“CHURCH OF CHRIST” ENTITIES?
(Note: This week’s essay serves as a fitting sequel to last week’s “How NOT To Advance New Testament Christianity.” hf).
Bible students are aware of the fact that Christ established His church (Matthew 16:18), and that in New Testament times there were local congregations referred to as churches of Christ (Romans 16:16) and churches of God (I Corinthians 11:16). Students of Scripture recognize that there is no one exclusive, patented name for the people of God. They understand that the church is referred to as both the church of Christ and the church of God, as Christ’s church and as God’s church. They understand that the church is the body of Christ, consisting of all its members. They understand that the church is God’s family, consisting of all who have become children of God by faith in Christ and obedience to the gospel.
A troubling tendency, however, that is occurring with more and more frequency today is that of taking a single descriptor of the people of God (e.g., church of Christ), and using it in an exclusive and denominational sense. “Church” suddenly becomes part of a proper and exclusive name and is spelled with a capital “C.” “Church of Christ” in turn becomes an adjective to describe congregations, preachers, elders, colleges, scholars, professors, journals, missions and benevolence efforts, as well as a host of other matters. (See last week’s “News & Views” on “How NOT To Advance New Testament Christianity.”)
Interestingly, the word “church” is never capitalized and elevated to the level of a proper name in any English version of the New Testament with which I am acquainted. It is only as we have drifted from the Biblical concept of the church that we have, either consciously or unconsciously, moved into thinking and speaking of the church in denominational terms.
Some, I am persuaded, do this being fully aware of what they are doing, desiring to present the church of Christ as “a denomination among denominations.” Others, being influenced by the denominational concepts of Christianity that are so prevalent in the world, and without thinking about the implications of their terminology, are often guilty of using the descriptor “church of Christ” in a distinctly denominational fashion, though they themselves strongly oppose denominationalism and have no desire to present the Lord’s church as a denomination.
When one comes to have the Biblical concept of the body (church) of Christ and its structure, he will understand that:
1. There is no Missions Arm of the Church of Christ; rather, there are only local autonomous congregations sending out and supporting (perhaps in cooperation with other autonomous congregations) preachers of the gospel to evangelize and establish churches after the New Testament order. But there are no Church of Christ missionaries or evangelists.”
2. There are no Educational Institutions of the Church of Christ; rather, there are individual Christians establishing schools, colleges, and universities in which the Bible is taught and a Christian environment is maintained. But in reality there is no such thing as a Church of Christ school or college,” staffed by “Church of Christ scholars and professors.”
3. There are no Publishing Houses of the Church of Christ; rather, there is simply a Christian businessman, a group of Christians, or local congregations publishing journals and study materials designed to set forth Biblical teaching. But there is no such thing as a Church of Christ publishing house” or a Church of Christ journal.”
4. There are no Benevolent Institutions of the Church of Christ; rather, there are individual Christians or congregations creating a means by which the physical needs of others may be supplied. But, there is no such thing as a Church of Christ childrens home or home for the elderly.”
The above things are true because there is no organizational structure (local, state, national, or international) through which the universal body (church) of Christ may function. The church has no earthly headquarters. There is no pope, prelate, presiding bishop, or president. There are no dioceses, synods, conferences, or councils to dictate doctrine, belief, practice, or policy. We have no creed, catechism, or church manual. The Scriptures alone are our guide. The body of Christ functions solely on a congregational level. There are no Church of Christ entities, organizations, or institutions of any kind.
Every local church is independent and autonomous, though mutual love and fellowship are to characterize all the people of God, with congregations voluntarily cooperating with each other in evangelism and benevolence. Each local church, when fully organized, will have elders (also called bishops and pastors) to oversee the flock of God which is among them (Acts 14:23; I Peter 5:1-4).
To throw a lasso around these autonomous congregations and corral them into the “Church of Christ” heritage, fellowship, brotherhood, tribe, tributary, tradition, or denomination is completely unwarranted by Scripture. To then attribute the origin of these congregations to The Stone-Campbell Movement is to be grossly uninformed regarding Biblical teaching. Such independent, autonomous churches have existed since the first century (Romans 16:16).
Before Thomas or Alexander Campbell ever set foot on American soil there were such congregations in the United States. The Rock Springs Church of Christ in Clay County, Tennessee, has been in continuous existence since 1805, four years before Alexander Campbell migrated to the United States. (Note: Yes, as a legal, corporate entity, it is appropriate to identify a congregation’s name as “Rock Springs Church of Christ,” being the grammatically correct thing to do, since it is the proper name of the local congregation. But such is not appropriate when referring to the people of God in general, unless one would also capitalize “church” when referring to the church of God, the church of the firstborn ones, or simply the church.)
An unbroken line of faithful congregations does not have to be traced all the way from our time back through the centuries to New Testament times in order to have the New Testament church today. Autonomous churches of Christ can be planted anywhere anytime by sowing the unmixed seed of the kingdom, the pure word of God (Luke 8:11).
October 13, 2015
October 25-28: South Florida Avenue Church of Christ, Lakeland, FL.