Some people seem to think that it is the name on the building that makes a congregation a church of Christ. They would not even consider going to a church that called itself a "Church of God" (I Cor. 1:2) or a "Church of the Saints" (I Cor. 14:33). I have even seen people object to a congregation calling itself "Christ's Church." Of course, thinking people will agree that putting the name "Church of Christ" on a building does not make it so. And they will also tell you that if a name must be put on a building, any Biblical designation is just as pleasing to God as "Church of Christ."
The question arises, however, what if a congregation takes on a non-Biblical name, such as "New Testament Church" or "Fellowship of Christ"? Does it then cease to be a church of Christ? Or in the area of organization, what if a Church of Christ follows the Baptist pattern of having the deacons run the church? I have known of such happening when the elders resigned. Does such a church cease to be a church of Christ when this happens? If so, does it once again become a church of Christ when it again appoints elders? These questions relate to what is sometimes called "the marks of the true church." It is commonly taught that for a congregation to be a church of Christ it must have the right name, worship, organization, teaching, etc. But while all these things are important, they are not what makes a congregation a church of Christ, either individually or collectively.
A case in point is the church at Corinth. Paul referred to that church as a church of God (I Cor. 1:2; II Cor. 1:1). He said the Christians in it were saved (I Cor. 1:18; 15:2). Why was this so?
If it was none of these things that made them a church of God, what was it? What made them a part of the body of Christ, anyway? The answer is found in I Cor. 12:13: "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit." It was because they had all been baptized into Christ and thus shared the same Spirit that they were a church of God. It would be wrong to emphasize baptism at the expense of faith and repentance. Without these baptism is not baptism; it is merely a dipping in water. But we must restore the proper place of baptism in the teaching of what makes a congregation a church of Christ. A congregation is a church of Christ, not because it does or teaches everything exactly right, but because the people in it have been saved by Jesus Christ.
No doubt someone will object that such teaching will allow all sorts of false teaching in Christ's church. It is certainly not the purpose of this article to condone false teaching. But to teach that a church must be doing or teaching everything exactly right in order to be a church of Christ is itself false teaching. It is false teaching that always leads to division. Most of the breaks in fellowship between Churches of Christ and many church splits have happened because of this false doctrine. It is a sort of works salvation doctrine. People think, "I am going to be saved because I belong to a congregation that does or teaches everything just right. The congregation he belongs to does not; therefore he is not going to be saved and is not a Christian brother." But no one is going to be saved because he is right about any or all doctrines regarding the church. All are sinners and the only way anyone will be saved is by the death of Jesus on the cross to take away our sins.
Now it has to be said that a person can be wrong about a teaching and this will lead to his being ensnared in sin and ultimately lost in hell. But the answer to false teaching is healthy teaching, not division. While all the time calling men to repentance, we need to restore the Biblical teaching about what makes a congregation a church of Christ.
This article orginally was published as:
Terry, Bruce. 1982. What Makes a Congregation a Church of Christ.
Firm Foundation 99 (May 18).
Terry, Bruce. 1982. What Makes a Congregation a Church of Christ. Firm Foundation 99 (May 18).