The churches of Christ greet you. (Romans 16:16)
Greetings From The First Century
Near the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, his thoughts are turning to an opportunity to visit the regal city of Rome and with great hopes to preach in Spain. His present task was to take the contributions from the Gentile churches to the saints in Jerusalem but he writes to the Roman saints a letter of endearment explaining the amazing grace of God. His letter is a powerful testimony of the Christian life declaring the mystery of God to a lost world through faith in Christ. Much of the book covers the doctrinal treatise of justification by faith in Christ. As Paul dictates his letter to Tertius, he includes a list of fellow saints who risked their necks in defense of Paul, labored much in the work of preaching the gospel and the many that assembled the church in their homes. He commends Phoebe, a woman who served well in the work of the kingdom (and probably delivered the letter to the Romans) along with his good friends and fellow laborers Priscilla and Aquila. Many others are named in the list of commendations for his fellow workers, firstfruits, countrymen, fellow prisoners, beloved in the Lord, chosen in the Lord, brethren and saints. Paul exhorts the saints in Rome to have a deep affection for one another and extends greetings from the churches in the region of Achaia. It is important to see how the apostle refers to the churches in that region as churches that belonged to Christ. Greetings are given from the churches of Christ as an appropriate term to identify the character of the first-century church. This is a fitting term to use as Christ was the head of the church; He purchased the church with His own blood and is married to the church as the husband of the spiritual bride.
Titles mean what they represent and describe the character of what they stand for. Identifying the churches in the region of Achaia as the churches of Christ suggest those who gathered in each congregation identified themselves as Christians. During the early days of the church, the followers of Christ were known as those of the Way. Saul of Tarsus had come to Damascus with letters to arrest all those of the Way. On Paul’s visit to Ephesus, Luke records there were those who were hardened against the teachings of the apostle and spoke evil of the Way and serious trouble came against those of the Way. Jesus taught that He was the only way to the Father and the disciples were identified by their faith in that way. Writing to the saints in Corinth, Paul addresses them as the church of God and to the church in Ephesus simply as the saints who are in Ephesus. Again, the references by Paul show the relationship of the disciples to what they believed and how they conducted their lives. The church of Christ is a first-century appeal to the character and nature of early discipleship that should be recognized by those who desire to follow the pattern of Bible authority. While it is not the exclusive name for the church, it is most fitting for the description of what the church stands for. The Holy Spirit explains the development of the church from the beginning at Pentecost to the many churches established by the work of men like Peter and Paul in design, function, organization and what it is called. Among a number of ways to describe the church, the Spirit expresses an appeal to the churches of Christ as a fitting reference to the body of the saved.
Over the last five hundred years with the advent of religious protesting in the form of many churches being established by men, a myriad of names have surfaced describing the theology, doctrine and message of the group. Lutherans (1530) are so-called in deference to Martin Luther, a reformer of the Roman Catholic Church. Presbyterians (1535) get their name from the term “presbyter” (a transliteration of the Greek word presubteros or ‘elder’) and according to F. W. Mattox is used to designate that form of church organization embracing a group of presbyters as the governing body of several congregations. Maddox describes the Methodist (1729) as given by way of reproach because of the methodical regulation of their lives which was begun by John Wesley. Baptist (1607) received their name after the work of John Smyth and others who rejected Calvinism and infant baptism. There is a large plurality of names given to churches in the world with the identifying marks of their belief in the name. Paul expressed the sentiments of the will of the Lord when he identified the church of the first century simply as the churches of Christ. The question remains whether the church you belong to is identified by a Biblical name or the origins of someone who is not Jesus Christ. Does it make a difference?