We must think and speak in biblical ways (Philippians 4:8; 1 Peter 4:11). One important instance of biblical thinking and speaking is this: We must understand what we mean when we speak of the “church of Christ” (Romans 16:16). It may surprise some to learn that the designation “church of Christ” is not is not the name of the church in the same way that “Baptist” is the name of the Baptist Church or “Lutheran” is the name of the Lutheran church. The word “Baptist” picks out one particular religious institution among many, and so does “Lutheran.” But the only biblical church is the church that belongs to Jesus (Matthew 16:18), and so the phrase “the church of Christ” merely references that church—the one that belongs to Jesus. The phrase “the church of Christ” carries precisely the same grammatical structure as the phrase “the car of Smith,” denoting the car that belongs to Smith.
When I say “Baptist” or “Lutheran,” I am referring to one or two among many denominations. But when I make reference to the “church of Christ,” I am not referring to one of many denominations. Rather, I am referring to the one and only body of Christ, the ekklesia in Greek (the “church,” the “called out” from the world). There are indeed Baptists, Lutherans, and Methodists, but there are no “Church of Christers.” To use this terminology is to abuse a biblical designation for the body of Christ by warping it into a denominational title. There are no “Church of Christers,” but merely Christians, members of the church for which our Lord died (Acts 20:28).
One could sensibly say, “I am a Baptist,” because it is possible for a person to be a Baptist in religion (though not with biblical authority—the Bible knows nothing of the Baptist church or any denomination). But it is impossible for a person to be “a church of Christ.” Occasionally a well-meaning person will say, “I am church of Christ” or “He is a church of Christ.” We must respectfully say that such language is non-sensical. Remember, “the church of Christ” refers to the church that belongs to Christ, just like “the car of Smith” refers to the car that Smith owns. One may sensibly say “I am a member of the church of Christ” or “I am a Christian,” but one may not sensibly say “I am church of Christ,” because one person could not possibly be the church of Christ, although a person may be a member of that glorious body (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:14).
May God help us to avoid using denominational language as we strive to advance His truth.