Are we a church of Christ?

When Roman Catholics assemble, it is called a Roman Catholic Church. Baptists assembled are called a Baptist Church; Lutherans, a Lutheran Church; Methodists, a Methodist Church; Pentecostals, a Pentecostal Church; etc.

What do you call it when Christians assemble?

We call ourselves a ‘church of Christ’. What does this mean? When people hear this, they often mistakenly think: “Oh, a denomination called the Church of Christ.” Simply being a church of Christ is so foreign to most people’s thinking that they have difficulty comprehending the concept.

Why do we call ourselves a church of Christ?

We wish to indicate that we are a local congregation of the church that Jesus built (Matthew 16:18). Jesus promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). We want Jesus to be in our midst, so we assemble in His name as a church of Christ.

As Christians, how can we be anything other than the church of Christ? Biblically speaking, there is only one church, the one that belongs to Christ. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4, 5).

But are we a church of Christ?

It is easy for us to call ourselves a church of Christ, but is it true? How can we know whether we are really a church of Christ? The core of the answer is given in the passage we just read.

If we are in subjection to the one Lord, if the Spirit of the one true God dwells within us, if we hold to the one faith and have been baptized with the one baptism, then we are in the one body of Christ, His church! The one faith is the faith “which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The one baptism is Christian baptism as defined in the New Testament. The one body is the church of Christ as defined in the New Testament.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 13 RSV).

Are we being presumptuous when we call ourselves churches of Christ?

When we define ourselves as churches of Christ we are sometimes asked: “Is that not arrogant to call yourselves the church of Christ? Do you think that only members of the church of Christ will be saved?”

If we are not the church of Christ, it is indeed arrogant. If by the grace of God we accomplish our purpose of being churches of Christ, it is not arrogant. If we belong to Christ we must confess that we are His!

All the saved are added to the church of Christ.

The church Jesus built consists by definition of all the saved. No one will be saved without being a member of the church of Christ because God adds everyone who is saved to His church (Acts 2:47). When one understands what we mean by church of Christ, no offense may be taken when we say that only members of the church of Christ will be saved.

Is it possible to be a church of Christ?

Of course, most who accuse us of being arrogant, do not believe that we really are the church of Christ. We must examine their criticisms carefully and heed Paul’s admonition: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

In many cases, however, their accusation is merely the result of their own sectarian view of the church. Although Jesus prayed for unity among His followers on the basis of God’s word in John, chapter 17, they mistakenly believe that it is acceptable to God for believers to be divided into many conflicting denominations.

If they admit that it is possible to simply be Christians and churches of Christ, they condemn themselves for being something other than a church of Christ! In New Testament times it was possible to be churches of Christ (Romans 16:16), so it is possible now if we accept the New Covenant as the prescriptive standard.

What are distinguishing marks of the church of Christ?

We already saw that we must confess the one faith and be baptized with the one baptism to be in the one body of Christ. What does this entail?

Christ is the only head of His church.

“He is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). God “put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body” (Ephesians 1:22, 23). He is the one shepherd of the one flock (John 10:16). We must submit to the one Lord. Submission to centralized ecclesiastical organizations is rejection of the headship of Christ.

Leadership positions must be limited to those Christ has given to His church.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11, 12 ESV).

The apostles and prophets, with Christ as cornerstone, form the foundation of the church of Christ: “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).

We build on this foundation - not by falsely appointing modern-day apostles and prophets - but by continuing steadfastly in the doctrine of the original apostles (Acts 2:42; Revelation 21:14).

The doctrine of Christ (revealed to the apostles and prophets in the first century) is now made known to all nations through the Holy Scriptures. The church is now established by “the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith” (Romans 16:25, 26).

For building up the church, Christ has given us evangelists, shepherds and teachers. To be a church of Christ, our leadership must comply with the New Testament. If we have unscriptural offices, or if we appoint leaders who do not meet the Biblical qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9), how can we be a church of Christ?

To be a church of Christ we must remain within the doctrine of Christ.

“Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). We must “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We must continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42).

The most common cause of apostasy is a rejection of the normative nature of the doctrine of Christ by using some of His teachings to concoct a sauce to flavor and disguise teachings and traditions of men.

There is no excuse for going astray since God has informed us in the Scriptures how we are to conduct ourselves “in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

By definition, a church of Christ must be a bulwark of the truth. We are “sanctified by the truth” (John 17:19). To be saved we must “love the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:10), “believe the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:12) and “obey the truth” (Romans 2:8; Galatians 3:1). We must “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). How can we be a church of Christ if we preach something other than the truth?

To be a church of Christ we must bear fruit.

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We must bear the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

To be a church of Christ we must worship acceptably.

We must worship the Father “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). We must “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28).

If we worship according to our own preferences or according to the traditions of men, we are not the church of Christ but are under the same condemnation that God pronounced on Israel: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8, 9). How can we be the church of Christ if our service and worship are built on the sand by following the teachings and traditions of men?

Let us glorify God as churches of Christ.

Let us submit to Christ as our only head. Let us hold to the one faith and practice the one baptism so we can be in the one body of Christ. Let us abide in the doctrine of Christ and have leadership that complies with the word of God. Let us bear the fruit of the Spirit and worship acceptably with reverence and godly fear. Then God will recognize us as His church. No other recognition is required!

Ephesians 3:21 - “To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive