Reportedly, Vince Lombardi,
legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, started each spring
training with men who had been playing the sport for years by
holding up the ball and saying, “Men, this is a football.”
Lombardi understood that growth and success are processes that
begin with the basics. Spiritual growth and spiritual success are
no different. Regrettably, too many Christians get a few years of
Bible study under their belt and get tired of hearing the basics.
However, ignoring the basics is a sure way of forgetting the
basics. Not surprisingly, when Christians, members of Christ’s
church, neglect the basics about Christ’s church they forget
what it is, they misrepresent it and they do not speak about it
correctly. Therefore, on occasion we need to remind ourselves the
basics about Christ’s church. I imagine we all know what a
football is, right now we ask, “What is the church of Christ?”
meaning and grammatical use of the phrase.
knowledge the phrase, “church of Christ” (actually a variation
of it), is only used once in the Bible. In Romans
16:16, Paul says, “The churches of Christ greet you.”
speaking, “churches of Christ” is a noun phrase. In Romans
16:16 it is used as the subject of the sentence. The
phrase is made up of two distinct parts.
is a noun in this phrase. The word “church” translates the
Greek “ekklesia”, literally meaning “the called out.” It
is used in the Bible to refer to assemblies, whether of Christians
or otherwise. In fact, in Acts
19:32, 39, 41, Luke used this phrase to describe the
Ephesian riot against the Christians. The term basically refers to
a grouping of people.
Christ” is a prepositional phrase acting as an adjective in this
case. It modifies the noun “church”. That is, it tells us
which grouping of people. “Of” is a preposition of source or
ownership used as an alternative to the possessive
“Christ’s”. In other words, the meaning of this phrase could
be accurately represented by another phrase, “Christ’s
Thus, in Romans
16:16, this phrase describes groups of people who belong
to Christ. If we took the singular, “church of Christ” it
would speak of a group of people belonging to Christ.
To what can
this phrase refer?
16:16 is the only place we see this phrase used in the
Bible, we can cross reference other phrases that refer to the same
groups of people and used interchangeably with this. Doing so
demonstrates that this phrase can be biblically used in two
shallow study of the Bible demonstrates the phrase “church of
Christ” refers to a universal grouping of people who belong to
Christ. In Matthew
16:18, Jesus promised to build His church. In Ephesians
we learn about this one body (Ephesians
4:4) over which Christ is the head (Ephesians
2:19-22; 4:11-16 demonstrates that this one church is the
group of people who have become Christ’s and are growing in the
Lord, fulfilling various roles in that group. In Acts
2:47, we find that one is automatically added to this
group when one is saved. Thus, the term “church of Christ”,
used in a universal sense, refers to all the saved, everywhere and
of all time.
“church of Christ” is also used in a more restricted sense
referring to a group of people in a given geographic location who
assemble together for the express purpose of serving God and doing
his work as a corporate body. Romans
16:16 is used in this way. Consider that there is only one
universal church. How then can Paul speak of the “churches of
Christ”? He is speaking of local groups of people who belong to
Christ. Paul addresses both Corinthian letters to the church of
God (an interchangeable phrase for “church of Christ”) at
Corinthians 1:2; II Corinthians 1:1). It was a particular
group of people in a local area who had banded together to serve
1:2 speaks of the multiple churches in Galatia. Revelation is written to seven churches in Asia (Revelation
“church of Christ” can only be used biblically in these ways.
As such, we should note three ways in which this phrase is never
never refer to a building. No building is the church of Christ.
Yes, I recognize by metonymy we can grammatically refer to this
edifice as “a church.” But we must always be clear that
Christ’s church is not a building; it is a group of people.
are never used to refer to a denomination. According to Donald
Dictionary of Theology, “Denominations are
associations of congregations … that have a common heritage.
Moreover, a true denomination does not claim to be the only
legitimate expression of the church.” A denomination is an
organized group of churches. It is a supposed midsized
organization, smaller than the universal body but larger than a
local church. The Bible, however, never speaks of such an
organization. Secondly, we need to remember that the church, even
in the universal sense, is a grouping of people who belong to
Christ. It is never a group of churches.
never refer to an individual. Some have mistakenly thought that
because the church is the people and not the building, a person is
the church. Church is a collective noun, always referring to a
group. The Bible demonstrates the distinction between the church
and the individual in I
Timothy 5:16. Paul commanded that individual Christians
take action so the collective church not be burdened. However, if
the individual is the church, then the church is automatically
burdened when the individual takes action.
all this say about the present day uses of the phrase “church of
It is not
uncommon to hear some of the following from Christians and
Christ radio program.
terminology mirrors the language of denominationalism.
all of these phrases, would you say that this is a “Church of
Christ church”? I hope not. Remember, “church of Christ” is
a noun, not an adjective. It is the object, not the describing
term. Instead of the above, we should use the grammar correctly to
I am of
Christ or I am Christ’s (I
preacher or preacher of Christ (some prefer gospel preacher).
doctrine or doctrine of Christ.
magazines nor radio programs belong to Christ in the sense that a
Christian or the church does. What we really mean is these are
magazines or radio programs produced by Christians or by a local
congregation which belongs to Christ. Why not say that?
uses of the phrase “church of Christ” are often mere
grammatical gaffes. I do not believe we will be condemned for
using incorrect grammar. On the other hand, we must take care with
this kind of speech because it is an accommodation for
denominational falsehood. Christians use these phrases because
modern religious society does not grasp the concept of mere
Christianity, expecting us to be a particular kind of Christian.
Did the new disciple on Pentecost have to describe themselves as
particular kinds of Christians? On the day of Pentecost, one was
either a part of Christ’s church or not. Despite denominational
confusion, that is still the case. One is either a Christian or
not. Christianity does not come in flavors. When we use the phrase
“church of Christ” incorrectly we accommodate error and
perpetuate misunderstanding. Someone will say, “But Edwin,
people don’t understand when I say I am just a Christian.” If
that is true, do not perpetuate their misunderstanding, lovingly
As we conclude, you must ask yourself, “Am I of
3:26-29 explains how to be of Christ. Based on your faith,
be baptized for the remission of your sins into Christ. Why not do
that today and become a part of the group of people who are of
Christ, the church of Christ?
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ