Why the Little "c" Matters

Deconstruction, a term that describes the process whereby one thoroughly examines and then, typically, rejects the values and norms of one’s upbringing, is a pretty popular thing these days. The church isn’t immune to this trend; in fact, more and more voices from the church are joining the chorus preaching deconstruction in the religious sphere. One of the things that I’ve noticed among those who have left the church through this process is the way they refer to it in writing; it’s almost always the “Church of Christ,” with a big “C” on the word church. This stands in contrast to a great deal of material that members of the church produce using a little “c” there instead.  But why does the case of a letter matter?

It’s possible that you’ve never heard of or thought about the whole big “C” / little “c” thing, so let me explain. For many people in the churches of Christ, that little “c” is our way of telling the world that we have no intention of denominationalizing Christ’s body. To denominate something is to 1) give it a name and 2) give it a value, or, in the case of religious groups, a set of values. The church of the Bible doesn’t have one name or designation and is identified variously as Jesus’ church (Matthew 16:18), “the way” (Acts 9:2), the “church of God” (Acts 20:28), the “house of God” (1 Timothy 3:15), and so on. The church of the Bible has only one set of values, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the “written” standard which Christians are encouraged “not to think beyond” and are “accursed” if they do (1 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 1:6-9). Since the time of the Bible, countless religious groups have been formed using a variety of names and holding a variety of different values, typically outlined in creeds, catechisms, confessions, and the like; in short, they’ve denominated. Those in modern churches of Christ aim to be different from these groups and like the church of the Bible: non-denominational, undenominational, pre-denominational, and even anti-denominational (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10).

So why do you see “church of Christ” and sometimes even “Church of Christ” on signboards, advertisements, and the like to advertise what is ultimately just a group of Christians? While I can’t speak for everyone, I suspect that many congregations of modern believers identify themselves as the church of Christ because 1) they see that name in the Bible (Romans 16:16), 2) some biblical descriptions are already utilized by groups who aren’t seeking to be undenominational, and 3) they desire to unite with likeminded congregations of believers around the world and, along with them, make a distinct, certain sound for the world to hear (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:7-8). Grammatical propriety and/or the realities of governmental obligations, mass communication and advertisement, and a host of other factors sometimes see proper names form like, “Broadway Church of Christ.” In the heart of the members of the church though, a description like that is indicative of neither their name nor their values. In the aforementioned example, members wouldn’t identify as “Broadway Church of Christ Christians,” but as members of Jesus’ church that assemble for worship in a building located on a street called Broadway.

When deconstructionists leave the church, they typically tell a story of growing up among congregations that emphasized the Biblical pattern over the Person of Jesus Christ, that knew only law with no understanding of grace. I’m sure such groups exist. Even in Bible times, there were groups of Christians who attempted “to be justified by law,” albeit the law of Moses, so it stands to reason that some would do that with the law of Christ (Galatians 5:4; 6:2). However, when these former believers reference the church, their speech betrays that something is missing with them too. It may also have been missing in their upbringing, but it certainly is missing in their present understanding. They say things like, “I grew up Church of Christ,” instead of, “I grew up among Christians,” and, “Church of Christ churches” instead of “congregations of the Lord’s church.” They refer to Church of Christ tradition, the Restoration Movement, Restoration Heritage, and other phrases that you’ll find in an internet search but that you won’t find in the Bible. These words and others like them reveal that they either don’t understand or simply refuse to embrace the call to avoid denominationalism in its entirety and simply be the church of the Bible.

While you’ll occasionally find me navigating modern realities with the odd big “C” here or there, I try as often as I can to underscore that little “c.” I am not a Church of Christ Christian, but a Christian who, like every other Christian, has been added to the church that Jesus built (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:47). I don’t adhere to Restoration Theology but to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). I am a part of a movement to restore Biblical beliefs and practices that doubtlessly had a beginning point in my country (all periods of restoration have to begin somewhere), but that doesn’t mean I belong to the Restoration Movement, as though it were some static denominational entity instead of a mindset and a behavior. My aim isn’t to be true to my tribe but to my Lord, seeking to answer His prayer that I be totally and truly united with fellow believers (John 17:20-23) and “speak the same thing” as all Christians do anywhere and as they have at every time (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Let me close by saying this: if you’ve deconstructed your upbringing amongst a body of believers who identify as the church of Christ and found something in your experience to be wanting, don’t let the devil provide the glasses through which you view the situation. Restoration is hard work, and sometimes people get it wrong. Sometimes I’ve gotten it wrong. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile, valid, or relevant. Returning to the God of the Bible, His teachings, and His practices isn’t an unimportant or unnecessary thing; you could argue that a massive chunk of the Bible is about people getting it wrong and God calling them back to what’s right. Please give that small “c” and all that it means another chance.
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org

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