On one occasion, Leonard Johnson, one of the founders of what is now Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama, was preaching in a gospel meeting in a small Alabama town. One night he preached a sermon on the church. In the midst of his sermon brother Johnson said, “Now within the next four to five minutes I am going to tell you everything the New Testament says about the name of the church.” For the next four to five minutes brother Johnson was completely silent. He did not utter a word. Then he said, “There you have it – everything the New Testament says about the name of the church!”
Brother Johnson was absolutely right—the church, the body of people redeemed to God by the blood of Christ, does not have a proper, formal, exclusive, and patented name! It was not and is not a denomination and does not wear a denominational designation. Instead, the New Testament gives numerous descriptors for the church. The church (the aggregate of all who have been saved by obedience to the gospel) is the spiritual body of Christ, of which there is but one (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4). It is the spiritual temple of God, being composed of living stones (Eph. 2:19-22; I Pet. 2:4-5). It is the house (household, family) of God, with every child of God a member of it (I Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:5-6). It is the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1:13; cf. Acts 2:47). Christ, in promising to build it, called in “my church” (Matt. 16:18). A plurality of local congregations are designated as “churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16). At the same time, they also are described as “churches of God” (I Cor. 11:26), and the universal body of redeemed people is called the “church of God” (v. 22). Geographically, the people of God are spoken of as the church at Jerusalem, the church of God which is at Corinth, the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, the churches of Judea, the churches of Galatia, the seven churches of Asia, etc. Modern Catholic and Protestant names are noticeably absent from the New Testament, and came to be applied to religious groups arising this side of the New Testament!
Churches of Christ today strive to be churches of the New Testament order. We do not profess to be a denomination. The use of the biblical descriptor “church of Christ” is not intended as our “official, exclusive, denominational name.” Any biblical descriptor is acceptable. However, in our sadly divided religious world, it is practical to use rather consistently a descriptor that sets forth in a scriptural way those who are pleading for a return to the undenominational church of the New Testament and who are contending for “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Clearly, it is possible to use a biblical designation for the church in a sectarian and denominational sense and, sadly, many are doing that with the descriptor “church of Christ.” At the same time, to use this scriptural designation does not make those using it a denomination.
Many years ago, the late Cled Wallace made some insightful observations about the “name” of the church that we would do well to consider today. He wrote: “Now I am somewhat of a stickler for calling the church anything and everything it is called in the New Testament and have said so over and over again in these and other columns . . . I am certain that the expression ‘church of Christ’ has been used in a sectarian sense, but not when it is applied to the right thing, however often it may be used. It is misused only when it is employed to cover too little or too much or applied to something that is not it at all . . . Brethren keep me more uneasy sometimes by what they mean by it than they do by how often they say it” (Bible Banner, Volume IV, Number II, September 1941).
Let me say again: I am not Church of Christ (viewed as a denomination) in my religious affiliation. I am not a Church of Christ (viewed as a denomination) preacher – no more so than I am a Church of God (viewed as a denomination) preacher, or a body of Christ preacher, of a kingdom of God’s dear Son preacher, or a temple of God preacher, or any of the other biblical descriptors for the people of God that may be corrupted into a denominational name or employed in a sectarian sense. At the same time, I am a member of Christ’s church, the Lord’s church, the body of Christ, the household of God. I can be such without being a member of any denomination. So can anyone else. Local churches can be churches of Christ without being a denomination. There are many of us who are Christians only without denominational affiliation, members only of what the New Testament most frequently designates simply as “the church.”