What is the OPC’s take on the “Church of Christ”? Are they the New Testament church they claim to be, and are they teaching heresy?
Your question is not easy to answer, because the “Church of Christ” sees each church as autonomous; there can be significant differences between one local church and another. If I try to start with the denomination’s “on paper” stated beliefs, then some facts will emerge, but how firmly these views are held in a local church in your area might well be different from a local church in mine. As I read through their denominational statement of beliefs I see much that I believe to be orthodox. There are however four areas of significant concern. These are:
- What is the church? Historically the Church of Christ denomination has believed that they are the true church; anything that claims to be Christian that is not part of their denomination has deviated from the true church. Some of the denomination’s teachers have gone so far as to say that outside the formal “Church of Christ” there is no possibility of salvation. The OPC would clearly reject such a notion. We believe that Christ has his sheep in other sheepfolds (John 10:16). While this text does not record Christ’s specific teaching about modern denominations it—and other passages—prevents any denomination or group from exclusively claiming that they and they alone are the body of Christ.
- The sacrament of baptism. The “Church of Christ” believes that baptism by full immersion is necessary for salvation. Biblical teaching on baptism nowhere claims this; for example, the penitent thief on the cross never had time to be baptized, yet he is with Christ in Paradise. There are those in the Church of Christ denomination that, to this day, claim that you must be baptized to be saved, and their baptism is the only valid baptism. So, even those who were baptized as adults upon profession of faith in another church are not believers. If one holds to point 1 above, then this point 2 is logically inescapable. The OPC would contend that Christ calls all denominations and churches to baptize believers who come to faith, along with their children. We also contend that the church that we see, be it the universal church or the local church, is a mixed gathering of true believers and professors who take the name of Christ but actually do not believe—for example, Judas Iscariot and Ananias and Saphira. We are not to try to examine every individual’s heart but take people at face value, leaving such judgments to the Lord.
- Some elements among the Church of Christ believe that true conversion is evidenced by the charismatic gift of speaking in tongues. Therefore, if you do not speak in tongues, then you are not saved. The OPC does not believe this, as there is no part of Scripture that states such things even by implication. We believe the special signs of those remarkable spiritual gifts were particular to the time of the apostles, authenticating their work of presenting the New Testament to the church.
- A minor point: the “Church of Christ” believes worship should be unaccompanied, that is, the sung worship should not be accompanied by instruments, and other moments of worship such as the collection of an offering should also be without music.
While these points of difference can be laid out because objective standards such as belief statements present them, this still does not allow us to give a straightforward “yes” or “no” to your question. This is because there is significant variation between differing local churches within the Church of Christ denomination. The closest Church of Christ to you might be somewhat different from the one near me.
I trust the Lord will guide you in your inquiries.