Church: What are the distinguishing characteristics of the church?
As mentioned before in these series of lessons concerning the church, one must understand that the denominational concept of the church is not taught in the word of God. The church is not composed of the many denominations that exist today. Someone might ask, "How can you identify the church Jesus built with so many denominations that claim to be that church?" The answer to that question can only be found in the word of God, as it makes very plain the different characteristics of the Lord's church.
First, only the Lord's church can trace its beginning back to the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Acts 2. No denomination that exists today can make that claim by tracing their beginning back to the day of Pentecost Acts 2. The Lord's church was in existence then because the "Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" Acts 2:47. What "church" did the Lord add the saved to? Christ "added" the saved to His "church". Here in Acts 2:47 it's just called the "church"; it is not called any denominational name that you hear of today. In other places in the New Testament it is referred to as the "house of God" I Tim. 3:15, "household of faith" Gal. 6:10, "body" Eph. 1:23, "churches of Christ" Rom. 16:16, "church of God" Acts 20:28. There are other references but these names the church is known by are not any of the denominational names that are common today. The name "church of Christ" gives Christ the glory because it is His church and it glorifies His name.
Besides a scriptural name, there are many distinguishing characteristics of the Lord's church one must consider in order to recognize the church Jesus built. One of which is, Christ is the "head of the church" Eph. 5:23. Since Christ is the head of the church, the church then is in subjection to Him, i.e., governed by His authority. We see this taught by the apostle Paul in Col. 3:17 where he instructed the church at Colosse with these words, "whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus". The church that Jesus built will honor His authority by following his teachings that are revealed in the New Testament. No man-made creed book is needed because the scriptures are all sufficient.
Since Christ is the head of the church, then the church (the called out, the saved) must worship Him according to His directions. Stated another way, we must as John 4:24 says, "worship him in spirit and in truth". In John 17:17 it states, "thy word is truth". The church then must worship according to the word of God. Man does not have the authority to worship just any way he might desire.
The distinguishing characteristics of the Lord's church can be seen in it's worship. We are taught in the word of God to be involved in several aspects of worship when assembled together as the church on the first day of the week. The word of God instructs us as the church to praise Him in song. Eph. 5:19 "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord". Col. 3:16 "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord". Jesus, as the head of his church, commands us to make music by singing,..... not by playing on an instrument of music. A distinguishing characteristic of the Church that Jesus built is that it sings only, without the use of mechanical instruments.
Another characteristic of the Lord's church is their observance of the Lord's Supper every first day of the week. Paul said in Acts 20:7 "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them". Notice that the purpose of the disciples coming together was to break bread, i.e., to partake of the Lord's supper. Reading this with an open mind we come to a biblical understanding that ever how often the first day of the week comes around, is when Christians gather together to break bread. There is no scriptural authority here to observe the Lord's supper once a month or quarterly.
Baptism for the remission of sins is another characteristic of the Lord's church. Acts 2:38 "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins". Also, when one is being baptized, the Lord adds that person to His church. Acts 2:47 "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved". Some denominations vote to decide whether a person can become a member of that particular group. Voting to decide if one can be a member is totally unscriptural. The Lord adds the saved to His church. No "voting in" by man is required or authorized by Jesus.
For more concerning the distinguishing characteristics of the Lord's church, go to the "Questions Answered" page and see, Church: Are elders or pastors also preachers? Also see Giving: What about bake sales and car washes?