Why I am a member of the Christian church
by Ralph Kinney Bennett
“What church are you with?”
“No, I mean what denomination.”
“Christian. We just call ourselves Christians.”
I could not begin to count how many times I have engaged in such an exchange, and I am sure it is familiar to many in our fellowship. By insisting that Christians should call themselves just that, the 19th-century American religious leader Alexander Campbell clearly signaled a return to fundamentals and equipped us with a marvelous intellectual “foot-in-the-door.”
Once we begin to explain why we call ourselves “Christians only,” once we introduce the biblical foundation, the logic, the simplicity of it, we have opened the way to the very roots and heart of what the church is and is supposed to be. It is the body of Christ on earth. It is supposed to be—despite all the well-intentioned additions and accretions we humans have put upon it—nothing more or less than spiritually reborn people worshiping God and living by his Word.
Why am I a member of the church of Christ? Because I believe independent Christian churches and churches of Christ strive to remove all the manmade clutter between me and the worship of the Lord. In that, these congregations—“Restoration” churches—cleave to the New Testament ideal. That ideal is characterized by simplicity.
Is there anything so spare in its outlines yet so rich in its reality as the New Testament church? The New Testament picture of Christians congregating portrays nothing elaborate—just people praying, praising, and preaching. These essential elements—baptism and partaking at the Lord’s table—are presented in the simplest, most straightforward and unornamented way. It is clear that they are not rituals but rather dynamic acts of participation.
Baptism is the indelible benchmark of a sacred transaction between an individual soul and God himself.
The Lord’s table is the continuing, living link with the historical act of Christ’s sacrifice.
On the other hand, the New Testament picture of Christian living is a rich tapestry of transformed lives. Weak men grow strong in faith, fire-breathing persecutors become courageous defenders of faith, ordinary people battle with sin and triumph—learning to love, to share, to comfort and counsel, to meet the challenges of life in partnership with the Spirit.
Both pictures portray worship in its fullest, truest sense. That’s the point.
Visit many Christian churches and you will find great variety in the way God is worshiped. But it is variety within limits. I’ve been to services I found a bit too “contemporary” for my taste, and to others that were a tad too restrained. But I may generally depend upon certain things—the vivid preaching of sound doctrine (our churches are preaching churches), the precious comfort of the Lord’s table, prayer, and praise through song.
And one more thing. There is seldom any sense of hierarchy, but rather a sense of mutual ministry—because sharing Christ and him crucified is the task of everyone from the pulpit to the parking lot and beyond.
Ralph Kinney Bennett, retired after a longtime career as senior editor with Reader’s Digest, has also served as an elder and Bible teacher in the local church and trustee with two Christian colleges.