There are a couple of web sites out there regarding churches of Christ. While I do not have the time to read every page and all content, I spent some time looking at them in-depth. These sites have the following in common regarding their view of churches of Christ.
(1) They vehemently affirm that we are a denomination.
(2) They insinuate or explicitly say that we are a cult or close to a cult.
(3) They point out that we defend what we teach and practice with “ad hominem” (i.e., personal and character) attacks or with hateful, abrasive speech.
Given that we have no convention, headquarters, or central, governing body, no one of us can speak on behalf of every congregation or even every member of a congregation. Thus, I will not say that there are not congregations that have become denominational or even a denomination. Regarding denominationalism, what I can say is what I believe and teach (and what many others do). I do not rest my “heritage” in the life and works of Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, or any other man but Jesus. What I teach is that we need to get “before” Catholicism and Protestantism, striving to teach and follow what New Testament Christians did. Is it possible to worship, teach the same way to salvation, and hold the same moral ideals and principles that the New Testament reveals that the first Christians did?
Regarding the charge of being a cult, religious experts on the subject, like Martin or Ankerberg and Weldon, define and describe a cult in great detail. Their description has been generally accepted as factual and logical. A cult is defined as a group of people who follow a person or that person’s interpretation of the Bible (Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones, or David Koresh). They consider their own writings of equal authority with the Bible. They redefine the most basic of Bible doctrines of concepts, including the Godhead, the deity of Christ, human suffering, and works. Their redefinition has no roots or resemblance to revealed scripture. They also work through excessive spiritual or psychological regulation or dependence (A&W, XXII). These do not even come close to describing mainstream churches of Christ.
However, let me say something about that last charge. Too often, well-meaning, passionate members of the church have been guilty of lacking adequate kindness and gentleness in responding to individuals like those responsible for the aforementioned websites. I can understand righteous indignation and love for Christ and His church. But, let us remember that it is never right to do wrong. To personally attack anyone, to allow righteous anger to become sinful anger, to be insulting, demeaning, ridiculing, or sarcastic is unjustifiable. Any defense of such tactics falls short of the ethical and moral standard taught in the New Testament. I have often heard it said, and I agree, that “if you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind” or “you can be right, but be wrong.” Let us study more and sting less, being more knowledgeable and less nasty. Divine truth is powerful enough to stand on its own merit. Let us “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and be known for our love (Jn. 13:34-35). It is our most powerful weapon to fight those first two, false charges.