posted Sep 28, 2013, 4:46 PM by Jim Fielder   [ updated Oct 5, 2013, 5:50 PM ]

What does it take to be a Christian, and what does it take to be a member of our church?

For many churches, the first answer is simple but the second is more complex. Many groups add fur- ther requirements for membership. They don't just teach people to be true followers of Christ; they teach them also to be orthodox, partisan members of their particular denomination.

The churches of Christ don't think that's right. We think the answer to both questions should be the same. We don't want to build an institutional denomination; we want to make undenominational fol- lowers of Christ—just Christians, not Brand X or Brand Y Christians. Denominationalism divides the people of God, but the New Testament tells the people of God to be united, to “Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-5). Jesus says we show the world that we are his followers by our love (John 13:35). He prays for his followers “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). The Apostle Paul says that division, sectarianism, quarreling, jealousy, and faction are works of the flesh, and “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).

If we do things right, then, our answer to “What makes a Christian a Christian?” is the same as our answer to “What makes a person a member of the church of Christ?”

What makes a person a follower of Christ? Choosing Jesus as Lord, being baptized into Christ, being transformed into the image of Christ. What makes a person a member of our local fellowship? The same things: Choosing Jesus as Lord, being baptized into Christ, being transformed into the image of Christ. Okay, one more: identifying oneself with us, asking to be not a Christian-at-large, but an ac- tive member of this local body of believers. Ask to be part of our family: If you've done the first three things, we will not turn you down. We cannot. We are commanded to welcome you into our family as Christ has welcomed us into his family (Rom. 15:7).

We take some risks by saying that if you are a member of the universal body of Christ—that is, if you are a Christian in God's sight—then we cannot deny you entry into our local fellowship of the uni- versal body of Christ. There's the danger that you might not believe some of the things most of us be- lieve. Call them our creed, though the churches of Christ refuse to have a written creed.

I'm proud of this fact. Creeds divide. One of our slogans has always been “No creed but Christ.” An- other, “No creed but the Bible.” We believe that it's more important to reunite the people of God who have been scattered by denominationalism than to fix the ways we disagree among ourselves on doc- trines that are not central to Christian faith. Some doctrines are core—that Jesus Christ truly lived as a man of real flesh and blood, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself by paying the price of our sin in his blood, that on the third day after his death, God raised his Son from the dead and exalted him to sit with him on his throne and reign with him forever.

These are non-negotiable; followers of Christ cannot deny the core faith. If you do, we cannot receive you as a member of the body of Christ (I John 2:18-27, 4:1-3; II John 7-11). But if you believe the core doctrines, choose Jesus as Lord, are baptized into Christ, and are being transformed into his image, we must accept you as a Christian, since God does. Another of our old slogans was “In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things, charity.” That means we will accept you without badgering you to fix your thinking where we disagree on issues that are not the core of our faith, as Romans 14-15 says. We ask you to do the same for us.

Yes, this is simplistic. We'll want to discuss believers' baptism, choosing the Lordship of Christ and living lives of obedient Christian discipleship more fully. But for now the point is that if you choose Jesus as your Lord, get washed in his blood, and live obediently under his Lordship, we will receive you and welcome you as a member of the body of Christ. 
—Russ Dudrey, 9/29/13