How would you answer that question? Specifically, how would you define and identify a CHURCH? How would you distinguish between a legitimate church and an organization or operation that claims to be a CHURCH, but isn't? Is every institution or organization that claims to be a CHURCH really entitled to be recognized as such? Take a minute and seriously consider this matter.
One thing is certain: A correct understanding of the Scriptures will not help at all because there is no such thing as a CHURCH (institution) found therein! Oh, yes indeed, the word CHURCH is found therein about 100 times; but as has been shown factually and conclusively in this paper, and in other places, the English word CHURCH should NOT be there at all. That word is not a TRANSLATION of the Greek word ekklesia; but it is substituted for a translation. In fact, the latest translation by one of our brethren (Hugo McCord) does NOT have the word CHURCH in it at all! Why? Simply for the obvious reason that it does not belong there. Isn't that a significant fact? Doesn't it stir your mind and heart enough to move YOU to really examine why this is true and consider all the error it has brought upon the world? It should. There is no CHURCH in God's word. It was erroneously put there by men upon the order of King James. He was the Head of a CHURCH and he was going to see that the word CHURCH remained in the Bible. My dear brother and sister, THAT is how that terrible mistake was made that has wrought great evil in the ages since.
The English word CHURCH means (today) a religious institution; an organization structured to operate as a corporate entity. It has its own distinctive name (denomination), like White Rock Church of Christ or Brentwood Church of Christ, for examples. These are corporations or religious institutions that operate and function just like any other organization in the country. These institutions have corporate directors (the Board of Elders or Rulers); they have hired employees to work for and under the direction of the corporate officials, such as the Pulpit Minister, Youth Minister, secretary, and others. These organizations own property. Each "local church" institution has a source of financial income or revenue: the TAXED membership which is required to give $$$'s into the corporate treasury to be controlled and spent by the Board of Directors (Eldership) at their sole discretion, with neither voice nor vote from the member/slaves. The poor member/slaves submit to this form of "taxation without representation" because they have been taught ("brainwashed'' is the correct description) into thinking that paying their "dues" into the corporate treasury is a God-assigned duty; that it is one of the "five acts of worship" which must be performed each Lord's Day. The member/slaves are actually made to believe that somehow this collected corporate fund is "the Lord's money" or "the Lord's treasury." This is a mystery of mysteries, a sort of voodoo, magic or miracle that turns this collected money of member/slaves into "sacred" money that can be used ONLY by the designated "priesthood" of that institution--the corporate Board of Rulers. As with the Roman Catholic member, the C of C church members are required to (1) OBEY and (2) PAY; that is, "foot the bill" for all the financial obligations incurred by the Church Lordship!
Someday the slaves of these institutions called "local churches" are going to wake up to what has happened to them and they are going to STOP PAYING THE FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS laid upon them by these local Rulers. It is YOUR money and YOU are responsible for its use--NOT some Body of Lords who claim they have no obligation whatever to even report to YOU what they have done SPECIFICALLY with YOUR money, which the Lord holds YOU accountable for using in His service. Your talents, abilities and resources are YOURS as an individual and YOU must decide their use. Each disciple should determine what he/she will support with his/her money, just like "each one of them" did it in Acts 11:29-30. In the judgement YOU will answer for the use of what is yours. You can't turn this obligation over to a proxy and please the Lord.
There is no doubt that what are called "Churches of Christ" (and spelling Church with a small "c" is NOT going to make it right!), each one of them constitutes a religious organization, with full recognition to operate and act as such.
Of course, there is no such corporate structure revealed in the NT Scriptures! The Lord Jesus did not die, shed His blood for any structured religious institution or legal organization. He died for you and me; not some institution we can join or "place membership" in, or move our "membership" around from one corporate entity to another. Let me say it again: C of C churches are creations of men! They are structured churches of men! They are on an equality with Independent Christian Church churches, Methodist Church churches, Assembly of God churches, Church of God churches, and all other denominations. They are all in the same classification--creations of men, built by men, operated and controlled by men! In plain language, they are all cheap imitations of the "Mother" of all religious institutions--the Roman Catholic Church, the first full-blown, recognized Church Institution.
BUT--WHAT IS A CHURCH?
The question has troubled many people for years. Among those who have had difficulty establishing the criteria for what constitutes a bona fide "church" are the courts of the land and the IRS.
Congress has never defined "church" for purposes of tax law, but the IRS has some guidelines, even though not necessarily accepted by the U.S. Tax Court. In 1978 Jerome Kurtz, who was then commissioner of the IRA, made a speech listing 14 criteria to help the agency determine whether an organization was a church. (Is just any organization or operation calls itself a "church" really justified to be recognized as such for tax purposes?) The IRS has adopted these points of policy in deciding whether to revoke a tax exemption claimed by a "church." More and more organizations and "operations" have been established claiming to be a church and seeking exemption from tax payments. It is a big problem for the IRS and even the tax courts. Let's take a look at the criteria.
The criteria require that a church have:
1) A DISTINCT LEGAL EXISTENCE. This means that it must be an organization recognized by law as a corporate entity; that it can, for example, sue and be sued at law. Formal incorporation is not necessary save in states requiring such, but it must operate as other organizations. It is apparent that the local C of C churches meet this requirement.
2) A RECOGNIZED CREED AND FORM OF WORSHIP. This can be almost any belief and/or practice, even to Satan worship. C of C churches definitely have a creed just as do other denominations, even though it has not yet been reduced to official written form. However, in some local churches the Board of Directors has pretty well done this. Have you seen one of these questionnaires developed by the local Lordship which all teachers of classes and Ministers must answer correctly before they will be approved for such roles? You must commit yourself as to your personal beliefs on the many subject areas so this Body of Examiners can decide if you are sound in the faith according to their creed. You must subscribe to the beliefs and doctrines that the Board of Rulers hold or you do not teach in the classes or pulpit at that place. You will be rejected as a teacher and often even as a participant in the official "worship services." In many cases it seems to be the powerful Pulpit Minister who forces this kind of creedal examination.
The C of C churches also have a "form of worship," definitely identified today as the required "five acts of worship'' that must be performed at the morning "worship service." All five must be done! However, at the evening "worship service" and at the Wednesday evening "worship service" only three of the "five acts of worship" are allowed. However, if you missed the morning or "main" assembly, the Lordship has ruled that you may do the "five acts" at the evening official function, but only the absentees from the "main" assembly are allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper (over which the local Lords exercise control) and contribute on Sunday evening. In fact, I suspect that they would be willing to accept your money just about anytime that you are willing to give it. Money always seems to buy its way.
The whole "five acts of worship" has become a ritual or rite, somewhat like the Catholics have. It is a formal, cut-and-dried, precision performance. It has starting time and a stopping time. The chief performer has to continually remind the pew-sitters how great and wonderful that hour is and how much good they will get out of it, otherwise they would likely never know it does them any good. (The hired Pulpit Minister is highly paid for his part in this one-hour ritual! And if he is not paid, he will not be there to do his thing.)
It is certainly difficult to identify any real value in most of these so-called "worship services." The Pulpit Minister cannot really preach/teach what the people need to hear or he will soon be looking for another job. Little, if any, solid Scripture--teaching is done in these days, hence, little spiritual nourishment and direction is obtained by the people. And, of course, the people may be getting just what they want and would not "endure sound doctrine." In some cases, it seems that some of them have never heard such teaching and the older saints have forgotten what it is like, if they really ever knew. It is a sad, sad day.
3) A DISTINCT ECCLESIASTICAL GOVERNMENT. This means that to be a church it must have some form of rule and control; someone or some governing body is in charge and manages the church. Indeed, the C of C churches do have such a "distinctive ecclesiastical government"--The Board of Elders of the local church institution. The will or decision of that Rulership is final in all matters. The false teaching is that to obey the Eldership is the same as obeying Christ; and to disobey that Lordship is the same as disobeying Christ. It is yet incredible to me that our hired professional Ministers can bring themselves to proclaim such slavery to men and claim that this is God's will. This Board of Rulers/Lords occupy the position of Pope in the local church organization; and sadly more and more of them are acting out their papal role in full measure. And the end is not yet.
4) A FORMAL CODE OF DOCTRINE AND DISCIPLINE. This is open ended to include little or much, just so there is some identifiable teaching and training belonging to that church.
5) A DISTINCT RELIGIOUS HISTORY. There is no length of time required for this "distinct religious history," so it can range from a few months to many centuries. The C of C churches and the ICC churches definitely claim to have this. Hence, all the emphasis on the so-called "Restoration Movement," as both of these sects (and the sects within these larger sects) try to trace ancestry back to Thomas and Alexander Campbell, who supposedly started this Movement. It has always amazed me how much time and effort is spent on this endeavor, as if it has something to do with being a Christian or even being saved. The "seed of the kingdom" is still the word of God; and that original "seed" (the gospel of Christ) will still produce after its kind. When proclaimed in its purity and power it will produce today what it did when first proclaimed on Pentecost day (Acts 2), when honest and good hearts will believe and obey as the three thousand did then.
The gospel of Jesus Christ will make Christians today just as it did then, when there is the required response from those who believe the good news, as was required by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Peter (Acts 2:38). Those sinners who respond to the message of salvation (cf. Mark 16:15-16), who gladly receive the word and are baptized, will be saved and receive the remission of their sins. This is the way the gospel was preached under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit and such was the obedience required then in order for one to receive the remission of sins, and that is the only way it can be done today. It is still true, just as the former saints so well put it: the gospel only makes Christians only. Obeying the Lord Jesus never made one a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Presbyterian, or "a Church of Christ," or an "Independent Christian Church," or any other kind of church whatever. We are deceiving ourselves and others when we allow ourselves or the others to believe otherwise.
If response from sinners in obedience to the preaching of Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, and the thousands of others who are proclaiming a different message and getting a different response than on Pentecost, brings to those sincere seekers the remission of sins (salvation) then it does not really matter what one preaches or does not preach as the required response to be saved. If that is the case, then the C of C Church and the ICC Church ought to go out of business and join in with one of these other churches and reduce the level of confusion in the religious world. If becoming and being a Baptist has anything to do with becoming a child of God and going to heaven, then by all means we should all want to become a Baptist. Or, a Methodist, Presbyterian, or whatever. It may be that in order to be sure that we get it together, we should join all of these man-made denominations. If we can be saved in one, then we can be saved in any of them or all of them.
But let me make it clear here: Salvation is not in the Church of Christ Church nor in the Independent Christian Church Church either. Joining a C of C Church does not have anything whatever to do with being saved. It is on a par with joining the Baptist or Methodist Churches. Not any of these churches are found in God's word. Nowhere do we read that the early saints "joined the church" of whatever name. All churches are from men. They are all denominations. They are all separate and divide the people who want to be saved and serve the Lord.
Remember: The English word church should not be in the Scriptures. It does not translate the Greek word ekklesia; but is a deliberate substitution for a proper translation. It is deceptive and evil; and until we can remove that word and the erroneous concept that the ekklesia of Christ is a religious institution, or corporate structure, with each local church being considered as an independent, autonomous functional unit (organization), we will always have the divisive situation of denominationalism. Just remember that Jesus did not die and shed His precious blood for a religious organization or institution; He gave Himself for you and me. He purchased me, the sinner, from eternal death, with His blood. Praise God, I am redeemed by the blood of the Lamb! If you have believed the gospel and properly responded to it as did the sinners to whom that message was first declared, as recorded in the divine record, then you too have been washed in the blood of the crucified One. When we sing that glorious story: Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?, we are not speaking to some corporate structure or organization, but to lost individuals like the 3000 on the day of Pentecost who responded to heaven's invitation to make Jesus both Lord and Christ in their lives. What a glorious, thrilling story that is being so little told today.
Now after that little excursion into another, but vitally related matter, let me get back to the discussion of point number five, having to do with "A Distinct Religious History" as a mark of a church.
Many of the C of C Church Ministers (and ICC Church Ministers) even argue that their brand of the C of C Church sect is identical to the (imagined and assumed) C of C church that they claim is in the NT Scriptures. The assumption is that there was a NT Church institution, a sure-nuff corporate entity like what we have today, that was "built according to a divinely given pattern," and that what they have today is identical to what was there then; and, therefore, they have "restored" the NT Church institution just exactly as it was in the days of the apostles. Hence, their particular sect of the C of C Church is scriptural in origin, name, doctrine, worship, and practice. And remember, they are talking about an institution, not about the saved people, the disciples of Jesus.
To further complicate the above error, the claim is that each "local church" institution or corporate entity is the divine institution reproduces in this age. In this view, it is the institution that is all-important; not the people themselves. This view holds that Jesus died for this institution; therefore, all sinners must find this divine institution, a "local church" that has all the identifying "marks," and join it in order to be saved and go to heaven.
The teaching is that Christ saves the church institution and if you are in the true and right church, you will therefore be saved and go to heaven. So, indeed, our religious friends have been right in telling that C of C Church people believe that it is finding the right church that saves, rather than finding Jesus Christ the Savior. Jesus does not, therefore, save sinners; He saves the Church institution and if you happen to be in that one true, faithful, sound Church of Christ Church, you will be saved not because you found the Savior, but because you found the right church and became a member of it) No wonder the C of C Churches and the ICC Churches are dying and are so ineffective in reaching the lost. It is all a delusion, a fabrication, a deception; and the primary victims are these church members themselves.
6) A MEMBERSHIP NOT ASSOCIATED WITH ANY OTHER CHURCH. This is why all the doctrines have been invented having to do with the autonomy and independence of the local church institution. Thus the exclusive membership in each one where all your time, talent, and especially your $$$'s are to go. You "belong to" or "hold membership in" one particular local church organization. You can "place your membership" (a thing that the Scripture says nothing about!) in or with another local corporate structure. The other denominations usually speak of this practice as "moving your letter" to another local church. We got it all from them, we just tried to cover it up by inventing new terms to describe the same thing.
A church institution is supposed to have members. The Roman Catholic Church does; and it is the pattern for all church institutions, including the C of C and the ICC. Church membership divides and separates one set of "members" from the other sets of members in the other institutions. The autonomous, independent church organization, with its exclusive membership, is divisive and sectarian. The Lord Jesus, nor His inspired apostles, did not institute such an institutional structure or arrangement.
7) AN ORGANIZATION OF ORDAINED MINISTERS. In other words, there must be a system of clergy. These are to be "ordained" or "licensed," in some way approved by the church institution as the official "organization of ordained ministers," those who are to handle the ordinances of divine service. They are a distinct class from the "membership" or laity. These are the Reverends, the Divines, the theologians, the religious Doctors, the Holy Fathers and the Fathers not so holy, the Pulpit Minister, the Youth Minister, the Singles Minister, the Minister of Concern, the Bible Department Heads and Professors, and on and on we could go with the titles of honor and clergy descriptions for this special class of hired employees of the various institutional churches. The C of C Church and the ICC Church are right in there with all the rest of the sects with the exaltation of such reverend and holy class of Ministers.
Some of our brethren have tried to make this hired professional look like a scriptural exaltation of men by calling this employee an "Evangelist." (In my early days, I even did that.) There were men in the scriptures spoken of as evangelists because they went out into the world to evangelize the world. That word described what they did. It was not a title of a Church-hired employee. The idea of a "located, permanent employee" called by the title of "Evangelist" is as far from the truth as the titles of Pope, Cardinal, and Holy Father. Besides, if this employee is really an evangelist, just how long does it take him to evangelize those people to whom he preaches all the time? Has he been there for years and is still trying to evangelize the same people? It is ridiculous and shows how far good people can and will go to try to make some setup of men look like it came from the Lord Jesus. Our professional preachers should be ashamed of the "hired employee" role they fill in "playing church."
8) A church must have MINISTERS WHO ARE SELECTED AFTER COMPLETED PRESCRIBED STUDIES. This is also open-ended to allow for little or extensive ministerial training. This is now the way it is in C of C Churches and ICC Churches. These "Ministers" must attend a clergy-making school and study the prescribed program for becoming a "Pulpit Minister" or some other professional specialty of "ministry." Some get a short version in one of the "preacher schools" that "hatches" out pulpit fillers. Others go for the full treatment, even to becoming a Master of Divinity or to the very top of the scale, a Doctor of Ministry. (This should pull down a higher salary and greater compensation package when seeking employment with some church institution.) Abilene Christian University and Harding now have their Theological Seminaries, just like the Baptist, Methodist, and the other sects. The idea is prevailing more and more that only such trained professionals (clergy) should be employed as the Pulpit Minister.
9) A LITERATURE OF ITS OWN. There should be some publications or literature, little or much, that is officially published by and for that church. C of C Churches really have this in full measure. Literature, books, papers, journals, tracts, study guides, song books, puppet show material, youth program materials, and such like constitutes a multi-million dollar business. Of course, each sect of the C of C Church must have its own "sound" and true literature that promotes its peculiar views on all points.
10) ESTABLISHED PLACES OF WORSHIP. This says that there should be an official "place" for the "official worship" of a church. Each is to have its own "place" and its own worship at that official place. Hence, the necessity and justification for that all-important, essential "church building" or cathedral which becomes the headquarters for each local church. There the members can gather at the appointed place at the appointed time(s) to do the appointed things (the "five acts of worship") in the appointed way under the control of the local body of Rulers.
This is one clear proof, along with these other criteria, that a gathering of disciples in their various homes cannot be viewed as a church in any sense of the word. More and more all over the country, the saints are recognizing this vital truth and they are leaving the structured institutional church (some completely and others to some degree) to meet with other Christians (and others whom they can get to come) in their various homes. They are finding this to be a highly rewarding experience. They are claiming their individual freedom in Christ, their individual responsibility, and they love it and have never been so happy in Jesus! To charge them with starting a new church institution is based upon sheer ignorance or worse.
11) REGULAR CONGREGATIONS. This means more than one congregation or segment of the larger over-all denomination or what some call the "universal church." For example, the Roman Catholic Church (universal) has official headquarters in Vatican City that more or less speaks for that church everywhere. That is where doctrinal and institutional matters are officially determined for all Catholics everywhere. That is where the higher level of rule and power is found for Catholic Churches the world over. Then there are "the local Catholic Churches" scattered all over the world, which are the "regular congregations." This is generally "the pattern" for all other denominations, including the C of C Churches and apparently more so in the ICC Churches. This is where all this "local church" versus "universal church" came from. It certainly isn't in the Scriptures.
12) REGULAR RELIGIOUS SERVICES. Here we find that greatly abused word "services" the churches are to "hold." Well, C of C churches do this aplenty. You can read on the signboard in front of the "established place of worship" exactly when these institutions "hold" their "worship services.'' Their "worship" is "held" at these specific times at the headquarters building under the control of the local officials.
Long ago our Lord plainly taught that the time was coming when there would be no official place of worship (John 4:19-24), but C of C Churches insist that there is indeed an official place of worship--in the church (building), at the scheduled times! The member/slaves are required to be at that place for the official "worship services.'' This is all from the will and wisdom of men; a part of church structure, a part of being a denomination.
13) SUNDAY SCHOOLS FOR RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION OF THE YOUNG. Here again C of C Churches and ICC Churches certainly qualify for recognition as an official church. Each local church organization should have no trouble claiming its official tax exemption status. Millions of $$$'s go for our Sunday School buildings and for literature (other than the Scriptures themselves) and all kinds of teaching helps. A professional hired employee, known as the Minister of Religious Education, is necessary for a big Sunday School operation. The sad thing is that it is often a big failure for the most part.
14) SCHOOLS FOR THE PREPARATION OF ITS MINISTERS. This has already been discussed, but surely we all recognize that C of C Churches fully qualify at this point for full status as a church. Ministry is now a full-fledged profession just like becoming an engineer, doctor, teacher, or any other profession. It is a means of earning a living, making money! The clergy are hired as employees of the corporate churches, just like in all other denominations; yet we try to deceive ourselves and others in claiming that C of C Churches and ICC Churches do not have a clergy. When are they going to get honest with themselves and with others and confess the reality of what they practice? May God help them to admit this truth.
It should be cause for some serious thought that the C of C Churches, as well as the ICC Churches, qualify on all 14 points as a recognized legal entity, religious institution, known as a church. Just like all other denominations.
Let me note this fact: Most of these "marks of identity" to qualify to be recognized by the IRS as an official church have become a reality within the C of C Churches in my lifetime! They are from men, not from God.
Over and over I have challenged the C of C clergy (and the ICC clergy), the Pulpit Ministers, the college and theological professors who train these professionals, to name just one essential qualification or requirement to be a denomination that is not found in the C of C churches. No one to my knowledge has attempted to do this. WHY? Isn't the answer very obvious? They would if they could!
The naked truth is that these churches, in all their divisions and sects, are full-grown denominations in every essential marking or characteristic just like all others. It would be far more honest and honorable for them to acknowledge the obvious just as the Disciples of Christ Church has done.
Perhaps the saddest fact of all is that the member/slaves have been deceived into believing that these Church institutions are from the Lord; that each one is "built according to some divinely-given pattern," hence, these churches are the only true, faithful, acceptable churches to be found. What a delusion! How sad!
(Note: Information on this subject was taken from an AP news release in July 1987.) - CAH