What Makes a Church a Church of Christ?

The church hasn’t ever been perfect nor will it ever be aside from Jesus fully making all things new and reconciling all things to himself. The church is going to have problems. That is a given. We idealize the early church but as you turn through the pages of scripture they had major issues. Here are a few that come to mind,

Church in Ephesus had “forsaken their first love” (Rev 2:4)
Church in Pergamum was following the false teachings of Balaam, engaging in sexual immorality and were also accepting the false teaching of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:14-15)
Church in Thyatira believed false teaching so that the people and were engaging in sexual immorality (Rev 2:20).
Church in Sardis in Revelation 3 isn’t even alive…they are dead and need to wake up! (Rev 3:1-2)
Church in Laodicea was lukewarm and was about to be spit out of God’s mouth if they didn’t change. (Rev 3:15-16)
Church in Galatia issues with Jewish Christian Judaizers.
Church in Corinth had sexual immorality in its midst and people are happy about it! They also made a mockery out of the Lord’s Supper in a way worthy of judgment. (1 Cor 11) Church in Colossae had false teachers
Church in Thessalonica had wrong views on the second coming and what happens after we die and that was affecting their faith.
Church in Rome was dividing between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

What is interesting is that in spite of all of that all 7 of the churches in Revelation still have their lampstand which stands in the presence of Christ and the all of these churches are still seen by Paul, in his letters, as belonging to Christ with great need for repentance or adjustment.

First Corinthians starts off with, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” Second Corinthians starts off with “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What makes a Church a Church of Christ…or Christ’s church? Is it doctrinal perfection? Is it complete moral purity? Is that what “gets you in”? If that is the standard we are all doomed and so were all the churches we read about in Scripture. If that is the case then Paul and Jesus got it wrong to still consider any of these people still part of the people of God and still “churches”. But I hear that all the time. The real church of Christ has to do every single thing in lockstep with this one specific interpretation on every single issue or else you aren’t the Lord’s church. Tell me where that is found in the Bible, since that is the plea…that the Bible is the rule for the practice and teachings of the church. I have seen churches split over far less than anything on this list. I have seen churches split over matters of silence (figure that one out). I have seen churches disfellowship other churches (which doesn’t even happen in the NT) over far less and again, even over matters of silence. It is all very foolish and sad.

What makes a church a Church of Christ…Christ’s church? It is that Jesus, through his steadfast love, unfailing grace and unending patience adds us and keeps us there, in spite of our imperfections, imperfect beliefs and even sins. We strive to please God. We strive to repent where we need to repent and be convicted where we need to be…to be led by God as the body of Christ.

Let me say this very clearly – None of this is an excuse for moral laxness, laziness or ignorance. In all of these instances there is a call back to Christ, to repentance and to purity. But it does remind us that if we are serious about letting the Bible draw the lines, set the standard and call the shots then we need to be as gracious as what we find in scripture and stop saying people aren’t Christians or churches aren’t really churches over matters as serious as anything on this list or as trivial as the crazy things people divide and disfellowship over until they get it all perfect. Instead, if we really believe something is amiss we need to loving walk alongside people and help them through it, as Paul and Jesus did rather than making assumptions, throwing potshots at them or hurling social media hand grenades at people. Is this game we play of the world or of the Spirit? Far too often it is the first.

18 Responses to What Makes a Church a Church of Christ?

  1. As usual, Matt, you’ve hit the nail directly on its head! Let’s all quit judging others over things of far less consequence than these and learn to love one another in the same way the Father loves the Son (John 15:9, cf 13:34).

  2. Roy says:

    Thank you for such a wise, truthful post! I am grateful for your writings, and glad I have followed your blog.

    Scripture calls the church the bride of Christ, and tells us we are different members of the same body. So I think along those lines. My wife is lovely, but when she lets me down, is she not still my wife? When my knee aches, walking is hard, but is it no longer my knee? Of course not. My knee is part of my body, even if I need to ice it down. My wife is still my bride, even if I need to have a talk with her (or more often, being a prideful fool, have a talk with myself).

    We ought to strive against moral laxness, laziness, and ignorance- as you have well said, this is no excuse- but it is God who mercifully calls us, who graciously saves us, and who patiently keeps us as his own, and not because of our works: otherwise grace is no more grace.

  3. jeff says:

    This is all good and true as long as we remember that we are to strive to be that perfect servant of God. We need to be humble enough to know we are gonna fall short, but don’t allow that to be an excuse to not try. We can’t be willing to accept and condone false doctrine in the name of trying to “love” everybody to obedience. We are told to teach, rebuke, and exhort. Paul was judging when he told the first century churches of their error. He was showing them love by trying to bring them to repentance.

    • Mark says:

      Striving to be the perfect servant of God can be exhausting at best and miserable at worst. Perfectionism is as much an much an illness as OCD. What not just try to do right, confess what you got wrong and move on?

  4. jeff says:

    I meant to say that Paul was NOT judging.

  5. garycummings says:

    It all depends what you mean by a “Church of Christ” ?

  6. Matt Dabbs says:

    Exactly. I wanted to make sure people heard me say that in the post when I wrote, “let me say this very clearly…”

  7. hank says:

    Good article, bro. But how about the churches the are guilty of wrong views, false teachers and sin, who need to repent but don’t? Are they spit out? If so, at what point? And are they still Christ’s churches? All are churches, Christ’s churches? If not, are we ever able to tell?

    I sure don’t have the clear answers on all of those questions. I just think they are fair to ask when discussing the topic you have addressed. Of course, the Lord doesn’t immediately spit out believers for each and every false way (or belief), but surely he does at some point. That seems clear enough.

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      I am going to do a followup post on that because that is a very valid question. God certainly has limits. If someone is in blatant, unrepentant sin that is a huge issue that God will deal with. Paul says not to associate with people in that condition. How many people would we have to stop associating if we really knew? Would that apply to churches? If they have been approached about something that is biblically sinful and just don’t care, they should be avoided as well. The problem we have is where some have drawn the lines have ZERO biblical precedent for doing so.

      One problem I have is that people take potshots at people, churches, etc from social media, blogs, etc without ever first going and talking with them to see what is actually going on.

      Another problem is that there are issues that some have called sin that aren’t clear cut at all in scripture and a whole bunch of theological gymnastics have to be used to speak where the Bible is completely silent and then use that conclusion to call others out for being in sin. That is an issue too.

    • Mark says:

      How do you know who repented and who didn’t? Wrong views on what issue? Who has the right views? Would we not all become robots if we had the same views? God did not create robots but humans with brains and gave them freedom of choice in everything.

      • hank says:

        God certainly gave humans brain and “freedom of choice”. The problem is, freedom of choice often results in sin – sinful beliefs, sinful attitudes, sinful practices. As Matt mentioned, many churches and Christians were commanded to repent and control their beliefs, attitudes and actions so as to make sure that they are in accordance with truth and live. Too often, they don’t. As Matt also mentioned, when churches have maintain sinfullbattides, beliefs and/or actions and refuse to repent, the Lord will reject them. Of course we don’t always know who and when God rejects. So, it’s good to not go around rejecting everyone (or church) who disagrees with us, but it would be equally wrong to go around blindly assuming that everyone is cool with God no whatter what they believe, think or do.

        And while God does not necessarily demand for his churches to be Robots, he certainly desires for them to be united in word and deed. He wants us all to speak and teach the same things.

        Its easy to say that differing beliefs and actions are okay and should be embraced (tolerated and “fellowshipped”). Its harder to say which ones should be repented of forsakes. But certainly, some should.

        Those are just my thoughts.

        • Mark says:

          Christianity is actually a pretty simple religion. Jesus was the promised messiah whom God raised from the dead after crucifixion. The examples of what Jesus did for people come with one command “go and do likewise”. Besides loving God and your neighbor as yourself, the rest of The Bible is background material.

  8. hank says:

    Basically, we might ask: “what makes a church NOT a church of Christ”?

  9. hank says:

    FYI, when I submitted my last comment, I hadn’t seen yours. I look forward to everything you write. Thanks, Matt

  10. […] Paul treated the churches…he didn’t give them all the boot the moment they messed up (see the last post) and neither should […]

  11. […] of Christ, division & fellowship: * What Makes a Church a Church of Christ?; * Top 10 Ways Churches of Christ in America Can Survive and Thrive in the “4th Great […]

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