What is the church of Christ?

What is the church of Christ?

“What is the Church of Christ? Are you just another denomination? Do I have to go to your church to be saved?”

These are some of the questions that we face when talking about the church. Sometimes it feels like churches are just part of a big religious marketplace - chaotic, confusing, so many to choose from! And are all these different churches basically the same? Even in the questions themselves there is a serious misunderstanding of the true nature of the church that is Christ’s! “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Upon their baptism into Christ, these individuals in Jerusalem were being added to the church. Church membership was not an option for them, but a result! Does this mean that baptism is an initiation ceremony into a denomination, then? Again, the misunderstanding creeps in! The church of Christ is not a denomination, but the body of the saved, wherever they may be called out of darkness into light. If a person is saved (and that's an essential distinction, for the scriptures alone teach what it means to be saved in Jesus), they are a member of the church of Christ. Notice a few scriptures:

  • “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Baptism is an initiation into Christ, who is the head of the body, the church.
  • “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5).
  • “We are members of His body” (Ephesians 5:30).
  • “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
  • “I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, the church of the living God, which is the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

There is only “one body” (Ephesians 4:4), so if a person is not a member of the church of Christ, they are not a member of Christ’s body at all. Does this mean every congregation that wears the name “Church of Christ” is full of undeniably saved people? Does this mean a congregation must wear the name “Church of Christ” on its building to be saved? Certainly not, and as long as the misunderstanding persists, we will always find people who are more indebted and devoted to a church than the One who saved it.

Our congregation is not a “church of Christ” because we wear a name on our building, or because we identify ourselves with a broader religious movement. We are a church that is Christ’s because we practice what He preached (Matthew 28:18-20), we follow Him in every way (John 14:15), and we acknowledge our salvation through His name alone. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We are a church that is Christ’s because we align ourselves with Him, and no human head. He is our head (Ephesians 5:23) and we are His body. “He is also the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead… Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do share on behalf of His body (which is the church)…” (Colossians 1:18,24). In this sense, then, the church of Christ is not made up of buildings and property, political power and prestige. It is a heavenly kingdom, constituting heavenly people. “For our citizenship is in heaven…” (Philippians 3:20). “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).

The Church of Christ Functions On The Local Level

In order to facilitate the functions of the church, the Apostles in the first century laid down a precedent for local congregational organization. We can read about the beliefs and practices of the early Christians in the New Testament. While every congregation was autonomous, or self-governing, there was a unity that existed in both a doctrinal and spiritual sense. The Christians of that time were a distinctive, peculiar people (Titus 2:14), called out of the world for the preaching of the Gospel. But there was a necessity (which still exists today) for every Christian to be committed to a local congregation.

  • Congregations in the first century “met” and “came together” (Acts 11:26, 14:27, 1 Corinthians 11:18, Acts 20:7) for edification, worship, and to fulfill their duties to both God and one another.
  • Evangelists committed themselves to a local church, like Philip, who preached in Caesarea for 21 years (Acts 21:8, 8:40), Paul, who stayed with the Ephesians for three years (Acts 20:31) and the Corinthians for more than a year (Acts 18:11), Peter, who was an apostle and elder of the church in Jerusalem, and the household of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 16:15).

In the early church, local Christians identified themselves with a group, and their membership was acknowledged. The twelve members at Ephesus (Acts 19:7), the members in Puteoli (Acts 28:14), Phoebe in Cenchrea (Romans 16:1), the church that met at Aquila and Priscilla’s house (Romans 16:5), the numerous named members in Rome (Romans 16), the churches that met in Colossae and Laodicea, who knew each other well enough to identify each other (Colossians 4:15-16), Philemon from Colossae (Philemon 1-3), and many others.

"How can I be added to the church I read about in the Bible?"

The church is exclusive in the same sense that Jesus is exclusive. He states in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; nobody comes to the Father but through Me." But how do we "come through" Jesus? That seems like strange language! We can read in several scriptures, such as Romans 6:1-11 and Colossians 2:12, that it is through baptism that we die, are buried, and raised up in newness of life. As a result of our "obedience to the gospel" (1 Peter 4:17, 2 Thessalonians 1:8), by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), we become members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). 

So where do we go from here? If you've read all of this, then thank you for your attention! We would love to study with you, in a small group or one-on-one, to answer any more questions you have. Or if you just want to see for yourself what the church looks like in action, join us for one of our assemblies and learn about all the ways we try to live out our faith in our worship, our knowledge, our love for one another, and our concern for the lost. Our main goal is to glorify God in all that we do. We do not want to wear the name of Christ for nothing, after all!