When you drive by the church building for the church of Christ, Northside, here in LaGrange, you will see a sign that says “Church of Christ, Northside.” It’s not written exactly like that, but it is a stylized representation of that – with the large “Church of Christ” across the top and a smaller slanted “Northside” under that. It is not, necessarily, the name of the church. It is a designation of who the people are that meet in that building. That is, it is the building for the people belonging to Christ that meet at that location on the north side of town. So “Church of Christ, Northside” is much more than just the name on the sign out front of the building. It says something about what goes on in the building.
The word “church” is actually the anglicized form of a German word. The German word, “kirche,” meaning “Lord’s house.” The English translators of the Bible used this word, “church,” to translate the Greek word that means, “the assembly of called out people.” The Greeks used this same word to refer to the Senate, as those that were called out of the general populace to the assembly of lawmakers. This word, when used in reference to Christians, is referring to those called out from the world by the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14). The church is people, not a building (cf. 1 Peter 2:5).
The word “church,” when used to refer to the assembly of Christians, is typically used in one of three ways. It is used in the universal sense of all Christians everywhere, like when Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). He wasn’t referring to any specific location, but to the totality of all Christians everywhere throughout the church age.
“Church” is also used in reference to the assembly of Christians in a specific locality. For example, many of Paul’s letters are addressed to specific congregations referred to as “the church” in that place; i.e. “To the church of God which is at Corinth,” (1 Corinthians 1:1). This is how we use the word on our sign, “Church of Christ, Northside.” That is, the assembly of people that belong to Christ meeting on the north side of town.
The word “churches” is used in the plural to refer to a collection of congregations in a particular area. For example, “To the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:1; cf. Romans 16:16; Revelation 1:4), refers to all the individual congregations in that region. We use the word in this way today when we use phrases like, “the churches of west Georgia.”
Now, the name on our sign out front isn’t just “The Church, Northside.” It is “The Church of Christ, Northside.” The “of” on the sign is a genitive article, meaning it denotes possession (cf. Romans 16:16). So, it is not just any assembly of people that meets in that building. It is the assembly of people that belong to Christ. It is the church that belongs to Christ, as He said, “I will build MY church” (Matthew 16:18). He owns it, not me or any other man. He owns it because He purchased it with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Because He purchased it, it belongs to Him and He is the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:22). As the Head of His church, He is the one who decides how it will be conducted. It is His House! (Hebrews 3:6; 1 Timothy 3:15).
That is why we refer to ourselves as “the church of Christ.” We are acknowledging that we are the assembly of people that belong to Christ – Christians. We follow His will – His headship – for the work and worship of the church as revealed in His New Testament.
Sadly, there are many buildings with “Church of Christ” on the sign out front that do not conduct themselves as those who follow the will of Christ when they assemble in that place. That is, just because the sign says they are the church of Christ doesn’t make them the church of Christ. The sign out front should reflect who and what the people are that assemble in that place, unfortunately, that is not always the case. For example, when you see the sign out front that says “church of Christ” and you go into that assembly and see them doing things for which there is no book, chapter, and verse New Testament authority, they cannot say they are following Christ. When you see the work of the people who assemble in that place and it does not match the work the Lord commanded for His church in the New Testament, then that is not an assembly of people that is following the one they’ve named on their sign. They should really just go ahead and drop that name because they aren’t following Christ.