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                    "WHAT IS THE CHURCH OF CHRIST?"


1. Occasionally I am asked questions like these...
   a. "Are you Church of Christ?"
   b. "Are you a Church of Christ preacher?"
   c. "Are you a member of the Church of Christ?"

2. Rarely do I reply without some hesitation...
   a. Not that I wish to be evasive
   b. But the inquiry comes from a mindset that precludes an easy answer
   c. If I offer a simple response, the inquirer will likely be left
      with the wrong impression

3. The difficulty revolves around this question, "What is the Church of
   a. The phrase "Church of Christ" means different things to different
   b. The term "Church of Christ" must be understood alike to avoid

[To illustrate the challenge we face in talking to others about the
"Church of Christ", let's review three different "views"...]


      1. The Church of Christ is made up of those churches with the name
         "Church of Christ"
      2. The "Church of Christ" (as such) is but one denomination among
      3. Together with other denominations, they constitute the
         universal church, the Body of Christ

      1. Those in other denominations
         a. E.g., Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, etc.
         b. Understandably so, because of their denominational mindset
            in which they view   their own
            "church" (denomination) as but a part of the Body of Christ
      2. Many in the "mainstream" churches of Christ
         a. I.e., the majority of congregations with the name "Church of
         b. Especially members who came from denominations
            1) Bringing their denominational mindset with them
            2) Perhaps thinking they simply left one denomination for a
               "better" one
         c. Including liberal preachers and elders in such congregations
            1) Perhaps reacting against a "sectarian" view (see below)
               held in the past
            2) Perhaps weary of trying to maintain an nondenominational
               view of the church

[In a religious environment where denominationalism is presumed to be
the only option, most people have a denominational view of the Church of
Christ which is reflected in their questions.  There is another view
that some may have...]


      1. The Church of Christ is made up only of those churches with the
         name "Church of Christ"
      2. Those churches constitute the one, true church, the Body of
      3. People in any other congregations cannot possibly be members of
         the Body of Christ
      1. Many in "mainstream" churches of Christ
         a. Especially those viewing  "Church of Christ" as the official
            name for the Lord's church
         b. Evidenced by their exclusive use of the expression "Church
            of Christ"
      2. Many in "non-mainstream" churches of Christ
         a. Including some who often identify themselves on the basis of
            one issue
            1) Who tend to judge a congregation's faithfulness on the
               basis of a particular issue
            2) E.g., if it is "non-institutional" (opposing church
               support of human institutions), then it must be a
               faithful congregation
            3) E.g., if it is "mutual edification" (opposing located

               preachers), then it must be faithful
         b. In particular those who identify themselves "International
            Church of Christ"
            1) Who demand allegiance to one head church, formerly
               located in Boston
            2) Who view any church that refuses allegiance to be

[This view is often held by those trying to maintain a nondenominational
view of the Church of Christ, yet react to one extreme by going to the
opposite.  Then there is what I will term...]


      1. There is the Church of Christ in the "universal" sense
         a. Composed of all Christians
            1) The church to which Jesus referred in Mt 16:18
            2) Made up all the saved, both living and dead - cf. He
         b. There is just one
            1) The universal church is called the "body" of Christ - Ep
            2) There is only one "body" (Ep 4:4); therefore, only one
         c. Began on the Day of Pentecost
            1) In Jerusalem, following the death, resurrection and
               ascension of Christ - Ac 2:1-47
            2) As Peter later referred to this day, it was the
               "beginning" - cf. Ac 11:15
         d. Enter only by being added by the Lord
            1) One cannot "join" the church by their own volition
            2) Rather, they are "added" by the Lord Himself when saved 
               - Ac 2:41,47
         e. The Lord keeps the books of membership
            1) There is no agency on earth that keeps the registry of
               true members
            2) Enrollment is in heaven; only the Lord knows those who
               are truly His - He 12:23; 2 Ti 2:19
         f. Consists of all the saved
            1) The Lord is presenting to Himself a church holy and
               without blemish - cf. Ep 5:25-27
            2) Those in the church who are sinning and refuse to repent
               are "cut off", "cast out", "spewed out" - cf. Jn 15:2,6;
               Ro 11:19-22; Re 3:16
         g. Must be in this to be saved
            1) For the Lord is the Savior of the "body" (which is His
               church) - Ep 5:23
            2) Since the Lord adds one to His church when they are
               saved, one cannot be saved and not be in the church
         h. Has no earthly organization
            1) The church universal has organization - cf. Ep 2:19-22; 
               1 Pe 2:5
               a) What organization exists is spiritual in nature
               b) E.g., Christ as the cornerstone, together with His
                  apostles and prophets as the foundation, and all
                  Christians as "living stones"
            2) There is no earthly headquarters for the church
               a) E.g., no telephone number to call to speak with the
                  "head" of the church
               b) For the Head and His headquarters are in heaven!
         i. Can't be divided
            1) For there is no earthly organization to divide!
            2) If division appears to exist...
               a) Some unscriptural organization of churches must have
                  been created
               b) Such organizations can have division, but not the
                  Lord's church universal!
            3) Those who would seek to divide the church through
               doctrine, conduct, etc., are simply cut off by the Lord
            4) There is and always will be, "one body"! - Ep 4:4 (we
               need to make sure we are remaining faithful to be in it!)
         j. Death doesn't affect membership
            1) The church universal is made up of the saved, both living
               and dead - He 12:22-23
            2) When one dies, they are still with Christ! - Ph 1:21-23;
               1 Th 5:10
         k. Does not have one official name
            1) No one exclusive name or term is used to describe the
               universal church
            2) Various terms used include church of God, body, kingdom,
               etc.- 1 Co 10:32; Ep 1:22-23; Co 1:13
      2. There are churches of Christ in the "local" sense
         a. Composed of Christians in one location
            1) A local church is made up of Christians in one
               geographical area
            2) E.g., the church at Corinth, the church of the
               Thessalonians - 1 Co 1:2; 1 Th 1:1
            -- In contrast, the church universal is made up of
               Christians everywhere!
         b. There are many churches
            1) Paul had reference to local churches when he wrote Ro
            2) And again when he wrote Ga 1:2   
            -- When it comes to the church universal, though, there is
               just one!
         c. Begins wherever people join together
            1) As the gospel spreads and people respond to it, those in
               a particular area start a local church when they agree to
               work together as one
            2) Just as the church in Antioch began later than the church
               in Jerusalem - Ac 11:19-26
            -- Whereas the church universal began in Jerusalem on
               Pentecost, local churches have begun at different places
               and different times!
         d. Enter by joining ourselves
            1) When one wishes to become an accepted member of the local
               church, they must "join themselves" to that church
            2) Such as Paul sought to do when he came to the church in
               Jerusalem - Ac 9:26-28
            -- Whereas one is "added" by the Lord Himself to the
               universal church, we can seek to "join" a local
               congregation (if its members are willing to accept us)
         e. Enrolled by human judgment
            1) Whether we are accepted into a local church is a decision
               made by the leaders or members of that church
            2) Sometimes people are rejected when they should be
               received - 3 Jn 5-9
            -- Evil men may succeed in kicking one out of a local
               church, but only the Lord determines who stays in the
               universal church!
         f. Consists of both saved and lost
            1) Since enrollment occurs through human judgment, fallible
               decisions can be made
            2) A local church may therefore have some who are nominal
               Christians - cf. Re 3:1-4
            -- Hypocrites may become members of a local church; but they
               don't sneak by the Lord to become members of the
               universal church!
         g. Do not have to be in this to be saved
            1) One can be saved, and not belong to any local church
            2) Such was the case of the Eunuch immediately following his
               conversion, and of Paul when he was in transit between
               Antioch and Jerusalem - cf. Ac 8:39; 9:26
            -- Of course, this should be temporary; in the universal
               church, it is impossible!
         h. Has earthly organization
            1) A local church when scripturally organized will have
               bishops and deacons - Ph 1:1
            2) These bishops were also called "elders" and "pastors",
               whose role was to oversee and feed the local congregation
               - Ac 14:23; 20:17,28
            -- The only role or position ever given men over the
               universal church on earth was the apostles and they were
               not replaced when they died - e.g., James in Ac 12:2
         i. Can be divided
            1) Local churches can easily be divided over doctrine or
            2) Such was the case with the church at Corinth - 1 Co 1:
               10-13; 3:3,4
            -- While we can't divide the universal church, we can be
               responsible for dividing local churches!
         j. Death does affect membership
            1) When we die, our membership in a local congregation ends
            2) When Stephen died, he was no longer a member of the
               Jerusalem church - Ac 8:1-2
            -- But our membership in the church universal continues on
               after death!
         k. May use different scriptural names
            a. Showing relationship to God or Christ - 1 Co 1:2; Ro
            b. Identifying the location of the members - 1 Th 1:1; 2 Th
            -- There is no one official name, but we should use
               scriptural names!

      1. Many in "mainstream" churches of Christ
         a. Though there is a definite trend toward denominationalism
            (cf. Reviving The Ancient Faith, The Story of Churches of
            Christ in America, Richard T. Hughes, p. 4)
         b. There are those who still call for nondenominational
      2. Many in "non-mainstream" churches of Christ
         a. Especially those who often identify themselves as
         b. Who oppose that which leads to denominationalism
            1) Such as church support of human institutions
            2) Such as sponsoring church arrangements where one church
               oversees the work of others
      3. Many in churches unknown by others in churches of Christ
         a. Who may wear other scriptural names (e.g., Church of God?)
         b. Yet hold true to the apostles' doctrine revealed in the New
         c. But known and recognized by the Lord as belonging to Him 
      4. Many in churches that may not be true in other respects
         a. Who may have a correct view of church origin and
         b. But who may remain ignorant or in error regarding church
            worship, work, etc.


1. What is the Church of Christ?  As I understand and use the phrase...
   a. It is not a denomination among other denominations
   b. It is not some sect identified by one exclusive name
   -- It is the Lord's church, as defined and revealed in the New

2. The Lord's church is thus spoken of in the Bible primarily in two

        The Church "Universal"              The Church "Local"

   Composed of all Christians          Composed of Christians in one
   There is just one                   There are many
   Began on the Day of Pentecost       Begins when people join together
   Enter only by being added by the    Enter by joining ourselves
   The Lord keeps the books of         Enrolled by human judgment
   Consists of all the saved           Consists of both saved and lost
   Must be in this to be saved         Do not have to be in this to be
   Has no earthly organization         Has earthly organization
   Can't be divided                    Can be divided
   Death doesn't affect membership     Death does affect membership
   Does not have one scriptural        May use different scriptural
      name                                 names

3. Properly understood, the Church of Christ is...
   a. The one Body of Christ, the church - Ep 4:4; cf. 1:22-23
   b. Made up of disciples, called Christians - Ac 11:26; 1 Co 12:27
   c. Who work and worship together in local churches - Ro 16:16
   d. Abiding in the apostles' doctrine - Ac 2:42; cf. 1 Co 4:17
   e. Honoring Jesus' prayer for unity - Jn 17:20-21
   f. Deploring religious division in all its forms, including
      denominationalism - 1 Co 1:10-13

4. So in response to our original questions...
   a. "Are you Church of Christ?"
   b. "Are you a Church of Christ preacher?"
   c. "Are you a member of the Church of Christ?"

5. I would likely respond...
   a. "I am not 'Church of Christ', as that reflects a denominational
   b. "I am a preacher of the gospel of Christ, an evangelist."
   c. "I am a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ, and member of His
      body, the church you read about in the New Testament."
   d. "I work and worship with a nondenominational congregation of
      Christians, known as the Fortune Road Church of Christ in
      Kissimmee, Florida."

I strive to serve and follow Jesus without denominationalism.  In view
of His prayer for unity (Jn 17:20-21), and Paul's condemnation of
religious division (1 Co 1:10-13), I pray that you will too...
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