. We will be happy to help you in your study.