Question #9: Why Do You Call Yourselves “The Church Of Christ”?
Why does the “Church of Christ” insist that their name is scriptural when it cannot be found anywhere in the Bible? The church is referred to as the “church of God” eight (8) times in the Bible, but never is it called the “church of Christ.” The verse they use is Romans 16:16, but it doesn’t say “church of Christ.” Where does the Bible call the church the “church of Christ”?
First of all, to argue that the term “church of Christ” cannot be found anywhere in Scripture simply because when it is found it is in the plural, “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16), is the hight of absurdity. If the collective congregations in a geographical area are referred to as the “churches of Christ,” then any amount of reasoning ability whatsoever would show that any one of those congregations would be just as rightly called the “church of Christ” in its immediate locality. For example, the Ephesian church of Christ, the Colossian church of Christ, the Philippian church of Christ, etc.
As to the argument regarding the different designations of the church in Scripture, one must understand the difference in setting between that time and this. Whatever divinely inspired designation used then was understood to be referring to the one true church that Jesus built and purchased with his own blood (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28). It is a biblical fact that Jesus has but one church as is so clearly stated in Scripture as to be beyond refutation.
- There is one body (Ephesians 4:4).
- The body is the church (Ephesians 1:22, 23; Colossians 1:18).
- Therefore, there is one church.
When a local congregation is referred to, it is “the church at” that given locality. For example, “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1), “the church of the Thessalonians in God” (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1), “the church of Ephesus” (Revelation 2:1), “the church in Smyrna” (Revelation 2:8), “the church in Pergamos” (Revelation 2:12), etc. While all of these passages refer to congregations in a specific locality, they do not refer to different kinds of church, as dishonest denominationalists try to use them. Notice, in Revelation 2-3, when Jesus is addressing these various local congregations, he calls all of them to faithfulness to the same source – his word – not their own independent creed books. If they would not hold to his word faithfully he would remove their candlestick (Revelation 2:5). The removal of their candlestick means that they would no longer be recognized by Christ as his church (Revelation 1:20). All of this shows that “one church” means anywhere a person encounters the church of Christ he will hear and see the same things being taught and practiced because they are all united in one doctrine – the New Testament of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 3:15-19; 1 Corinthians 4:17).
Many take issue with our insistence on using a Scriptural designation for the church. Denominationalists do this in defense of their using man-made names. So, while they point out that the Bible uses various terms for the church, most often simply referring to “the church,” they fail to point out where the Bible ever uses their chosen designations. But what difference does it make to their using a designation that is nowhere used in Scripture for them to point out that the designation we use is found only once? Does anyone really think that by our use of the designation “the church of Christ,” which is found in Scripture, that they are justified in using a designation that is nowhere found in Scripture? What kind of warped logic is that? Also, I contend that the designation of “church of Christ” is not found only once but several times. Not explicitly but implicitly to be sure. Notice:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy [Spirit] hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28).
The elders at Ephesus are exhorted to watch out for “the flock.” The “flock” is the church at Ephesus. In taking heed to the flock they are told to “feed the church of God.” The “church of God,” Paul says, was “purchased with his own blood.” Who’s blood was shed for the church? Paul says “God…purchased the church with his own blood.” We know that neither the Father or the Holy Spirit had blood with which to purchase the church (cf. John 4:24; Luke 24:39). So “the church of God, which he [God] purchased with his [God’s] own blood” must be referring to Christ. Therefore, it is the church of Christ.
Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2).
Here again, “the church of God” is parallel to “them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus” and “called to be saints.” All of these designations refer to the same people. “Church” means “called out assembly.” “Sanctified” means separated, in this case “separated from the world in Christ.” “Saints” are “sanctified ones” or “those who are set apart.” So “the called out assembly of God” is the same thing as “them that are separated from the world in Christ” who have become “the sanctified ones.” Again, “the church of God” equals “the church of Christ.” It is the same thing.
For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Corinthians 15:9; cf. Galatians 1:13).
Paul says he persecuted the church of God. However, when we turn back to the historical account of Paul realizing what his persecution truly meant we see that it was Jesus Christ himself who was being persecuted (Acts 9:4, 5).
The church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23). So, when Paul was persecuting the church he was in actuality persecuting Christ. Yet when Paul recounts his persecution, and who his persecution was against, he says it was “the church of God.” Should we suppose that Paul forgot what Jesus said to him or that he understood the “church of God” and the body of Christ, i.e. church of Christ, to be one and the same? The answer is obvious to the point of needing no explanation!
This is not every reference to “the church of God” but it is sufficient to demonstrate what the apostle had in mind when making such reference.
Let me just say in closing that I do not know of any preacher that has made it a doctrinal issue to use the term “the church of Christ” in exclusion to any other Scriptural designation. I have always taught, and have heard others teach, that the Scriptural designation of “the church of Christ” is used today by local congregations of the New Testament church as a matter of expedience in the present atmosphere of denominational division. Where the church of the first century had no necessity whatsoever to designate themselves with one universal designation, such is not the case today. In the first century there was only one church, it was the one true church that Jesus built. So when a Christian arrived in Rome, for example, he simply needed to locate “the church,” which is the most common designation used in Scripture. He could inquire about the disciples of Christ, the church of Christ, the church of Jesus, the church of God, the assembly of the saints, etc., and they would all be recognized as referring to the same group of people. Churches of Christ today also use the same designations. I often refer to the local congregation where I preach as the church of God, the disciples of Christ, the assembly of the saints, etc. These are Scriptural designations that are good and right to use when referring to the local congregation. However, due to denominational deceit and division, we find ourselves in a climate today where there is a great deal of confusion over the nature of the true New Testament church. As an expedient to identify ourselves publicly to one another and those looking for the true New Testament church we have chosen to identify ourselves publicly as “the church of Christ.”
There would be absolutely nothing unscriptural with a local congregation identifying themselves as “the church of God.” However, because there is a denomination that has identified themselves by that designation, it would cause confusion. People would show up at the services expecting to see the unscriptural practices of that denomination. So, by identifying ourselves by the Scriptural designation of “the church of Christ” we make it easier for people to identify who we are and what we do.
It should be noted also, as demonstrated by the above reference to the Church of God denomination, that simply having a scriptural designation doesn’t mean the congregation is functioning scripturally. The work and worship of the congregation must also demonstrate their adhering to New Testament doctrine. There are many so-called churches of Christ that do not follow New Testament doctrine, with whom faithful congregations have no fellowship.
The use of unscriptural designations for the church is just the first indication that the congregation under consideration doesn’t follow the New Testament. If I can’t even get past the way they designate themselves before I run into clear departures from the truth then I really don’t need to go any further to know that they are not the New Testament church. However, neither is the use of a scriptural designation the end of necessary investigation. The work and worship of the congregation must go hand-in-hand with the scriptural designation.
Now, the attempt to justify denominational names by drawing the scriptural designation by which we have chosen to be identified into question is the hight of illogical argumentation. We do use a scriptural designation and our work and worship are in complete harmony with that designation. We are the church that belongs to Christ. Our work and worship are the proof that we belong to Christ.