The multitude of religious organizations now prevalent in every American city causes confusion over the actual nature of the true church established by Jesus Christ. Once, the name "church of Christ" was immediately associated with a firm, Biblically grounded, doctrine. Today, however, a new generation has arisen in our country not familiar with the churches of Christ. Perhaps we can offer a picture to these new seekers of truth of what the church of Christ is.
The church of Christ is the body of Christ. At first glance it may seem strange that the church is compared to the body of our Lord. Paul himself used the description in both Ephesians 5:23 and Colossians 1:18. But what does it mean?
We would observe that as the human spirit animates the human body so does Jesus Christ animate the church. The church may properly be called the body of Christ because it is the church that carries out the physical work of Christ upon the earth. Through evangelism, the church carries the gospel to the lost just as Jesus did when he sent forth his disciples with the great commission (Matthew 28:18, 19; Mark 16:15, 16). Through encouragement and edification, the church lifts the fallen and builds up the struggling as Jesus did when he spoke words of comfort to his apostles hours before his crucifixion (John 14:1-21). And through works of benevolence, the church aids those who have fallen upon hard times just as Jesus did when he spoke of the poor (Matthew 19:20, 21; Luke 14:12-14). The true church acts as its head, Jesus (Ephesians 5:23), would have it to act just as the body obeys the commands of the mind.
If we are allowed to carry the analogy a bit further we could observe that the church that acts contrary to examples and commands of its head is diseased, much like the fleshly body that becomes uncontrolled by its own brain. The church of Christ is the perfectly functioning, properly controlled body of its head, Christ Jesus.
The church of Christ is a global community of like-minded believers. Man needs to belong to groups and communities. In Eden, the Creator saw that "it is not good that the man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18). God established the family and later would ordain government so that man could live together in larger units. In each case, family and government, man would enjoy relationships based upon common characteristics or interests. Within the church, individual members are linked by a "like precious faith" (2 Peter 1:1) which forms the heart of their beliefs and their way of lives. What joy and comfort to travel far and wide always knowing that one can find fellow brethren wherever one may go. In time of disaster, brethren, otherwise unknown to one another, rapidly come together to meet the needs of other members of the Lord's church.
The church of Christ is a family. God is often spoken of as "Father" (Matthew 5:45, 48; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2). Jesus is the "only begotten Son" (John 3:16) and we, the members of the church, are children by adoption (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). Therefore, we are a family. As such, we acknowledge the primacy of God the Father and his son Jesus Christ while also recognizing members of the church as our brethren. As brethren, we "rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15).
As with any family, there is an expectation of an inheritance. Paul describes our inheritance in two ways. He says we must first "suffer with him" so that we can be "glorified together" (Romans 8:17). What a magnificent thought to be joint-heir with our Lord Jesus Christ!
The church is the body of Christ, the church is a community and the church is a family. But most importantly, the church of Christ is the place of the saved. Writing of the relationship between man and wife, Paul uses the love of Christ for the church to describe the kind of love a man ought to have for his wife. Paul says, "Husbands love your wives even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it" (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus gave himself for those who whose beliefs drive them to obedience (John 3:16) and only those who are obedient may expect salvation. It was into the church that the saved were placed by God at Pentecost (Acts 2:47). The only hope of salvation, the only promise of eternal life is found in the church for which Jesus died.
May we ever show thanks into God for his son and for the gift of the church of Christ which brings blessings to us everyday.