Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” The Lord’s church was “bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). It is described as the “body of Christ” (Ephesians 1:22-23), and the “family of God in heaven and on earth”(Ephesians 3:15).
Early in my Christian walk I thought, was even convinced, that the Lord’s Church (i.e. The Church of Christ) could be identified by physical characteristics. I thought the Church of Christ and Kingdom of God was one and the same. But, when speaking about the Kingdom of God, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20b-21). Wow! Couldn’t see it. Couldn’t really give it a physical address.
When we use the term, “The Lord’s Church,” if we mean, “the Kingdom of God,” it consists of all the saved, both living and dead (Ephesians 3:15). Paul said it like this, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14), those who have died. Paul described the second coming of Christ this way: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
Notice this: Ananias and Sapphira physically joined up with the Church but were not members of the Kingdom of God (Acts 5:1-11). You can see from verse Acts 5:13 that they had joined the Church but their hearts were not with God. Membership in the Kingdom of God, His Church, has to do with the condition of the heart (Romans 10:9-10). The heart will move a person to physical action (Luke 6:45).
A great disservice has been done to Christianity by making external characteristics the model for the Church. The right name, the right organization, the right steps in worship, the right steps in the plan of salvation and the right mission have, in too many cases, created legalists rather than humble followers of Christ. Suggesting you change just one of these physical, external “essentials”and see what it generates!
For instance, take the name: Church of Christ. The term Church of God is used eleven times in Scripture; Churches of Christ is mentioned only one time. Why does it cause such a stir to not have the name Church of Christ on your sign and letterhead?
My friend and mentor, Jimmy Allen, often preached on, “How to make the Church of Christ a denomination.” He was dynamic in his presentations and got a number of amen’s, but little changed. When he served as an elder at the College Church in Searcy, AR he had a slot placed in the sign in front of the building that read, “College Church of Christ,” and every week another designation was slid into that slot, such as: Church of God, New Testament Church, etc. He used a handful of scriptural designations. None of these changed the hearts of those who worshiped there.
Paul said, concerning himself as a Pharisee, “…as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” He went on to write, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11). Paul gave up his legalism for a relationship with Christ.
I now worship with Remmel Church, a Church I preached for in the early 70’s. It is one of the oldest Churches of Christ in Arkansas, dating back to late 1800’s. This is also where John 3:17 Ministry for Women with Addictions is located (www.john317ministry.org). About ten years ago this congregation built a new building closer to the main highways. When the move was made the label, Church of Christ, was dropped. It is now labeled as “The Church at Remmel.” This is very fitting since there is not another group, with any label, that meets within this community. However this has not been done without having critics line up to disparage the change.
Anyone who reads the New Testament with an open mind surely realizes that there were several ethnic groups represented. The big three were Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles. There was a reason Peter went to the Jews and Paul went to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8); they were just different in their customs. The Gentiles did not naturally line up with the Jews in their practices, nor were they expected to. Vice-versa. The one thing they had most in common was Jesus Christ.
So, who is the Lord’s Church? All of the saved; past, present and future. The Kingdom of God also consists of all of the saved; past present and future. When someone talks of the Lord’s Church, but does not include all of the saved, they are making the Church a denomination.
Searcy, AR 72143