By Kevin Cauley
“I have a very tough question. I have been a member of the Lord’s Church for a few years, and once people find out, the first question they ask is ‘Why does the church of Christ think they are the only ones going to heaven and not the denominational churches?’ I think they ask this because they do not understand the Bible. Could you help me with this because a lot of my friends ask me this. I need some scriptural versus on this matter.”
You are correct that it is a misunderstanding of the scriptures. It is also a misunderstanding of what the name “church of Christ” means. To a denominational person, the name “church of Christ” is no different than “Baptist,” “Methodist,” or “Presbyterian.” You may have heard people say, “I am church of Christ” as opposed to saying,“I am a Christian.” Such speech simply perpetuates the misunderstanding. The name “church of Christ” is not a denomination, it is an effort on the part of Christians to honor and glorify the Savior. The early churches were mostly referred to as the church of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 3:5). This was not a “name,” but a description to whom they belonged. The early churches were also called churches of Christ (Romans 16:16 KJV). Jesus said that the church belonged to Him (Matthew 16:18) so it is the church that belongs to Christ –the church that is Christ’s–the church of Christ . The name is not a label to be stuck on the outside of a product. Rather, it is descriptive of the group of people who meet to worship at that particular location. This is a difficult concept to get denominational people to understand because they are so stuck on labels. In fact, this is exactly what Paul rebuked the Corinthians for doing in 1 Corinthians 1:10–labeling themselves and using the label as a reason for division. Even those who labeled themselves “Christ” were wrong because they were using the name “Christ” as a label and not as a description of who they were. The only name that we as individuals should be worried about carrying is the name “Christian.” A person cannot be a true Christian and be a “Baptist-Christian” or a “Methodist-Christian” or a “Presbyterian-Christian.” Either one is a Christian or one is not. The concept of a “flavored” Christian is not found in the Bible and is, in fact, forbidden by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10. Now, if you can get them to understand this, then you can get them to understand the next part, but if they do not understand this, then they will never understand the next part.
The Bible teaches that there is only ONE church–the church that belongs to Jesus (Matthew 16:16-18) and that there is only ONE body (Ephesians 4:4). The Bible also teaches that the body is the church (Eph. 1:22,23). That means there is just ONE church. In addition, we read in Ephesians 5:23 that Jesus is the Savior of the body. He is not the Savior of anything else but the body. So he is the Savior of the church and only the church. Now, applying the principles that we learn from above, we can understand that Jesus is the Savior of the church–His church–the church that belongs to Him–the church of Christ. He is not going to save anyone who is not a member of His church as only the saved are added to His church (Acts 2:47). So to state it plainly, the saved are members of the church and the church is made up of saved people. No one outside the church is going to be saved.
At this point the denominationalist will probably say, but you are talking about the universal church, not the local church and we all know that the universal church is made up of all of the denominations.This is completely false. In the scriptures we only read of two different descriptions of the church.There is the universal church and there is the local church. A denomination doesn’t fit either of those categories. A denomination is bigger than the local church, but smaller than the universal church. Moreover, even if the organization was correct, a congregation would have to practice all of the things that are enjoined upon churches in the New Testament to practice. Many denominations just are not doing this today. To be the New Testament church, a church must have an authorized description (church of Christ, church of God, etc.), an authorized worship, an authorized plan of salvation, an authorized organization, and an authorized mission. A person has no authority from God to just go somewhere and set up a congregation of people to do whatever they want to do and call that the church. The church must conform to God’s pattern for the church and that is what makes the church the church of Christ! When we do things the way God has told us to do things, then by His grace, we will be saved. If we fail to do things the way God told us to do things, then we have no promise of salvation.
The accusation, “the members of the ‘Church of Christ’ think they are the only ones going to heaven” is a straw man argument. It assumes that the churches of Christ are denominations just like everyone else. It assumes that it doesn’t matter how the church is organized. It assumes that all denominations are members of the one universal church. To speak to someone about this issue you must first point out the fallacies of these assumptions.
So, to answer this question or statement, I would tell the person who made the statement that this is a misrepresentation of what we believe and if you would like to find out what we do actually believe, then we can have a Bible study to discuss it.You might also point out to them that they believe that Christians are the only ones going to heaven and they don’t seem to have a problem with that. Then you could get into a discussion how does a person become a Christian. If they don’t believe that only Christians are going to heaven, then you will need to have a discussion with them regarding the resurrection of Christ and the authority that Christ has in our relationship with God (John 14:6, etc.)