What is the Church of Christ?
Fort Collins, Colorado
This may appear a simple question, but attempts to answer it has been the occasion of much disagreement and misunderstanding. The general view toward any religious group is denominational. Any way the word "denomination" is used, is as a part of the whole, and that is precisely what a denomination is-one among many, all together forming the whole. Thus, we would have the "Church of Christ" made up of many churches, many faiths, no two alike, all divided. Is this the Church of Christ? Can this be the meaning of the Apostle Paul when he said, "There is one body," Ephesians 4:4?
The Bible never reveals the church in this light. It is always one, singular. Jesus built it (Matthew 16:18). He alone is its head (Ephesians 1:22, 23, Colossians 1:18). It is entered by baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13). It is composed by its members (Acts 2:47), each sustaining his own spiritual relationship to God.
The Church of Christ is not the name even of the church we read of in the Bible. It simply designates the church that belongs to Christ. In most cases in the Bible it is simply referred to as the church.
Twenty miles south of Fort Collins is a children's home with a big sign in front, "Supported by Church of Christ and friends." First, what is the Church of Christ as c here? If it had been Methodist church, Mormon church, Catholic church, etc. I would have known, but what is Church of Christ? We have long been taught that church of Christ is not a denomination, but few know why. We still speak of it as one.
Back to our illustration above. The children's home supported by "Church of Christ." I ask again, what is in the New Testament church is not a denomination, ho this possible? Designations of religious orders gene refer to the whole in the singular, because it is understand to have a central governing administration for collection of all local churches, and all this makes up church" of that particular order. This makes it a denomination. But the New Testament church, the Body of Christ, is not a denomination, and consequently is of this arrangement, and therefore cannot scripturally be identified in this way. Yet it is so spoken of, especially in connection with the act of combining local churches for common function, and with united support and maintenance of "our institutions. This is one of the many dangers of institutionalism. Besides being unscriptural itself, it is necessary to create a denominational concept of the church to maintain it. There is no way to create organization unauthorized of God, without corrupting perverting the organization God has authorized, in order to support and maintain it. Thus, one unscriptural prat leads to another.
The New Testament church that saves, and perfects in his relationship with the Lord, is a spiritual relation not a visible and active function to carry out the purposes of God. It was God's will for local communities of people (local churches) to perform this latter work. Each of these is to function by itself, independently, as not the others existed. They are not considered collective making up the whole church. This is getting back to the denominational idea again. Some brethren have never been able to learn this lesson. "Our" big internal radio program (Herald of Truth) thus presents itself, "The churches of Christ salute you." I can well remember in the early years of this program, they claimed about 12% of the churches were supporting their work. Very recent statements from themselves claim about the same percentage even today, yet they present themselves to the world, "The churches of Christ Salute You!" Another danger of these combines and institutions is misrepresentation that results from misleading statements and expressions of support, endorsement, and identity with the church, or rather churches, which they do not have. The wisdom of God in this design and arrangement is sufficient. If we would only be content to strengthen the resources of the local churches God has given us, large or small, to function after the divine order, more and more could be accomplished to the spiritual good of the world and the glory of God, than through our present machinations of our own human wisdom. I hope to write soon on the potential of growth and fruitful service in the independent function of local churches.
Truth Magazine XXI, 3, pp. 41-42