What is the church of Christ?
One of the most thrilling concepts emerging from the Holy Scriptures is the reality that God created man in full knowledge of human sin. The omniscient mind of God had realized for all eternity the sum of human transgression, yet the Sovereign Creator was not deterred by His comprehensive awareness of mankind’s willful and determined acts of disobedience, choosing instead to demonstrate His sovereign power by overcoming evil with love, goodness and righteousness. God is love (I John 4:8). The love of God is dramatically revealed through the eternal scheme of redemption which made possible the reconciliation of an unholy people with the holy and just Creator. The church of Christ is the assembly of the redeemed from the earth’s population, the collective body of the saved who have been reconciled to God in accordance with His eternal purpose.
Although evil gained an advantage over mankind, God had determined from the days of eternity how He would gloriously achieve absolute triumph over evil by accomplishing the reconciliation of the total number of earth’s inhabitants that was sufficient to His purpose in creating man. The coming of Jesus Christ as the propitiation for sin and the establishment of His church are both central themes in the scheme of human redemption. The apostle Paul spoke of the divine intentions of God, saying, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:8-11).
The church is not a mere “after thought” with God, nor is it a hastily devised “Plan B” as asserted by many today within the realm of apostate Christendom; rather, Paul speaks of the church of Christ as an integral component in the successful accomplishment of God’s eternal purpose. The cross satisfied the divine penalty demanded by sin. Peter explained how Christ “bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (I Peter 2:24). The body of Christ is the only refuge where freedom from sin is available; for in Him, the debt of sin has been paid in full. Salvation is wholly dependent upon Jesus Christ, and apart from Him, forgiveness is simply not possible. This is why phrases such as “in Christ,” “in Him,” “in Whom” (referring to Christ) are found more than 169 times in the writings of the apostle Paul alone. No man can be saved who remains outside the body of Jesus Christ.
How one may enter Christ (receiving the free gift of salvation) is clearly set forth in the Scriptures. The Great Commission given to the apostles prior to the ascension of Christ highlights the prerequisite acts of obedience to which each must submit in order to be saved. The apostles were ordered to preach the gospel to the world, teaching the necessity of belief, repentance, and baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-20; Luke 24:46-49). Paul explained the Lord’s plan frequently, insisting that sinners are “baptized into Christ” (Romans 6:3), whereby the sinner actually becomes “clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
The promise of divine inspiration accompanies the orders given to the apostles in each passage detailing the Great Commission, enabling them to carry out the work assigned to them by Christ without error or mistake. As more clearly articulated in the promise of John 14:16-18, Christ would be with the apostles, baptizing them in the Holy Spirit to equip them sufficiently for their appointed work of revealing and confirming the gospel of Christ to the world (cf. Acts 1:1-8). It is impossible to understand the church of the New Testament without proper knowledge of the role the apostles sustain to the church.
The apostles succeeded in preaching the gospel to all nations within forty years of the death of Christ (cf. Colossians 1:5, 6, 23). What many fail to realize is that the apostles continue to succeed in their work of preaching the gospel to all the world today by means of the fully revealed, all-sufficient written word, wholly confirmed by them as the word of God (cf. I Thessalonians 2:13). The same gospel proclaimed by the apostles orally is now contained in the written New Testament, and it remains the only gospel that is able to save man from his sins (cf. II Thessalonians 2:13-15; Galatians 1:6-12).
As Christians of succeeding centuries continue to discharge the duty assigned to the church of holding fast to the apostle’s doctrine and entrusting it “to faithful men, who will teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2; I Timothy 1:13), the apostles of Jesus Christ continue to fulfill their work of preaching the gospel to all nations as ordered in the Great Commission given to them (Acts 10:40-42). This important distinction involving the work of the apostles explains why Christ promised the apostles, “Truly I say unto you, that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).
Although acceptance of Christ is understood as an essential doctrine of Christianity, the church of Christ is often disparaged as quite unessential. One of the greatest lies of Satan is that fallen man can embrace Christ separate and apart from the church of Christ. However, as the serious student reviews the Old Testament, the truth becomes evident that God not only predicted the coming of Christ, He likewise foretold of the establishment of Christ’s kingdom – the church of Christ – beautifully depicting the church as the house of God where sinful men would be admitted as sons through obedience to the will of God (cf. Isaiah 2:1-4). Daniel foretold the establishment of this kingdom while interpreting king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:31-43), revealing that it would be in days of the Roman kings that God would set up a kingdom that would never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44, 45).
The kingdom spoken of by Daniel would have its beginning shortly after the “Son of Man” was witnessed ascending with the clouds of heaven to appear before the “Ancient of Days,” receiving for Himself “dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14). From these Old Testament prophecies it may be determined that the house and kingdom of the Lord would be established in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman kings, and following the ascension of the “Son of Man” into glory.
When John the Baptizer and Jesus came preaching “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17), it was clear that Old Testament prophecies concerning the kingdom were quickly approaching fulfillment. Jesus soon announced that He would “build” His church, and that He would give “the keys of the kingdom” into the hands of the apostle Peter (Matthew 16:18, 19). He further indicated that the kingdom would be established during the lifetime of His earthly contemporaries, specifically stating that some who were standing in His presence that day would not die before they witnessed the kingdom come with power (Mark 9:1).
Immediately preceding His ascension from the mount called Olivet, the apostles were commanded to remain in Jerusalem, waiting for the promise of the Father which would be bestowed upon them, clothing them “with power from on high” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5). The apostles would then embark on their commission of preaching the gospel, first in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Following these instructions, the Son of Man “was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Two angels suddenly appeared announcing that Christ had been taken up into heaven (Acts 1:10, 11).
The year was A.D. 30, during the days of the Roman kings (namely, Tiberius Caesar, Luke 3:1, who reigned A.D. 14 - 37). This was the time foretold by Daniel (2:44). The place was the city of Jerusalem (Acts 1:8, 12) as prophesied by Isaiah (2:3). Peter further identified this period as “the last days” (Acts 2:16, 17) as also mentioned by Isaiah (2:2; cf. Joel 2:28-32). In fulfillment of all that had previously been promised concerning the coming kingdom and house of the Lord, God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, anointing them as witnesses of the resurrection and ambassadors of Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:20). In the midst of the very first gospel sermon, Peter utilized “the keys” given to him by Christ to unlock the door of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19; 18:18). He did this by commanding repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). “So then, those who received his word were baptized; and there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
The church of Christ was now in existence, having been purchased by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28) and built upon the bedrock truth that Jesus was indeed Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16-18; cf. Romans 1:1-4). On the initial day of her existence, the church of Christ consisted of approximately 3,000 members – all of Jewish descent – representing more than a dozen nationalities and provinces (Acts 2:9-11, 41). As both Isaiah (2:3) and Daniel (7:14) had foretold concerning the kingdom and house of the Lord, many people from all nations and languages would enter that they might learn the ways of the Lord and serve Him. From that first day forward, Luke reports that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). The day of Pentecost in Acts 2 marks the beginning of the church of Christ, and following the events of this day in the New Testament, the church/kingdom/house is always spoken of in the present tense, reflecting the reality of its existence (e.g., Acts 14:22; Romans 14:17; Colossians 1:13).
The church of Christ was not intended to consist of only Jewish bloodline citizens, but as the ancient promise to Abram included: “And in you all the families of earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Although the Jews were called first to enter the church, the Gentiles were to be called, also. The household of Cornelius became the first Gentile converts to Christianity. Upon hearing the gospel preached, the entire household of Cornelius was commanded to be baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:34-48). As Paul would later write, Christ had made “the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them in one body to God through the cross” (Ephesians 2:15, 16). Both Jew and Gentile were now granted equal access to “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15).
Paul insisted that the church of Christ is the body of Christ over which Jesus has all authority and rule as head (Ephesians 1:22, 23). He further stated that there is but “one body” (4:4). This being true, it is therefore certain that there is one and only “one church” purchased and built by Christ. When religious division first reared its ugly head in the city of Corinth, Paul asked some very probing questions. “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or where you baptized in the name of Paul?” (I Corinthians 1:13). Paul argued for unity in the church, basing his argument upon the fact that Christ had not been divided, no one else died for it, and every person belonging to the church of Christ had been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
The plea for church unity resounds from Paul’s address to those early Christians who were attempting to divide the church: “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10). Church division (denominationalism) is sinful, and such was not tolerated by the apostles guiding the infant church. Wherever the gospel of Christ was preached and obeyed, the church of Christ was set up in that place. Sectarian division was denounced, and those determined to persist in wayward practices were abandoned as false teachers and apostates (cf. 2 John 9-11; 3 John 9-11).
The gospel of Jesus Christ makes Christians only and the only Christians (Acts 11:26). There is no scriptural authority for a hyphenated Christian (e.g., Baptist-Christian, Methodist-Christian, Lutheran-Christian, etc., etc.). These fellowships have their roots in the teachings of men, not in the gospel of Jesus Christ preached by the apostles inspired by the Holy Spirit. The church of Christ does not subscribe to Creed books, Church manuals, Disciplines, or Catechisms, but to the inspired doctrine of Christ found in the New Testament. There are no synods, councils, conventions, or governing bodies handing down precepts or decrees to be followed, but each congregation of the church of Christ is autonomous and self-governing, adhering solely to the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God – the only authoritative guide for restoring fallen man back to the Creator (I Thessalonians 2:12, 13).
Under the authority of Christ as the Chief Shepherd (I Peter 5:4), a qualified group of men function as the earthly overseers or elders, managing the local church (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Three terms are used interchangeably in the New Testament to identify these men and their role in the church. The Greek term episkopoi is often translated as bishop or overseer. The term presbuteros is rendered elder or presbyter, and the term poimen as shepherd or pastor. The present day “pastor” system seen in the denominations is as much a departure from the New Testament pattern of church organization as is the Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy system. No single individual may assume the role of “the pastor,” whether by title or practice, over a congregation of God’s people. Neither may the church delegate one man to be the sole manager or overseer. As Greek scholar, W. E. Vine, noted: “The divine arrangement seen throughout the NT was for a plurality of these to be appointed in each church” (1996, p.195).
The term “church of Christ” is not a denominational title describing yet another man-made institution (like “Baptist Church” or “Community Church”); rather, the term “church of Christ” is a designation of ownership. The church belongs to Christ, and “He is also head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). Paul spoke collectively of the various congregations as “the churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16), each of which individually is a “church of Christ.” It is unfortunate that many congregations posting signs over the last century have began identifying themselves with the more formal title “Church of Christ.” Though perhaps intended to offer respect, the capitalization of the word “Church” in this phrase immediately makes this a proper name or title, equal then to every other named human institution. It is little wonder why sectarian bodies now view the “Church of Christ” as merely another denomination. It has been a self-inflicted blow that only benefits sectarianism.
The church of the New Testament has no official name, because such is not required. Since there is only one church, a name is not needed. For example, the earth has only one moon. The term “moon” is not a name, but is descriptive of “a natural satellite revolving around a planet” (2004, The American Heritage College Dictionary). The planet Jupiter has 64 moons. The four largest were given names when first discovered in 1610, and at present, all but the latest 14 to be discovered have received names (see “Moons of Jupiter,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). The earth’s solitary moon does not require a name because it is the only natural satellite in orbit. Likewise, the church of Christ does not require a name because it is the only body of the saved on earth.
The New Testament uses several expressions to refer to the church, e.g., “church of God” (I Corinthians 1:2), “church of the living God” (I Timothy 3:15), “the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12), “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13), and by far the most common expression, simply “the church” (Acts 8:1). None of these constitute a proper name, but all are designations descriptive of the church. The term “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16) is simply a plural form of these singular concepts.
In all the phrases that speak of the “church of God” or the “churches of Christ,” the words “of God” and “of Christ” occur in the genitive case in the Greek. “The genitive normally marks the noun as the source or possessor of something” (Heiser, 2005). An example of a genitive noun in a similar statement is the phrase “blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:19). The genitive shows the blood belongs to Christ. The same is true regarding the church. The phrase “church of God” is not a name, but simply a designation of ownership. Christ, as God incarnate, owns the church. There is only one church in existence, and that body (the body of Christ) is comprised of all people who follow the New Testament teaching regarding entrance into the church and continued faithfulness in true worship and devotion to Christ throughout life.
The church of Christ proudly wears the name of Christ – individually as Christians and collectively as the church. Christ prayed for unity among believers (see John 17:20-23). Peter emphasized the importance of the name of Christ, stating, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). He would later write, “If any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:16). God is not glorified by man-made titles that honor human founders and/or doctrinal bias.
The church of Christ must honor the name of their Builder, Owner, Savior, and Head. It is not merely a posted sign that proves a church belongs to Christ, but the careful obedience to the teachings contained in the New Testament concerning the church. When Christ addressed the seven churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 2, 3), five of the seven were reproved for their unfaithfulness – whether doctrinal corruption or simple apathy. Jesus warned all five wayward churches to repent, or else He would remove their candlestick and become their enemy (2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 19). Although the people might persist in assembling together under the guise of being the church, their status as the church of Christ would be terminated absolutely by Christ Himself, effectively severing the saved relationship they once enjoyed in the body of Christ.
What is the church of Christ? It is the great body of the redeemed that are called out of service to the devil and into the service of Jesus Christ. The Greek word is ekklesia, from ek, “out of,” and klesis, “a calling” (see Vine, 1996, p. 42). The word ekklesia refers to “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly” (Thayer, 1958). The church of Christ (in a local sense) is seen visibly in the public assemblies enjoined weekly by each congregation in accordance with apostolic instruction. The church of Christ (in the universal sense) is the gathering of all those called out of sin and assembled into the body of Jesus Christ which constitutes the saved of earth’s population.
Christ exclaimed, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Every person reading this article may become a member of the New Testament church. By carefully studying the New Testament and obeying the plan of salvation as revealed in the preaching of the apostles, God will add you to the church. Afterwards, be diligent to assemble with those who imitate the simple and unpretentious pattern of worship commanded in the Scriptures. We encourage every person to cast off the denominational trappings of perverted, entertainment oriented, self-made worship which is warned against in the Scriptures (see Colossians 2:23), and return to the simplicity of true worship as authorized for the church of Christ.
The eternal scheme of redemption offers salvation to those who belong to Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-29). The Lord promised to build one church. Are you a member of the church of Christ? If not, decide today to submit yourself to the authority of Christ, being baptized into Him, and becoming part of His body, known simply as the church of Christ.
Heiser, Michael S. (2005), Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Logos Bible
“Moons of Jupiter” (no date), Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, [On-line],
Thayer, J. H. (1958), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark).
The American Heritage College Dictionary (2004), fourth edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin
Vine, W. E. (1996), Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers).