THE NAME OF THE CHURCH
A name is a means of identification. While not the exclusive means, it is a very important identity mark. Did the Lord give a name to His people collectively? Does the church He built have a name? The answer is a definite yes.
Please read the following statement. “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15). The verb “is named” is passive. The naming is “from” the Lord Jesus Christ. W. E. Vine notes that this use of the verb means, “to name, call, give a name to” and cites Luke 6:13,14 as an example of what he means. The passage in Luke says that Jesus chose twelve whom He also named apostles.
The naming of the church is significant. The identity of the Lord’s people is expedited by knowing how the Lord named them. Were it not for this identifiable feature of the church, more confusion would exist than presently does. When the Lord’s people are named by the Lord, those who wear that name, at least in part, may be identified as the Lord’s. Anyone disposed to deny that the Lord named His church should respond to the point made by W. E. Vine.
Names are used for different purposes. In our generation, a multitude of religious groups proudly boast a name that denominates them and thus separates them from all other religious groups. These are divisive names. But, there are names that simply denote relationship, rather than personal identity. This is the case of the name by which God’s people are known and identified. When the Lord called twelve men “apostles” that name identified them in relation to Christ and the mission He designed for them. They were sent out from Him with the saving message of the gospel--thus apostles.
The name “Church of Christ” is a relational name that identifies God’s people. “Churches of Christ” is a biblical expression found in Romans 16:16. Paul wrote, “the Churches of Christ salute you.” It is not a name designed to distinguish one religious group from all others. In the first century, that was not necessary.
Various names such as “church”, “the body of Christ,” “the way,” “the church of God,” etc. all refer to the Lord’s people. There were no different groups who professed to be sectarian followers of Christ. The denominations of the first century were sects of the Jewish religion. Today, that is not the case. There are numerous groups all claiming to follow the Lord’s teaching but identified as human denominations.
The reason why it is appropriate today to use the scriptural name for God’s people is also accommodative. If you go to a community completely strange to you and begin looking for the Lord’s people, the most accommodative way for you to find them is by the name they wear. While most Christians know full well that the Lord did not give His church a name like the denominational world uses, still we need some means to identify ourselves in today’s world. To refer to a local group of the people of God as the Church of Christ in that community, or to say they are members of the West End Church of Christ in a certain city is such an accommodation. It is not an effort to denominationalize the church.
James P. Miller once said, “you can have the right name of the wrong church but you can’t have the right church without the right name.” I still find that pretty good logic and am not of the disposition to dispute it. The name is important. If you are in some religious group that does not show by its name that it is related to Christ, it is time to exit from it and find the Lord’s people--those who are named by the Lord.
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