IS THE CHURCH ONLY A PART OF THE WHOLE?

Raymond Elliott

The American Heritage Dictionary of The English Language defines the word “denominate” to mean, “To give a name to: designate.” And according to the same source, one definition of the word “denomination” is “A class of units having specified values, as in a system of currency or weights.” I want to notice first of all the problem of endeavoring to be just the church of our Lord without becoming a denomination. Bible students are acutely aware that Jesus Christ promised in Matthew 16:18 to build (establish, found, begin) His church (ecclesia, the called out assembly). This He did as recorded in Acts 2. From Acts 2:47 the church of Jesus Christ is always spoken of as being in existence. It was Jesus who died on Calvary in order to purchase the church with His precious blood (Acts 20:28: Ephesus 5:25). Jesus is its builder Matthew 16:18), its foundation (I Corinthians 3:11), its head and its Savior (Ephesians 5:23). The church was often referred to in the book of Acts as simply the “church” (Acts 5:11; 8:1). Some of the other scriptural terms are “church of God” (KJV, Acts 20:28), “church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:23), “church of the living God” (I Timothy 3:15) and of course “the churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16). Because there is a diversity of terms used in the New Testament regarding the church, it is safe to conclude that one term should not be used to the exclusion of others. To insure that we do not “denominate”, that is,” To give a name to: designate” the church of our Lord, we should refrain from using such language as “Church of Christ School”, “Church of Christ Preacher”, “Church of Christ Camp”, “Church of Christ Ball Team”, “Church of Christ people” or even “Church of Christ Church”. However, it is sad to note that some brethren do consider the church as being just a denomination, that is, only a part of the whole body of Christ. In other words, the church is a denomination and it is no better or worse than any other religious organizations that manifests faith in God and in Jesus Christ that comprise the entire body (church) of Christ. One brother writes:

“As I continue writing, mostly because I’m enjoying this moment in English, I wonder: Why do people keep writing “churches of Christ” instead of “Churches of Christ”? I hope it’s not the old illusion of innocence (to borrow from Leonard and Richard’s incredible book) that we’re the true church. I.e., since we’re the real church (code language: the LORD’S church), we are Christ’s church, or (lowercase) churches of Christ.

I prefer “Churches of Christ.” This admits that while we love much about our heritage and the nondenominational dream, we are a group, a denomination. We have our own colleges, our own camps, our own papers, our own quirks, our own family stories, and our own language. We’re just a small part of the body of Christ,” (Mike Cope’s Blog, 6/16/05).

I want to make a few observations concerning several mistaken and unscriptural statements this brother has made in the two preceding paragraphs:
1. Knowledgeable Bible students know that the original language (Koine Greek) of the New Testament did not have a mixture of small/capital letters. They were all the same size. The oldest manuscripts were written between the 4th and 9th centuries and were called “Uncials”. They are considered to be the most important witnesses to the original text of the New Testament. They were written entirely in capital letters. The oldest of these is thought to be the Codex Vaticanus. Later manuscripts that appeared between the 10th and 15 centuries were called “Cursives”, that is, they were written in small running letters linked together. But the old manuscripts did not have a mixture of capital and small letters.
2. That the expression in Romans 16:16, “churches of Christ” is not the official name of the church, rather it is a term denoting ownership. That is, the church belongs to its builder and head Jesus Christ. In Young’s Literal Translation it is “The assemblies of Christ”. Should we capitalize “assemblies”? According to this brother’s understanding, we should. Darby translates Romans 16:16 in this manner, “all the assemblies of Christ”. The Contemporary English Version has “Christ’s churches”. And McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel has “All of Christ’s congregations greet you.” It is worthy to note that all the translations of the Bible that I have personally checked use the small letter ‘c’ in the expression “churches of Christ” as is found in Romans 16:16. So it seems that all these scholarly persons understood the expression “churches of Christ” to mean congregations (assemblies) of Christ and not to be understood as the official name of the church. Thus we have every right to use a small ‘c’ when using the expression “churches of Christ”.
3. It must be admitted that some of the congregations of Christ have become a denomination and it is understandable that these brethren now wear the official name “Church of Christ”. These brethren believe that the church began during the Restoration Movement here in America in the early part of the 19th century. The word ‘denomination’ carries the meaning of being a part of the whole. It is liken to our currency when we speak of how we might want a hundred dollar bill divided into various denominations, that is, we would desire four twenty dollar bills and two ten dollar bills. Our brother believes “We’re just a small part of the body of Christ.” There are literally thousands of denominations in the world and all of these religious entities comprise the body of Christ, of which the “Church of Christ” is “a small part” according to our brother’s understanding. It is necessarily inferred in this brother’s belief that it doesn’t matter what the various religious bodies teach on how a sinner should be saved. One way of salvation is as good as another. One can be saved by “faith only” or by saying the “sinner’s prayer”. A person would be accepted by the Lord by being sprinkled as a child or being immersed into water because one’s sins have already been forgiven. In this brother thinking, the diversity of doctrines propagated by the various denominations is not to be considered as a barrier to unity among the different segments of “the body of Christ”.

During the approximately fifty years that I have been preaching, I have never taught a person that he/she should become a member of any denomination. I have never baptized a person with the understanding that he/she would then become a member of any denomination, “a small part of the body of Christ”. Just like the apostles taught on the Day of Pentecost, I have instructed believers in Christ to repent and be baptized in the name Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:36-38). I have further instructed these baptized believers that the Lord who saved them also added them to His church (Acts 2:41, 47). These new disciples of Christ were taught they should come together with others who have been born again of “water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) to worship and work as children of God (Acts 2:42). If people in the first century who believed in Jesus Christ and who obeyed the commands to repent and be baptized were saved from their sins by the blood of Jesus and who were added to the Lord’s church, can we not do the same today? If not, why not? The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:22, 23 that the church is the body of Christ. In Colossians 1:18 Paul stated that the body of Christ is the church. He declared in Ephesians 4:4 that there is “one body”. According to Paul in I Corinthians 12:13 we are “baptized into one body” (church). It is sad indeed that many of our scholarly? /liberal brethren are making light of Christians who refer to the church being “Christ’s church” and/or “The Lord’s church”. Our brother has the right to refer to himself as a denominational preacher and the church where he preaches as a denomination but he should not pass judgment on the rest of the congregations of Christ of being a denomination, that is, “a small part of the body of Christ”.