By Ken Thomas
I claim no special understanding or ability which causes me to write a few things on this subject, but I believe we must try and “call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways.” We have expressed this sentiment for years as Christians and preachers of the gospel in sermons and in Bible classes in the congregations where we have labored.
It seems to me that we are not being careful enough (in some cases at least) in our writing and preaching and even in our singing to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). Take for example the common misuse of the name “Christian. ” Everything from the country in which we live to the family car or the pet poodle is called “Christian” by some of my brethren. The New Testament treats this “worthy name” with much more respect and dignity than do some among us and it seems to me this cheapens and makes common a name that should be respected more than that. The Holy Spirit only uses the name three times in the New Testament and each time it refers to a disciple (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16).
Another area of concern to me is the common mistake of speaking about the church universal and applying our conclusions to the local congregation. This is a common mistake in my estimation and needs more study and consideration. Perhaps one of the reasons why some of our friends and neighbors have such a hard time accepting the truth about Christ and His church is that, as we teach them the necessity of membership in Christ’s church, we leave the impression, perhaps, that we are speaking of the congregation where we meet and worship instead of the universal body, that relationship of the family of God, the kingdom of Christ.
Any congregation of the Lord’s people (if all things are according to the New Testament pattern) is a church of Christ, but it is not the church of Christ. The church of Christ is made up, not of congregations, but of saved individuals redeemed by the blood of Jesus when obedient to the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 12:20).
When we say that Christ is the founder of the church of Christ (Matt. 16:18); that it had its beginning on the first Jewish Pentecost following the resurrection, ascension and coronation of Christ at God’s right hand on David’s throne (Acts 2:22-38, 41,47); that its beginning place was Jerusalem, Palestine, as prophesied (Isa. 2:2-3; Lk. 24:44-53); that the time of its beginning was “in the last days” and, according to our calendars, was about 30 A.D.; that membership is reserved only for those who as believers repent and are immersed in water for the forgiveness of past sins (Acts 2:38, 41,47), we sometimes leave the impression that we are speaking of the local congregation of which we are a member.
But all of the above is spoken of and applies not to any local congregation, but to the church universal, a relationship not an organization. A local congregation is not established by Christ except in an abstract sense. It is set up by the judgment and desire of a group of men and women who are already members of the church of Christ. One is not baptized into any local congregation, but rather into Christ and thereby one comes into a relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-29; 2 Jn. 9; Jn. 14:23; Mt. 28:18-20).
One Final Point
There is a statement which characterizes somewhat how I feel about seeking to express what I am now about to attempt to say. It says, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. ” I am not rushing in but I pray not to be misunderstood and ask each who reads this to consider carefully and, if I err in this, please assist me in a better understanding and way of expressing this principle under consideration.
I have heard for years, brethren speaking and writing of the division between “the Christian Church and the church of Christ.” The very expression above leaves much to be desired in my estimation. I do not think it is a scriptural expression. Books of history on the “restoration movement” frequently say something like this: “In 1906 the church was divided into two groups, the Christian church and the church of Christ.” To be fair, some writers do, and some did, say, “They were divided into two groups, the Christian churches and the churches of Christ.” Usually, however, then and now when speaking of the problem, members of the body of Christ will say “the Christian church and the church of Christ” as if the several congregations of brethren form the church. Brethren, that’s not only institutional, it is denominational.
The fact is, if those who identify with some local Christian church or some “liberal” church of Christ for that matter, are still our brethren even though in error; the church of our Lord has not been divided and so far as I can understand, fellowship is on an individual level, not between bodies or congregations though we may endorse or not endorse a particular group (congregation). Those who no longer walk in the light are out of fellowship with Christ and hence with his faithful brethren. Still the church of our Lord, the kingdom of Christ, is not divided.
Am I making myself clear in this? I pray I am. Will some of you brethren respond with some constructive thinking and writing that will make this clear if I haven’t or correct me if I am wrong in my conclusions?
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 1, p. 17
January 3, 1985