WHAT IS THE CHURCH OF CHRIST?
By Wayne S. Walker
As we begin this article, let it be understood that the church of Christ is not a denominational body. There is no ecclesiastical organization called “The Church of Christ” with any elected officers, national headquarters, official creed, etc., to which all local groups using the term “Church of Christ” are connected. Each “church of Christ” is (or should be) completely separate from any other congregation and all other institutions. Such ties are not found in the Bible.
The word translated “church” means a called out body of people. And the phrase “of Christ” indicates something belonging to Jesus, the Son of God. So “church of Christ” simply refers to that called out body of people belonging to Jesus, the Son of God. From Acts 5:11, 8:3, 11:22, and other such passages, we learn that the primary units of the church are not hierarchies, councils, or even congregations, but merely people, individual Christians.
There are two basic senses in which the “church of Christ” exists. The first is on the universal level. Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). Luke wrote, “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). Paul spoke of “the church which is His [Christ’s] body” (Ephesians 1:22-23). In these verses, the church (of Christ) is a spiritual relationship between God and men who have been saved by the blood of Jesus through their faith and obedience. As noted before, there is no earthly structure for the church universal. Jesus alone is the Head (Colossians 1:18).
The other way the “church of Christ” exists is on the local level. Paul sent a letter to “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:1-2). Such congregations were often referred to as the “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16). One of them would be a “church of Christ” or the “church of Christ” at a particular location. A local church (of Christ) may be defined as an independent or autonomous group of non-denominational, New Testament Christians who meet from time to time for worship and Bible study (the church assembled) and labor together (collectively) to accomplish the Lord’s work.
Not every congregation claiming to serve God, however, is a “church of Christ.” In order to be “of Christ,” a church must follow the Bible pattern exactly. As it has men qualified, it must be organized with bishops (elders) and deacons (Philippians 1:1). Its worship must be in spirit and in truth, precisely as the New Testament directs (John 4:23-24). It must include as its works only those which are authorized by the Lord (Ephesians 4:11-16). It must preach nothing but the true gospel message (Mark 16:15-16). And its members must wear only the name “Christian” (Acts 11:26).
This is exactly what faithful churches of Christ meeting throughout this country and around the world are trying to do. We want to be nothing more than congregations of non-denominational Christians like the ones you read about in the New Testament—each one a church (called out body of people) of (belonging to) Christ (Jesus the Lord). If the church where you attend, or are a member, does not follow the Bible pattern, it does not belong to Christ. We invite you to visit with us and examine our teachings and practices, and compare them with the word of God. And we plead with you to obey the gospel of Christ and be nothing more than a child of God.
—taken from Gospel Anchor; April, 1983; Vol. IX, No. 8; pp. 6, 13