What do we mean when we say, “church of Christ”?

When Jesus was in the region of Caesarea Philippi, he declared to his followers that he would build his church (Mat. 16:18). Although he used architectural language—and was a carpenter by trade—he didn’t intend to begin work on a physical structure. Rather, he used the term “church” in the meaning of the Greek: a called-out group of people.

Imagine, if you will, waiting at the airport for the airline to call your group (group A, B, or C), upon hearing the call you respond and come out of the mass of people. The church is God’s “group” that has been called out of the world by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14). The identity of this group is based on the person and identity of Jesus Christ. This is the “rock” which Peter confessed in the context of Matthew 16: the unshakable foundation of Jesus as Lord. Thus, we see the church referred to as the church of Christ (Rom. 16:16) and the church of God (Acts 20:28) along with a few other titles which are possessive in nature and always in reference to God.

The church is God’s “group” that has been called out of the world by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14). The identity of this group is based on the person and identity of Jesus Christ.

Yet, in today’s religious climate you hear the term “church of Christ” used in a way that is foreign to the Bible. Generally speaking, when most use this term they refer to the universal body of Christians made up by a conglomerate of different denominations. These different groups all have different titles, with different creeds, and different practices which divide them within their prospective communities. Is this what God intended?

When we open our Bibles, rather than a confusing diversity of different groups, you see a single body of Christians known as the church (Eph. 4:4; 5:23). This individual body preaches the same message and have the same practices (1 Cor. 1:10; 1 Cor. 14:33). They are unified in their mission and their worship (Rom. 15:6). They practiced a single faith and knew of only one way to be saved (Eph. 4:5). The division that is caused by sin is reconciled within the body of Christ as he makes one man from the two (Eph. 2:15). This is what the Bible—and what we mean—when we say we are the “church of Christ”: we are simply Christians, added to the body of Jesus through obedience to the gospel (Acts 2:38-47).

This plea—often referred to as the Restoration Movement—isn’t an ecumenical one; we are not pursuing “unity through diversity.” Rather, we are seeking unity through “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Some, under the guise of such, have caused division and heartache; others have abandoned the practice all together out of disillusionment. Regardless, a lack of popularity and prestige doesn’t negate its truthfulness; past abuses don’t excuse present obligations. God expects from his people today the same thing he always has: trust and obedience. Let us then, clearly and faithfully proclaim the message of New Testament Christianity: to simply be the church of Christ.

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