We have noted in previous lessons that the word church in our Bibles is the Greek word ekklesia, which simply means people called out of one relationship or location and into another. Therefore, when we speak of the church of Christ in the scriptures, we are talking about people who have been called out of the world and into a relationship with Christ. We also noted that there is a distinction between the universal and local church in the scriptures. Sometimes the scriptures refer to all the saved that have every lived in any location, which we call the universal church. This concept is seen in passages like Matthew 16:18 and Hebrews 12:22-23. We also see the scriptures refer to the church in a local sense, referring to a certain geographical location of Christians. This concept can be seen in passages like 1 Corinthians 1:2 and Revelation 2-3. Last time we took another step in our understanding the Lord’s church. We found that the Lord’s body is undenominational, meaning that it does not consist of a coalition or association of local churches. John 15:1-10 and Hebrews 12:22-23 show that the Lord’s church is made up of saved individuals, and not denominations, institutions, or churches. Today we are going to see that when we understand that the Lord’s church is not a denomination (consisting of local churches), then we will be able to resolve an assortment of problems that arise when speaking to unbelievers. In our lesson today, we will see how our language and speech ought to change with this proper understanding of the Lord’s church.
Do You Think You Are the Only One Who Will Be Saved?
When someone asks this question, there are three possible concepts that questioner may have in mind. A simple yes or no answer will not be sufficient until we understand what the questioner is driving at. First, we must understand the person is asking if we think only the church of Christ will be saved. If the person is using the phrase “the church of Christ” in the universal sense, then the obvious answer is yes. The Bible tells us that all the saved from the past and present are in the Lord’s church. We see this in Acts 2:47 that those who were being saved were added by the Lord into His church. By definition, the Lord’s body only consists of the saved and no others. There is not any wickedness and any disobedient person who is in the Lord’s body. But we need to note that it is rare that the questioner has this concept in his or her mind when asking the question. The person is not asking if all the saved are saved. The person is not asking if everyone in the Lord’s body is saved. This is usually understood.
The questioner may have the local sense in mind. Sometimes the questioner is asking us if we believe that the only ones who will be saved are those who belong to our local church. We know that the answer to this is no. No where do the scriptures teach that our local church will be saved. There are two reasons for this. First, we know that there are Christians in other states and other countries who do not belong to our local church. We know that there are Christians in Jerusalem who already died that were never part of our local church that are saved. Second, we know that there are those who belong to this local church that may not be saved. This was true in the first century as well as today. 1 Corinthians 5 we see that there was a fornicator who had fellowship with the church in Corinth, but was not in fellowship with God and was at that time not saved. In Revelation 3:1-6 we see that there were only a few that were faithful to Christ in Sardis. Though many were part of the local church in Sardis, only a few were saved. Therefore, if someone is asking if we believe that being joined to the local church where we attend will save them, we know the answer is no. Salvation is determined by being in fellowship with Christ, not by being in fellowship with a local church.
Often the person who is asking this question is asking us if the only people who are saved are those who attend places where they call themselves the church of Christ. The questioner is asking if the collection of churches which call themselves the church of Christ are the only ones saved. As we noted in our last lesson, this is a denominational concept that we must fight against. The Lord’s church is not made up of local churches. The church of Christ is not made up of churches, it is made up of saved people. But the questioner is not thinking of the church as people, but as a collection of churches. Therefore, we must take care how we answer this question. If we answer yes, then we are perpetuating the concept that the Lord’s church is a denomination, made up of local churches of Christ. However, if we say no, then we are conveying to the questioner that other denominations are also saved. Neither of these concepts are true. So how should we answer this question? I believe we need to answer the question scripturally. Notice Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” According to this passage, who will be saved? Those who believe and are baptized. We need to tell people that only those who have obeyed the commands of Christ will be saved. Only those who are in fellowship with Christ, and not in fellowship with the world will be saved. In Mark 7:6-9 and in Matthew 7:21-23 we see that simply being religious will not save someone. Religious appearance is not what Christ has called us to. We must have total obedience to His word. Only those who have obeyed the commands of Christ will be saved. If the Lord’s body is undenominational, as we have proven it is, then we need to speak of the Lord’s body in such a way as to communicate that it is undenominational.
I Am a Baptist or Methodist or _______. What Are You?
Church of Christ
Sometimes when someone approaches us and says, “I am a Baptist, what are you?” our reaction can be to answer back “church of Christ.” But again, we need to consider what our answer is conveying to the person who is asking it. Do we believe that I myself, as an individual, is the church of Christ, a church of Christ, or church of Christ? No. By definition, the word “church” means that it has more than one person. The word church is a collective noun denoting that it has a plurality of members. One senator cannot say that he is Congress. One sheep cannot say that it is flock. Neither can one Christian say that he or she is church of Christ. It simply is not true. One individual is not the universal church because the universal church consists of all the saved from time past to present, including people in other countries. One individual is not a local church because it consists of all the Christians in a geographically area that have decided to work and worship together. What we need to recognize is that the person is asking us what denomination we are. When the questioner states the denomination they are and then asks what we are, they are implying in the question that they want to know what denomination we are. If we answer “church of Christ,” then we are again perpetuating a denominational concept of the Lord’s body.
What we need to tell people is that we are Christians. They will usually respond that they know that we are Christians, but what kind are you, or what denomination are you? But we are not any kind of Christian and do not belong to any denomination. We are simply Christians and this is what we see in the New Testament. In Acts 11:26 we see the disciples called themselves Christians in Antioch. In Acts 26:28 King Agrippa did not say that he had almost been persuaded to become church of Christ. He had almost been persuaded to become a Christian. In 1 Peter 4:16 we read that Peter identifying the followers of Christ as Christians. He says there, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” We also need to identify ourselves to the world as Christians, and not communicate to others a denominational concept. We do not find in the scriptures one person identifying himself or herself as church of Christ.
What Does the Church of Christ Teach?
Again, someone who asks this question is not thinking of what do the individuals who follow after Christ teach. They are using the church of Christ in a denominational concept by suggesting that there is a head or headquarters that is telling all the local churches what to teach. They will say that the Baptist church (or name any denomination) teach such and such. Some creed or convention has told them that this is what they believe and teach. Do we have a creed or convention that tells the disciples of Christ what to teach? No. What we want people to understand is that what matters is what Christ teaches. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “but we preach Christ crucified…” We do not want people to focus on the teachings of institutions, denominations, or individuals. We want to know what Christ teaches and if our lives in obedience to Christ’s teachings.
Preaching Christ crucified or our own authority
We understand that the Lord’s body is made up of people. When we think of the Lord’s church, we think of people who have been called out of the world and are in a relationship and fellowship with Christ. Do we want to teach people that the authority is in us? No, we want to teach people that the authority is in Christ and His revealed word, the Scriptures. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” When we say “the church of Christ teaches,” we make the same error that the Catholic church makes. The Catholic church is concerned with what the Catholic church teaches, meaning what does the Pope, cardinals, and priests teach. But it does not matter what our friends, neighbors, preachers, teachers, or leaders teach because they can teach error. What matters is what God teaches in His Word. That is what everyone must follow. It is pure egotism if I were to tell you to follow what I teach at the local church. We must follow the word of God and if someone teaches different from the word of God, that person must not be listened to.
Using “Church of Christ” As An Adjective
We need to be careful when we use the phrase “church of Christ” as an adjective. If we are not careful, we will be using it in a denominational sense. Listen to words of one person and see if you can see the problem:
“My childhood was of the strict and straight Church of Christ variety. As a teenager, I was the moral and doctrinal example of Church of Christ orthodoxy. I memorized all the scriptures that are important to the Church of Christ. I mesmerized myself with the Church of Christ doctrines and vigorously defended the Lord’s church! I was proud of my religion. I was conscientious and zealous. I chose to go to a Church of Christ college because of my affection for the Church of Christ doctrines.”
Was there any misuse of the phrase “church of Christ?” It is being used in a denominational sense. Does the universal group of saved people have a college? Does a local church have a college? The term is being used as a collection of congregations. He is speaking about the doctrines and colleges of a collection of congregations. What is the church of Christ orthodoxy? I hope there is none. We preach and teach Jesus Christ and His word. When we speak of things as “church of Christ preachers,” “church of Christ song books,” and other such descriptions, we are speaking in a denominational sense, the collective churches of Christ. I am not a church of Christ preacher. I am preacher of the gospel. I am a preacher of Christ. But I am not a preacher of some sort of alliance of churches that have the same name on their buildings.
However, we can use the phrase “church of Christ” in a way that is not denominational and still describe ourselves. In Romans 16:16 we read, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.” What was Paul referring to when he said “the churches of Christ?” He was not referring to a church of Christ denomination! He was simply telling the people of Rome that the other people who are followers of Christ in various localities also greet them. This is the proper way to use the phrase “church of Christ.” We use it to describe that we are people in a relationship with Christ.
We also must be sure to place the emphasis on the right thing when we speak. Who are we speaking about when we say church of Christ? We are referring to saved people purchased by the blood of Christ and are in fellowship with him. Why would we want to place the emphasis on ourselves? We want the emphasis solely on our Lord. He is the one who did the work. He is the one who has shown the grace and mercy. He is the one who saves souls. We did not do any of these things. We are in need of all these things. So let us put the emphasis of our speech where in belongs…on Jesus Christ.
We need to speak in biblical terms. We rightly correct others who do not speak the way the Bible speaks. But we must hold our own feet to the fire and be sure that we speak in scriptural terms. We want to communicate to the world that we are simply Christians, following the word of God every way. The church of Christ is simply the group of saved people who have been called out of the world and into a relationship with God. The church of Christ is not a denomination. It is not an institution. It is not a collection of local churches. It is simply made up of people. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.”