HOW DO YOU SPELL “CHURCH”?
Based on the divine fact that He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus promised to build His church (Matthew 16:13-18). With His blood He purchased the church (Acts 20:28). The church was established on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ, as we read in Acts 2. This was in fulfillment of divine prophecy (Isaiah 2:2-3; Daniel 2:44; Joel 2:28-32) and in fruition of Christ’s promise to His apostles (Mark 9:1; Acts 1:4-5, 8; Acts 2:1-4). (See also John 13:20; John 14:26; John 16:13). On that memorable Pentecost about three thousand souls responded positively to the words preached by the apostles, repented of their sins, were baptized for the remission of their sins, and thus were saved from their sins and added to the church (Acts 2:36-47). The church is the aggregate of all who believe the gospel and obey it in its purity. It is not a denomination formed by men that people can choose from among other denominations to “join.” The church of Christ is not something less than all those who have been redeemed from their sins by the blood of Christ.
The word “church” is from the Greek word “ekklesia” and means “the called out,” those “called out” of the world by the gospel (II Thessalonians 2:14) and constituted into the people of God (I Peter 2:10; I John 5:19). The church is God’s house (household, family) (I Timothy 3:15), and every child of God is a member of it by virtue of the new birth (John 3:1-5; Galatians 3:26-27). The church is God’s spiritual house, His holy priesthood, His chosen generation (elect race, ASV), His holy nation (I Peter 2:4-9).
While “church” is an important and significant word to identify the saved people of God, it is not the exclusive word used in Scripture to refer to them. The people of God also are described as the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:22-23), the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:2-33; Revelation 21:9), the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13, cf. Acts 2:47), the family of God (I Timothy 3:15), and other descriptive terms which the discerning reader of the New Testament will discover. None of these designations are proper names and, significantly, none of them are capitalized in any English translation of the New Testament of which I am aware. The Bible does not refer to the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Family of God, the Kingdom of God’s dear Son, the Church of God, or the Church of Christ! (Note the capitalization of body, bride, family, kingdom, and church in the preceding sentence). The scholars who translated our New Testament from Greek into English universally and uniformly did not capitalize these terms! To capitalize “church” and not capitalize the other terms is the height of inconsistency. And when one writes of the church of God (with a little “c”) in its biblical sense (I Corinthians 1:2; 11:22; et al), but then writes of the Church of Christ (with a big “C”), I am made to wonder if they have in mind two different institutions. Biblically, they both are the same and consistency demands that they both should be spelled the same way!
Many fine, faithful Christians, without giving much if any thought to the matter, may quite innocently write of the Church of Christ or the Churches of Christ. I do not “fall out” with them or make the way they write about the church (big “C” or little “c”) a test of fellowship, and toward them I have no desire to appear hypercritical. I would, however, urge them to think through their concept of the church and the way they write about it (big “C” or little “c”) and what it conveys to others. Second Timothy 4:13 and I Peter 4:11 certainly have relevance at this point.
On the other hand, it has become increasingly obvious with the passing of the years that there are those among us who no longer have (if they ever had) an undenominational concept of the church. Several generations have now arisen in the church who have not been taught the undenominational nature of the church and such teaching has been grossly neglected in many congregations. To many members, the church of Christ is just another denomination and their agenda is to speak and to write of it in such a way as to portray it as a denomination. Thus, they write about the “Church of Christ” and the “Churches of Christ,” having something entirely different in mind from what the New Testament means by these terms and something different from the church of God, the body of Christ, the family of God, the kingdom of God’s dear Son, the bride of Christ, or simply the church in its New Testament sense. To them, the church of Christ is but a segment, a part of the universal body of Christ. Those plagued with this kind of unbiblical thinking delight in speaking of the church of Christ as “our fellowship,” “our tradition,” “our tribe,” “our tributary,” “our little corner of the kingdom,” etc. With all such I have a great problem and will continue to relentlessly battle with them and their unbiblical thinking, speaking, and writing about the church of my Lord!
I know that denominational people believe that they are members of the one universal body (church) of Christ. They view themselves as being members of the Baptist branch, the Catholic branch, the Presbyterian branch, the Lutheran branch, the Methodist branch, the Disciples of Christ branch, etc., etc. of Christ’s church. They would all argue that they are members of the one church that Christ established. But neither their concept of the church nor their contention about being members of the one body of Christ can be sustained by the New Testament itself. God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33), Christ prayed for the unity (not the division) of all who would believe in Him (John 17:20-21), Paul severely rebuked the division (denominationalism in embryo form) in the church at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:10-13), and laid down the divine platform on which all of God’s people could be united (Ephesians 4:1-6). There still is but one body (Ephesians 4:4) and that one body is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). Denominational churches and denominational divisions can never be made to fit into the New Testament picture and concept of the church! To comply with the conditions for becoming a member of a denomination is vastly different from hearing, believing, and obeying the gospel, being saved from sin, and added to the church of the Lord (Acts 2:47)!
I am not Church of Christ, I am not a Church of Christer, I did not attend a Church of Christ school, I am not a Church of Christ preacher, I do not serve Church of Christ churches, and I am not a member of a Church of Christ congregation. All of these expressions reflect a denominational concept of the church and I will continue to resist both the thinking and the speaking and writing that promote such a concept. I am simply a Christian, a member of the one body of Christ, a citizen in the kingdom of God’s dear Son, a child in the family of God, a member of the church of God. I attended a Christian high school and a Christian college, I am simply a gospel preacher, I profess to be nothing but a minister (servant) of Christ, I serve the brotherhood of Christ (I Peter 2:17), I am a member of a local autonomous congregation/church (the two words mean exactly the same) of God’s saints.
Now for a brief caveat to the above: In our modern world where the churches of Christ own real estate, church buildings, homes for their preachers, church vans and buses, etc., it is necessary for these congregations to have a legal proper name. By civil law, such is required. In such a case, it is in order (and good grammar requires) that these legal entities, with corresponding proper names, identify themselves as, for example, Main Street Church of Christ, Central Church of Christ, Portland Church of Christ, etc. Capitalization of the word “church” in this context is not for the purpose of showing it to be a denomination, but to show it to be a legal entity with a proper name, and proper names require capitalization. And while it is only a personal matter with me, it goes against the rules of grammar to write “Main Street church of Christ.” When using the word “church” as part of the proper name of a legal entity, by all means capitalize it! But when speaking of the church in its general sense, either universally or locally, respect the New Testament concept of the church and speak and write accordingly!
And, yes, I am ready to be accused of being a nitpicker, of making a mountain out of a molehill, etc., etc. I am prepared for those who ask, “What difference does it make?” Again, I will not “fall out” with those who, without having thought through the matter, write of the Church of Christ and the Churches of Christ. I will not “fall out” with those who carry on their bulletin masthead “Main Street church of Christ” (though I will question their sense of proper capitalization). What I will do is contend earnestly for the undenominational nature of the church of Christ as set forth in the New Testament and for clear thinking, clear speaking, and clear writing about that precious, blood-bought body of redeemed souls! That is “what difference it makes”!
And one final thought: Before responding critically to what I have written in this essay, be sure you have read it carefully and digested it thoroughly so that you grasp the point(s) I have made. Read carefully and “chew on” what I have said. Hasty readers and hasty responders, in a rush to disagree, often miss the point.
June 29, 2021
June 30: Shackle Island Church of Christ, Goodlettsville, TN, 6 p.m.