Tag Archives: Church of Christ

The Name of the Church — Hugh Fulford

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.”

huford@comcast.net

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Efforts To Unify The Christian Church and Churches of Christ – Melvin Sapp

The church is a spiritual body of baptized believers who unite under the authority of Jesus Christ and his New Testament. This glorious body was in the mind of God the Father from eternity to contain the redeemed through the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:8-11). The church is the house of God that was prophesied by Isaiah 700 years before its establishment upon the earth (Isa. 2:2-3) and was promised by Jesus (Matt. 16:13-19). Jesus built his church as promised and on Pentecost of 33 A.D. the terms of entrance were proclaimed to Jews gathered from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:1-5, 36-38). The gospel was preached to Jews first, then to the Gentiles and everybody were united in one body of Christ (Acts 13:42-48; I Cor. 12:12-14; Eph. 4:3-6; Gal. 3:26-28).

The church has gone through several apostasies and divisions over the centuries. Men in positions of leadership would introduce ideas and proposals that are of human origin and that conflict with the New Testament of Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28-32). One division that occurred in the 1800s was over the Missionary Society, mechanical Instruments of music and men fighting in the Civil War.

The first of these controversies was the Missionary Society. “Cooperation Meetings” were advocated for in the Millenial Harbinger by Alexander Campbell in 1831-32. The intent was to cooperate in supporting local evangelist where financial support was lacking. Walter Scott, Jacob Creath, Jr., Tolbert Fanning and others opposed these meetings as unscriptural and that the New Testament had ordained elders to oversee the work of evangelism, not a separate society. The Missionary Society was never fully accepted by the church but was tolerated as brethren differed on the subject.

The Civil War (1861-1865) pitted the Northern brethren against the Southern brethren as it required taking up arms against one another. The South seceded from the Union when Abraham Lincoln became president over fear of abolishing slavery, taxes and state’s rights. Many popular preachers taught that it was sin to fight in the military and others leaned on patriotism as justification for taking up arms. This farther divided the brethren as many from the North also supported the Missionary Society.

During the same time mechanical instruments of music were introduced at Midway, Kentucky by L.L. Pinkerton using a small melodeon in 1860. The instrument was being defended on the grounds of “expediency” to improve the singing. J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, David Lipscomb and others opposed their use in the worship of the church. Most of the churches that used the instruments were in the North and the combination of these forces brought a division what would later be recognized as two separate bodies, the Christian Church and the Churches of Christ.

In the 1900’s these bodies have grown even farther apart. Most Christian churches still support the various societies, use mechanical instruments of music, and have preachers who serve as “pastors” and wear the title “Reverend.” Women are ordained as preachers and serve in other positions of leadership in various organizations. In the latter part of the 1900’s unity summits were held in various places seeking to unite the Christian Church with the Churches of Christ. Most of these meeting brethren were invited who were willing to compromise on matters of faith for union. They treated matters of faith as if they were matters of opinion. The instrument was accepted as an opinion and those who opposed it were called legalist. Faithful brethren were willing to use the New Testament as our faith and pattern to determine fellowship based on truth (Rom. 10:17; Jno. 8:31-32). In matters of expediency, freedom is allowed as long as it is supported by a generic command. Those who have departed from the doctrine of Christ are encouraged to return for unity sake (II Jno. 9-11).

How has a desire for unity negatively affected the Churches of Christ in the area of evangelism?

Those who sought unity were willing to compromise on the fundamental teachings of the New Testament. Compromise seeks growth by union or by absorption. Union would bring congregations into our number without having to evangelize the “unchurched.” If union was accepted between the Christian Church and the Churches of Christ, compromises will have to be made on societies, instrumental music, women preachers, fellowshipping with denominations and organizations that are set up to do the work of the church. The Churches of Christ would look more like the Christian Church than vice versa. If we can fellowship the Christian Church with all of its innovations and perversions, why can’t we seek unity among denominations that have as many innovations? The Christian Church looks more like many of the mainstream denominations than it looks like mainstream Churches of Christ.

Another effect of the desire for unity with the Christian Church is the failure of many to recognize the saved from the lost. Jesus said that it is not enough to be religious, but one must be right (Mat. 7:21-23). Many who are religious are not doing the Father’s will, but what they want to do. Yet, Jesus will refuse to claim at the judgment those who have twisted, altered, perverted or changed the will of the Father. Paul exhorts us to prove all things before accepting them as doctrine and practice (I Thess. 5:21). The apostle John charges us to test, examine, scrutinize and try everyone who teaches the word of God (I Jno. 4:1). If we fail to see those outside the Lord’s church as lost, there will be no motivation or interest in doing evangelism. If God is going to tolerate the religious errors of the Christian Church, why would he not overlook the errors of the denominations?

We don’t have to be self-righteous or insulting to those who are lost, but we are commissioned to go to them and preach the gospel unto them (Mk. 16:15-16). Paul felt the urgent need to preach the gospel to the Jews who were religious, but ignorant of God’s righteousness (Rom. 10:1-3). He was just as eager to preach the gospel to the Gentiles as well (Rom. 1:14-16). Let us not allow compromise or apathy to hinder us from carrying out the “Great Commission” (Mat. 28:18-20)!

Melvin Sapp is the minister and an elder for the Kingsbury Road Church of Christ in Sumter, SC.  He is also Director of the Central Carolina School of Preaching.