Unusual doctrines of the Churches of Christ run from legalism to heresy. The first legalistic error is the teaching that the name of their churches are in line with the New Testament, and their names are the only biblical names. However, when we examine Scripture we find that term “church of Christ” is found only once in the New Testament (Rom. 16:16) and it is only descriptive, not a title. In several passages the church is described as the “church of God,” but often in Scripture the church is just called by the name of the town.
The Lord’s Supper
As with other Campbellite churches, the Churches of Christ claim that communion is a weekly requirement and absolutely essential to Christian worship. Some individual assemblies even assert that only one cup may be used and that they could not fellowship with another assembly which used individual cups during communion. “Unless providentially hindered, each member considers this weekly appointment as binding. In many instances, as in the case of illness, the Lord's supper is carried to those who are hindered from attending the worship.” (Batsell Barrett Baxter, Who are the churches of Christ and what do they believe in? http://church-of-christ.org/who.html)
Response: While it appears that in the New Testament Christians celebrated communion weekly, it is a logic fallacy to say it is therefore mandated. As for the single cup, there is no evidence that only one cup was ever used, and, in fact, it appears from studying the Passover meal that each person had their own cup or cups.
Churches of Christ prohibit instrumental music during worship service because they believe there is no mention of musical instruments in the New Testament except for a negative reference (1. Cor. 13:1). Therefore, as their reasoning goes, musical instruments are prohibited. This is certainly a legalistic misuse of Scripture.
Firstly, even if the New Testament did not mention musical instruments, it would be a non sequitur logic fallacy to say it therefore followed that instruments are prohibited. Secondly, the New Testament often commands the worshiper to sing songs, and the Old Testament numerous times refers to musical instruments being used in worship. Even in Revelation there are several references to harps being used in worship.
The truth is that in the New Testament we see two places where the church is to worship with “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19). In Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words we have the following explanation for the word “psalm”: “pslamos primarily denoted ‘a striking or twitching with the fingers (on musical strings)’; then, ‘a sacred song, sung to musical accompaniment, a psalm.’”
The Holy Spirit and Trinity
One of the early founders, Barton Stone, determined the doctrine of the Trinity was man-made, and that the Holy Spirit was “the power of force of God.” Stone wrote the following about the Holy Spirit: “I understand the Spirit of a person is not the person himself. We often read in the Bible that the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, but we never read of either the Father or the Son loving the Spirit as a person, or of the Spirit loving the Father or the Son.” (Craig Branch, “The Stone-Campbell-Scott Movement,” Areopagus Journal, Vol. 9, No.5, p.15) Alexander Campbell agreed with Stone that the Nicene Creed’s teaching on the triune nature of God was “humanistic philosophical creation.” (Branch, p.15)
While the official stance of the Campbellite churches maintains the orthodox teaching on the Trinity, this historical foundation can be confusing, and some members have been known to hold these unorthodox views.
As with some other denominations, the Churches of Christ believe that baptism is required for salvation. They teach that, although actual forgiveness of sins is through faith in Christ and his shed blood, formal remission of sins can only be had in baptism.
As cited by Craig Branch, Alexander Campbell stated, “I do earnestly contend that God, through the blood of Christ, forgives our sins through immersion - through the very act and in that very instant…. No one has ever received pardon by faith only. Water baptism, with faith as the principle of action, is the means through which God by the power of the blood of Christ imparts remission.” (p.16) Campbell claimed that baptism was not a work.
As pointed out by Dr. Hugh F. Pyle in his book, The Truth About the “Church of Christ,” if baptism saves a us, then the person doing the baptism becomes our savior! (p.94)
(A peculiar teaching is that a Christian can lose his salvation, but when he returns to the church and is again saved, he does not need to repeat his baptism. Baptism saved him the first time, yet he does not need it to be saved again!)
The Churches of Christ believe there are six steps to salvation: hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized, and obey the New Testament commands. Teachings by Church of Christ authors demonstrate just how serious Churches of Christ consider works and salvation to be intertwined. The following examples are cited by Dr. Hugh F. Pyle (p. 12):
“Going to church is pre-eminently essential to going to Heaven.” A.G. Hobbs, Is Church Attendance Essential?
“Good works are not necessary to becoming a Christian, but they are essential to being a faithful Christian, and we cannot go to Heaven without faithfully performing them.” John H. Banister, God’s Way of Salvation.
“We affirm that one is saved at the point of baptism.” Evangelist L.L. Applegate (reference not cited).
By adding baptism, and the 6th step to salvation (that of obeying the New Testament commands), the Campellites have made salvation dependent upon works. When we look at the New Testament, however, it plainly teaches that the only thing necessary for salvation is faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, and that works are of no benefit for salvation.
Legalistic views on the name of the church, the Lord’s Supper, and instrumental music in church, mixed with some confusion about the Trinity, and heretical views on baptism and works, puts the Churches of Christ in the category of being a cultic church group.