Somewhere there is a church, which is not man’s church, but is the church of (belonging to) Christ. Christ said, I will build my church (Matt. 16:18). Christ thought the church important for He purchased it with His own blood, Acts 20:28. Christ is the head of His church, His body; and He is head of, and purchased, only ONE body, ONE church, Eph. 1:22ff., 4:4-6.
Obviously, the church belonging to Christ is not a material building, 1 Pet. 2:4-10. The word church, collective noun, literally means the called-out, and is used in the Bible with reference to called-out people; men and women who obey the call of the gospel, 2 Thess. 2:14, are called out of darkness (error) into His marvelous light (truth). The church of Christ in the New Testament (N.T.) is simply the church belonging to Christ.
The church of Christ was established in A.D. 30, the first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection, when a multitude of people heard gospel proclaimed, believed it, and obeyed the commands repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, Acts 2:22-47. God calls men through His word, John 6:44-45, 63, and people are added to the church today just as they were in N.T. times, when they gladly receive His word and are baptized, Acts 2:41, 47.
Each Christian realized that his salvation was made possible by the blood of Jesus Christ, and hence considered himself a servant (slave) of the Lord, Rom. 6:1-10, belonging to Him. The individual’s activities and obligations, even those resulting from domestic, civic, and social relations, were discharged as to the Lord, 1 Cor. 6:19-20; Co. 3:17-24. The Christian glorified God both as an individual, and through his part in the collective work of the Christian community, Phil. 4:1-11; 1 Cor. 10:31.
The church as a whole likened unto a kingdom, with Christ as King, Col. 1:12-18, and His followers as citizens. The kingdom is within, Luke 12:20-21, and one draws near the kingdom as he comes to understand the truth, Matt. 12:34. Christ reigns in the hearts of individual Christians who receive His word and serve Him, Col. 3:13-17. The church, in this sense, is not a functional unit; i.e., the whole body of citizens participate in no collective action do not function as one. The New Testament provides the external organization for the universal church, no hierarchy, no officialdom; but to the contrary, teaches one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren (Matt. 23:8; Matt. 20:25-28). Faithful Christians will not go beyond this.
The organizational structure of the church of Christ is limited to that which pertains to a single congregation. As there are functions of the church which require collective action, we find Christians in N.T. times working together in units which we may call local churches, or congregations, 1 Cor. 1:2; Phil. 1:1). The saints of a given locality accepted overseers, Acts 20:17-28, appointed from among their number, who directed the activities and served as shepherds of the local company, 1 Pet. 5:1-3. These shepherds were not Lords over God’s heritage, but ruled by example their own flock. Each local church was an independent functional unit, having her own elders, Acts 14:23, and making her own decisions, 1 Cir, 16:3. The organizational structure and polity of the local church is the sole means authorized in the N.T. for the collective action of Christians in things peculiar to the Christian calling. This identifying characteristic remains today in the church belonging to Christ.
The primary purpose of the church is to make known divine truth, Eph. 3:9-11; 1 Tim. 3:13. To this end the members of the early church sounded forth the word of the Lord, 1 Thess. 1:1-8, supported evangelists both in bringing souls to Christ and in strengthening and edifying saints, Phil. 4:13-16; 1 Cor. 9:6-16. The church also supplied emergency relief for her needy saints, Acts 4:34ff., and gave permanent support to her widows indeed, 1 Tim. 53-16. Hence, the work of the church could be briefly catalogued as self-edification, the spread of the gospel of Christ, and authorized benevolence. There is nothing in the New Testament to justify the modern social center conception of the church.
Although each local church was intended to be a self-sufficient unit, the congregation that was unable to supply its own basic needs did not lack for concern and assistance from more able Christian communities, 1 Cor. 9:1ff. By concurrent independent action the churches with abundance supported preachers in new or weak fields, and supplied the needs of destitute congregations, Rom. 13:25-27. Contributions were sent as charitable gifts or wages, as the case might be, to the person or church in need, and there is no indication of a pooling of resources so that a plurality of churches might engage in collective action.
Paul was the recipient of wages from many churches, 1 Cor. 11:8, and not the treasurer of a church combine. When many churches supplied the want of the poor saints in Jerusalem, 2 Cor. 8:19-24, Paul called this alms, Acts 24:17, not ante, (one’s proportionate part in a pool). The messengers of the churches, 1 Cor. 16:3, were means of conveyance only; servants and not overseers of this benevolent action; and were chosen by each church independently. Compare Acts 11:27-29. Thus the early church accomplished her purpose, taking the gospel to the then-known world, Col. 1:6, 23, and fulfilling her benevolent responsibilities. Faithful Christians today have full confidence in the all-sufficiency of God’s plan.
The early church of Christ exhibited a profound simplicity in organization, work, and worship. This is, perhaps, the most striking difference in the N.T. church and the religious organizations of today, 1 Cor. 11:3. Man’s efforts to impress and accomplish by centralization and organization have been apparent from very early times, Gen. 11:1-9. Astute students of human behavior assign this as the result of an ingrained feeling of insecurity. The KEY to the difference in popular religions and the church of Christ is FAITH. True Christians, knowing it is not in man to direct his own steps, Jer. 10:23, put their trust in Christ. They walk by faith, not by sight, 2 Cor. 5:7. Their weapons are not carnal, 2 Cor. 20:3-6. They know that GOD IS A MAJORITY, John 12:48. There is no better way than God’s way, Rev. 22:13.
The N.T. church had no creed of her own making no human standards, no sectarian confessions of faith. Unity was achieved through the acceptance of a single standard of authority, the divine will as expressed in Jesus Christ, Col. 2:6-10. Inspired men delivered and confirmed the will of Christ, Heb. 2:3-4. and put this will in written form, Eph. 3:1-5, that we may, after their decease, have these things always in remembrance (2 Pet. 1:14ff; 3:1ff). The church that belongs to Christ must be content to speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent, 1 Pet. 4:11.
It is rank presumption to attach the name of Christ to that which is not His, not in keeping with His will, Acts 19:13-16. It is wrong to call the Lord’s church by a human name, 1 Cor. 3:1-7. Christ was crucified for us; true Christians were baptized in Christ’s name, 1 Cor. 1:10-13. What could be more obviously right than that the church which belongs to Christ should wear His name, Rom. 16:16. Indeed, there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
The seed of the kingdom is the word of God, Luke 8:11. We have been promised that this seed endureth forever, 1 Pet. 1:23-25. This seed, received in honest hearts and obeyed, will produce N.T. Christians, and the church belonging to Christ, TODAY, just as it did in the days of the apostles.
We urge you to investigate the church of Christ in your community. The true church will have the characteristics described in this article, but it will not depend upon this or any other man-made article for its means of identification. You will be invited to ask for scriptural authority for all things said and done. N.T. Christians are ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh (1 Pet. 3:15). Will you search the scriptures daily, whether these things are so ? (Acts 17:11).