By Ron Halbrook
The first time we ever went to see the campus of Abilene Christian College was in the Summer of 1972. Somewhere between Baytown and Abilene, Texas, we passed a building with a sign that gave us a real laugh. The best we remember, there were actually two instances of this ridiculousness. One sign announced something like this, “Congregation of the Church of God.” And the other, like unto it, said, “Church of God Church.” No disrespect was or is intended by our laugh-it is simply the genuine, spontaneous response to a glaring incongruity. Doubtless the people who erected these signs did so in ignorance. It would be a privilege to open the Bible with them and study how the Bible uses the word “church.”
Greek lexicons tell us “church” means a group or assembly called out for a particular purpose. This might apply to any group, not just a religious called-out-group. For instance, the “assembly” which gathered in confusion at Ephesus to cry out in behalf of Diana was a “church’-not because of their religious interest, but because they were called together or “grouped” for a common purpose. See Acts 19:32. Stephen referred to Moses leading the people who were called-out unto God for His possession and who were led out of Egypt for His purpose. This was “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). God’s people under the New Covenant are called out from the world unto Himself; they are assembled, grouped, gathered from all other people unto Him. Christ spoke of all the saved when he said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). As the gospel went into all the world, more and more people were added to this number who are washed in the blood of the Lamb through obedience to Christ (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38-47). One might speak of the church in a certain region or geographical area, or more specifically in one locality~meaning the saved only in the particular place spoken of. The saved who meet together at one place to fulfill the joint responsibilities (public worship, contribution, evangelism) which God’s people have are often spoken of as the church in that place. We read of “the church which was at Jerusalem,” “the church that was at Antioch,” “the church of God which is at Corinth … .. the church of the Thessalonians” (Acts 8:1; 13:1; 1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1).
The signs above mentioned do not use the word “church” in the senses found in the Bible. That is because they designate something not found in the Bible. The signs mean “A Local Church which is part of a denominational circle of local churches, Which Denomination Is Only One of Many Denominations Which Taken Together Are All the Saved.” The Church of God is the name adopted for that denominational circle. Since no such denominational circle is found in the Bible, the word “church” or phrase “church of God” is never used in the Bible of such a circle. The ignorance in this matter is no laughing matter, but to read the signs with Biblical definitions in mind is nothing but funny! A “church of God church” is a blatant redundance. If it’s a local church, then it’s a local church and it makes no sense at all to repeat the word church. That’s like saying, “Look at my car car.” If it’s a car, it’s a car. The only way one could speak Biblically of a church church is by stuttering like the country music star Mel Tillis! But then, the Bible does not stutter.
And, we had thought a Bible people speaking a Bible language could not “stutter” since the Bible does not. Now Abilene Christian College is not the church, but it does claim to be run by individual Christians and to teach the Bible. If the college, its publications, and its representatives are going to speak the language of Ashdod-or stutter after the fashion of those ignorant of Bible teaching-then it has no distinctive reason to exist. Well, here is why the last laugh’s on me. The March-April issue of A.C.C. Today, “published bi-monthly by Abilene Christian College’ ” just came in the mail. Page 10 reports an “alumni Citation Award” was given to Glenn Paden, Jr., who has distinguished himself for several things (Bible salesmanship, real estate executive, college degrees). Not the least of his accomplishments is this one: “Following his graduate work in 1959, he helped start a Church of Christ congregation in Suffolk County, New York” (emph. added).
Oh well, many of us have thought for some time these brethren have been leaving the Bible for denominational concepts. Denominational thinking naturally leads to denominational speech. But really it is not so funny to see such language used by those who have no excuse for it at all-it is just plain sickening.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:32, p. 12-13
June 13, 1974