I recently had a conversation with someone from another faith tradition, and invariably the conversation steered towards distinctive marks of churches of Christ, though cordially. As you might imagine, the first item mentioned had to do with our worshiping God without instruments. I explained simply that we believe the earliest Christians didn’t do this, so we try to follow their example and praise God with our voices only. Then, as you might imagine, our conversation breached the belief that “we’re the only ones going to heaven.” Again, I simply explained that there will likely be some of our folks who won’t make it despite having been “dipped” once upon a time. Moreover, being obedient to Christ and being a member of His body is of paramount importance, but a sign outside of a building doesn’t designate who goes to heaven and who doesn’t.
I wasn’t surprised that our conversation turned to this because I’ve been met with these talking points many times before. I will admit that as I’ve matured, I’ve wanted to answer them more kindly than debate them as I used to do. Nevertheless, while we are known for these among other items of faith, I believe there’s a more biblical characteristic by which we ought to be identified. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Notice that Jesus didn’t say we’d be known as His disciples if we worshiped without instruments, partook of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, had elders instead of the pastoral system of leadership, or any other distinctive mark. What ought to distinguish us as belonging to Christ is our love. This isn’t to say that those other items are unimportant, but that the hallmark of Christianity should be the love we have. It goes without saying that loving God entails keeping His commands (cf. 1 John 2:5), but none of us are entirely able even to do this despite being in Christ. Try we might, but to do so without fault is impossible because of our human natures.
Love is demonstrated in how we treat one another. Love is shown by how we forebear with the weaknesses of others. Though this person with whom I had the conversation differed from me and I from them on specific points, I would hope that if anything I was kind and loving toward them despite our differences. It’s only then that this one and others can see the love of Christ in me, and us.