|On the Name 'Church of Christ' and 'Community Church'
[This is a letter sent to Memphis, Tennessee area Churches of Christ to explain the name of the Cordova Community Church and the unfortunate [and inaccurate] reference that the congregation was "loosely affiliated with the Church of Christ."]
Several months ago a reporter in the Commercial Appeal described our new congregation as "loosely affiliated with the Church of Christ." This was an unfortunate and inaccurate description. We are and intend to remain a church of Christ. In addition to her erroneous phrase "loosely affiliated," her statement treated "Church of Christ" as a denominational name. This is unfortunate as well. I do not believe the church of Christ is a denomination.
Some object that our chosen "name" for the new congregation is unbiblical. But which word is unbiblical? People do not object to "Cordova" or "church" but they do object to the word "community" or to the lack of "church of Christ."
But neither of these is unbiblical. Community is certainly a biblical idea as we promote communal values as part of this church in the same way that others use the word "family." Yet, we use the phrase as a geographical designation. We are the "Cordova Community" church, that is, we are a church for the "Cordova Community."
Does the church of the New Testament have a name? I don't think so. The church is simply described. It is the "church of Christ," or the "bride of Christ," or "church of God." It is also the "church of the Thessalonians" (1 Thess. 1:1), or the "churches of Galatia" (Gal. 1:2; 1 Cor. 16:1). We are a church of the Cordova community. It is an appropriate and biblical description of who we are.
We are not associated with the "Community Church" movement, nor is every group that calls itself a "Community Church" associated with that movement. We have no denominational affiliation and we have no links with the "Community Church" movement. We are an independent, autonomous congregation of Christ’s church.
To have "church of Christ" on the sign is no indication that one is a church of Christ. But neither must one have the name "church of Christ" on the sign in order to be a New Testament church. There is no statement or principle in Scripture that says a faithful church must use the explicit name "church of Christ."
[The citations below were not in the original letter.]
Indeed, many leaders in our past (particularly in the 1910s and 20s) argued that we should not use the designation "church of Christ" exclusively because it would create a denominational atmosphere.
M. C. Kurfees ("Bible Things by Bible Names--Different Designations of the Church Further Considered," Gospel Advocate [September 30, 1920], 959) wrote: "The name or designation, 'the church of Christ,' is coming to be used, in some sections of the country to the exclusion of every other New Testament designation of the church. Why is this? There is but one correct answer--namely, because either consciously or unconsciously, no doubt the later, those committed to such usage have in mind, and are attempting to express by the term used, an idea which is utterly contrary to New Testament usage….The church worshipping on Campbell Street, Louisville, Ky., taking advantage of the advertising space offered in some of the city papers for the announcement of religious services, heads its announcements as follows: ‘Campbell Street Church,’ Campbell between Main and Market Streets.’ Some one asked how a stranger, who did not otherwise know, could know from the announcement what kind of a church it is. The question was returned: ‘How would you put the announcement in order to identify the church as a New Testament church?’ The answer came, ‘Call it ‘the church of Christ’.’ ‘But why not ‘the church of God,’ which occurs many times in the New Testament, or ‘the church of the first-born,’ or ‘the church of the Lord,’ or some other New Testament designation?’ But neither ‘church of God’ nor any other New Testament designation would be proper, in the estimation of this inquirer, who insisted that it be called ‘church of Christ;’ and thus the erroneous idea was completely exposed, for, of course, if the church worshipping on Campbell Street, or any other church, is really a New Testament church, it can be designated by any term used by the New Testament itself for that purpose."
F. W. Smith (“John T. Lewis Wishes to Be Heard,” Gospel Advocate 71 [February 21, 1929], p. 179) wrote: “If I knew that God had no children in Franklin except those who meet to worship where I preach, then, I could say of that congregation, ‘the church of Christ at Franklin.’ But since I do not know that, how should I speak or write? Simply this: I preach for a church of Christ at Franklin, meaning by that a congregation that worships as did the congregations of the New Testament.”
F. W. Smith (“What Is The Church?,” Gospel Advocate 71 [March 21, 1929], p. 278) wrote: “I am not contending, and never have contended, for any particular name to the exclusion of all others that will correctly describe the church revealed in the New Testament. Hence, I speak of that insitution as either ‘the church of Christ’ or ‘the Christian church.’ Here is the way the older brethren spoke of the church: ‘A Register of the Membership of the Woodland Street Christian Church.’ Brother E. G. Sewell announced as one of the elders of the church.”
G. C. Brewer ("The Church and Sectarianism," in Foundation Facts and Primary Principles [Kansas City, MO: Old Paths Book Club, 1949], 92-93, 103) wrote: "While we may use any or all these descriptive designations of the church according as our purpose demands or our taste dictates, yet if we should exalt and set apart any one of them as the name of the church, we would be guilty of a serious error....no one of these expressions is intended as the name of the church...if we have not done that very thing with the expression church of Christ then why do we not vary our terms in speaking of the church? Why is every deed made to the Church of Christ? Why is "Church of Christ" put upon every corner stone or front of every meeting-house? Why does the "Church of Christ" have a literature series? So fixed and uniform is this designation that if we should insert the name of Jesus in the expression it would cause confusion....To use the terms church of Christ to include any limited number of saints or to make it the name of the church is to sectarianize the expression."
Sadly, by the exclusive use of the designation "church of Christ" we have unintentionally created a denominational atmosphere in the minds of some, even among some of our members. We decided to designate ourselves the "Cordova Community Church" out of nondenominational motives while at the same time remaining associated with other churches of Christ by describing ourselves as "a church of Christ."
We are a church of Christ. The designation "church of Christ" is in our official, legal name and appears on all our stationary and advertisements (except for one mistake which we have now corrected). It associates us with other churches of Christ in the city. We plan to begin supporting Agape, MACS, and Harding Graduate School soon. We have been involved in works at the Downtown church (Turkeys at Thanksgiving, clothing drive), the Raleigh Community church of Christ (at their school store), we support an intern at the Frayser Mission Church (as well as helping with their school store), and have participated in Youth activities associated with churches of Christ (workcamp, Uplift at Harding University, area wide devotionals). We are as fully associated with churches of Christ as any other "church of Christ" in Memphis.
We only lack the designation "church of Christ" in the first part of our name even though "church of Christ" is still present as a description of who we are. We have chosen this designation in order to facilitate evangelism and break down some psychological barriers that are in the minds of some unchurched people we want to reach. Our motive is evangelistic and nondenominational.
We want to do whatever is necessary--within biblical limits and consistent with biblical principles--to reach the lost (1 Corinthians 9:22-23). It was our judgment that "Cordova Community Church, a church of Christ" was the best way to both break down some of the barriers that hinder evangelism among some and also remain fully associated with churches of Christ in Memphis.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope this helps clarify a few things for our brothers and sisters. May God bless all his churches in this city for the sake of his kingdom.
John Mark Hicks