Is the church of Christ part of the Church of Christ denomination?

--- The Question from a Correspondent ---

A brief survey of some of your articles and postings on the web reveals some good stuff and some stuff I would debate, as one would expect. Certainly, on the basics we are more or less in agreement. A few questins come to mind: 1) Is the church of Christ part of the Church of Chrust [sic] denomination?

--- My Answer ---

Let me put it this way - The church which is truly Christ's is not a part of any denomination.

The phrase "Church of Christ" has been around for a long time, and is used in various ways. The scriptures speak of "churches of Christ" (Rom. 1:16), but that is a reference to various congregations, not a reference to the one body, and it was not meant as some kind of unique title identifying some sectarian affiliation. Paul refers to one of those same congregations as the "church of God which is at Corinth." Either description was apt.

But the phrase "church of Christ" has often been used with reference to the one body, which is Christ's church (Eph. 1:22-23), which he promised to build (Mt. 16:18), and which he purchased with his blood (Acts 20:28). In the middle of the 19th century, Henry Alford wrote _Alford's Greek Testament, an Exegetical and Critical Commentary_. In his comments on Ephesians, he gave the following heading to the section on Eph. 1:3-3:21: "First Portion of the Epistle: The Doctrine of the Church of Christ." Alford was an Anglican, but he certainly considered himself a member of the Church of Christ, and his usage of that phrase was not unusual. All I mean to illustrate here is the lack of denominational connotation in the phrase.

However, it has acquired a denominational connotation in more than one instance. There is a denomination known as the United Church of Christ, another known as the International Churches of Christ, and out of the restoration movement (1800's) in this country various groups evolved including one loosely organized denomination which is often called "the Churches of Christ."

My understanding of what the scriptures teach is this: Other than an individual congregation, the only scriptural entity of which the phrase "church of Christ" could properly be used is the body of Christ. I understand that to be all those who are saved by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:23). I understand that to be a cleansed and sanctified body, holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).

I don't believe any denomination, nor any group of denominations, fits that description. I certainly don't believe the body of Christ is made up of all denominations. One does not join an organization and thereby gain membership in the body of Christ. Who all is in the body of Christ? The Lord knoweth them that are his (2 Tim. 2:19).

Now, to your specific question. I assume it is prompted by the fact that the congregation with which I worship is known as the Centreville church of Christ. You may have also noticed references to some other congregations similarly designated. This has become a customary designation and I think there is danger in that very fact. The regularity of the usage of the phrase may lead some, and has in fact led some, to suppose that exclusive use of that designation is in itself a test of loyalty to Christ. The Bible doesn't teach that. It seems to me that supposition is actually an indication of loyalty to a group of congregations and the customs of those congregations rather than to Christ.

I believe a congegation of God's people may properly call itself a church of Christ, but there should be no connotation of sectarian affiliation. Denominational identity is in the mind of the identified, and it is sometimes hard to discern who in his own mind has identified himself with Christ, and who has identified himself with an entity called "the churches of Christ" or the "Church of Christ." I do my best to discourage the latter without assuming that everyone who uses the phrase has a denominational mindset.

Submitted by Jeff Smelser

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