A few years ago I served as volunteer chaplain at our local hospital. During my week to serve, I sat beside the bed of an older woman in intensive care. I talked to her adult daughter about her mother’s condition. Then the topic turned to a spiritual nature. Asked if she were sure where she would spend eternity, the daughter reassured me that they were members of the only church mentioned by name in the Bible, the Church of Christ, and therefore heaven was sure.
I winked as I asked facetiously, “What about John the BAPTIST?” Without blinking she responded, “That was BEFORE Jesus established the church!” She went on to assure me that the only church mentioned in the Bible was the Church of Christ. The ICU of the hospital is no place to argue about theology, so I let it drop.
So what makes the Church of Christ the only ones who are going to heaven? They claim to be unique, closely following the Scriptures. Have you ever noticed how the names of the Churches of Christ always reflect a location? It is just me or have you ever noticed a “Calvary Church of Christ” or a “Grace Church of Christ”? (No comment about grace in the Church of Christ here.)
Asking around, I discovered that it goes back to the Bible again. There was no “Calvary Church” of any kind in the New Testament. (Come to think of it, there were no church buildings of any kind in the New Testament.) When referred to, it is always the church at some location, I was told, so all churches must take their name from some location.
So here is what I learned about the Church of Christ. It is the only church referred to in the New Testament. They are always referred to by location such as the Brownfield Church of Christ, or the Anna Street Church of Christ in Amarillo. Where I live in Lovington, New Mexico, it is the Third and Central Church of Christ, because that is where it is located. In Hobbs, New Mexico, it is Jefferson Street Church of Christ or Taylor Street Church of Christ based on their location. It does make it easier to find those with a street in their name.
Here is what the Bible actually teaches though. First the term “church of God” is used eight times. In fact, “churches of Christ” is used only once in the New Testament in Romans 16:16. So the term “Church of God” is more biblical than “Church of Christ.” Then there are the churches of people such as the churches of the Gentiles, Romans 16:4; the churches of the saints, 1 Cor. 14:33; the church of the Laodiceans, Col. 4:16; the church of the Thessalonians, 1 Thes. 1:1.
Other names for the church are: church of the living God, 1 Tim. 3:15; church of the firstborn, Hebrews 12:23. In addition, Christians were once called “Followers of the Way,” Acts 24:14. If you notice, some of these names are the names of modern day denominations and cults (The Way International, founded by Victor Paul Wierwille, for example. See www.4truth.net for resources).
So what’s in a name? It seems that each group has some distinctive to separate them from other groups. We all want to be “the only ones” who have the truth. Yes, Christians are exclusivistic. A boss of mine years ago asked me to read a creed he had written. He called it “A Godian’s Creed.” He said we would no longer be called “Christ”-ians, but “God”-ians because we all believe in God. He believed that it would reduce religious friction in the world.
He made a big mistake. He asked what I thought of it. (Never ask a preacher what he thinks if you don’t want to hear it! By the way, I was only a seminary student then.) I explained to him that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. He then called me a “narrow-minded bigot.” I said, “Wait a minute. It was Jesus who said, ‘I am the Way the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father but through Me,’ not me. If anyone is a ‘narrow-minded bigot,’ it is Jesus.”
So which church or religion saves? Actually none of them. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6:23). Notice that eternal life comes through a relationship to a Person, Jesus Christ, not through a relationship to an organization, a church or religion. If you are clinging to church membership to get you in the door, you will be left out in the cold (in the heat actually!) No church by any name will ever be able to save: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Are Christians “the only ones” going to heaven? There is only one way and it is an exclusive way. If this is not true, then Jesus is a liar.