The Church of Christ

The group that calls itself the Churches of Christ is a little bit of an enigma. 

Will Rogers once said, “I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.” I am not afraid of being called a Republican because I so often vote for Republican candidates and I agree a lot with Republican positions. I would as easily call myself a conservative or moderate libertarian but I have no loyalty to the Conservative party or the Libertarian party. My concern in voting has been foremost, the positions the candidate holds. If the day came where I agreed with a Democrat candidate more than the Republican candidate, I would vote without hesitation for the Democrat. Like that quote, “I belong to no organized party. I am a Republican.” 

In that same spirit, I could say, “I belong to no organized religious group. I am a member of the Churches of Christ.” Although Churches of Christ are similar in many ways to various Protestant denominations, there are important differences. Churches of Christ exist and function as an informal fellowship of independent congregations with no formal written creed.

I have heard people argue until they are blue in the face whether the Church of Christ is a denomination or not. The answer is ultimately of definitions. You ask, “Is the Church of Christ a denomination,” and I answer, “Define Church of Christ and define denomination.” 

  • The True Church

The Church of Christ found in God’s word is the community of saved people, the collective body of believers. In Acts 2, people heard the Gospel message of Jesus’ death and resurrection and were saved. In being saved they were added to a group which is called the church (Acts 2:47). This is the church Jesus built upon himself (Mat. 16:18, Eph 2:19-21). This community goes by many names in God’s word: church (Mat. 16:18), the household of God (Eph 2:19), the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22), the church of the firstborn (Heb. 12:23), the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22), the church of God (Acts 20:28), and church of Christ (Rom. 16:16). 

A denomination is a sect, a subgroup, a piece of a whole. The Church of Christ in reference to the church Jesus built is by no means a denomination in any sense of the word.  God’s community is one. There is one Body (Eph. 4:4) which means there is one church (Col. 1:24). Every person whose citizenship is in heaven (Phl 3:20) or whose name is in the book of life (Phl 4:3) or who has eternal life (1 John 5:13) is part of this one church.

The distinct difference between the scriptural ideal and the flawed reality of the church has existed since the infancy of the church, shortly after its establishment. Scriptural examples abound of the flawed reality of the church, like the racial conflict of Acts 6, the church in Pergumum’s tolerance of false doctrine (Rev 2:14-15), or the myriad of issues in the Corinthian church (all of 1 Cor). Even in the apostolic age, or shortly thereafter, there were “false mountains.” Jesus’ iconic description of wolves in sheep’s clothing (Mat 7:15) not only applies to individuals who teach false doctrine, but also applies to the groups they lead. Since its conception there have been true members of God’s true church who seek to remain unblemished from these wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The ultimate goal of an earnest believer is to be part of the church Jesus built, not a church that a human built. If Jesus built one church then why are there so many different kinds of churches? Because we humans mess things up. 

When Jesus built his church, he did not build a building or establish a hierarchy that would remain beyond his ascension. Beyond the Apostles, the church was given freedom to be as obedient or corrupt as she feels. Jesus left behind his word which is the seed for the church; he left behind a “pattern of sound words” to follow (2 Ti. 1:13) and a “standard of teaching” to obey and be committed to (Rom. 6:17). 

The destination is the one true church Jesus built and the path is God’s New Covenant teachings. When people alter the path, they arrive at a different destination; alterations to God’s word (heresies) lead to different organizations who claim to be part of the church (denominations). 

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