To understand Christ’s church is to understand the mercy, grace, love, and riches extended to us by our mighty God. Yet, there are many within and without the body who berate Christ’s beautiful bride. Their abuse and criticism of Christ’s body will not prevail against the eternal kingdom of God. Rather, such abuse highlights a need to understand what the church of Christ is not.
Those who label or treat Christ’s church as something it is not are making an eternally significant mistake too crucial to overlook. With that said, we will now examine what the church of Christ is not.
Some refer to the church of Christ as the “non-denominational denomination.” Such rhetoric is representative of a misunderstanding of God’s Word. Oxford defines “Denomination” as “a name or designation, especially one serving to classify a set of things” (Soanes). Interestingly, the etymology of “denomination” traces back to the Latin denominationem meaning “a calling by anything other than the proper name” (Harper).
To label the church of Christ as a denomination is to say that it is not the original church. Also, that it is a group (among many equally valid groups) of Christianity. But Christ established the church of Christ (Matt 16:18-19; Acts 20:28), while men established all denominations.
There is no mention of denominations in the Bible. Instead, the Biblical church contains one body, faith, doctrine, and teaching (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 10:17, 12:12-13; Eph 4:4-6; Col 3:15). Consider what church the individuals who first gladly received the word and were baptized (Acts 2:41) were added to: “… And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47 NKJV).
Those who were saved after the first gospel sermon were not added to the Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, or Seventh Day Adventist Church. They were added to “the church,” the Way, the church of God, the church of Christ, the Household of God, the church of the living God, the assembly of the firstborn (Acts 20:28, 24:14 Rom 16:16; 1 Tim 3:15; Heb 12:23).
Some, unfortunately, believe that the church of Christ is a cult. But, there are many agreed upon traits of a cult, and the church of Christ does not fit the criteria. Such traits include a human leader who claims to be divine and requires unquestioned obedience, the punishment of those who question or doubt doctrine, the gross misinterpretation of Scripture, and a leadership which dictates how its congregants should feel and act. These traits are unbiblical and foreign to a sound congregation of Christ’s church.
The Bible emphasizes faith based on a free-will acceptance of the facts at hand (Josh 24:14-21; Prov 1:29; Rom 10:17), and Scriptural elders are charged to be “not domineering over those in [their] charge, but [be] examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:3). Likewise, the church of Christ has no human leader(s) seeking complete control. The founder and sustainer of the church is Jesus (Acts 4:11; 1 Cor 3:10-11; Eph 2:20).
It is common rhetoric that the church of Christ is a cult because it teaches its exclusivity as God’s church and the necessity of baptism. But such statements echo plain Bible teachings and principles (Mark 16:16; John 3:3-5; Acts 2:37-38, 41, 47, 22:16; Rom 6:1-7; Gal 3:26-29; Eph 1:22-23, 4:4-6, Col 2:11-15, 1 Pet 3:21-22).
A Social Club
It can be easy to drag the world into the church and to view the church through worldly lenses. Christians need to shun the world and place the spiritual above the physical (Luke 9:24-25; Jas 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17). We ought not to view God’s called-out people as a social club that has great potlucks and conversation. If we are members of the church of Christ for the punch and cookies after services, we are out of touch with the purpose of Christ’s body. The church is man’s only hope to “have access in one Spirit to the Father” and be “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:18-19).
God’s people should view the bride of Christ with the reverence and awe she deserves, not as a glorified clique. Let us view the church for what it is—the Christ-purchased institution in which God lavishes His abundant grace upon us (Eph 1:7-10).
A Political Party
Christians must hold fast to the fact that their ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). Christ’s bride is not Republican or Democrat, she transcends the politics of this world. Jesus reported to Pilate with emphasis that, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). This is not to say that Christians cannot engage in politics. But we ought not to use Christ’s church as a political platform. There is not a political party in existence which is established by God, so let’s not try to turn God’s church into a political party.
We often seek to conform Jesus and His church to our preconceived notions and ideologies (political and otherwise). Instead, we ought to conform our ideologies to Christ and His church (Rom 12:2). If God wanted a political party, He would have sent His Son to establish one. But God sent His Son to establish a kingdom not of this world. Let’s not turn God’s plan into something God never intended it to be.
Overall, an understanding of what the church of Christ is and is not is crucial to an understanding of God’s plan for the salvation of man. Within the church of Christ, we find God’s love, care, and grace towards mankind. Let us then endeavor to cling to the Bible when discussing the church it describes—to not let preconceptions get in the way of Scripture.
Despite what men may say, the church of Christ gives us a reason to rejoice. For within the church of Christ we know, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).