The Name of Christ’s Church
Jesus promised, “Upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of hades will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). For the past few weeks we have been trying to understand just exactly what that church is like. Without a correct understanding of it we will never find it in our world today. Our study has been confined to what the New Testament teaches. Today, we will consider another aspect of this study. What name should be used to identify the church Jesus promised to build?
A name is a means of identification. While not an exclusive means, it is recognized as a very important identity mark. Did the Lord give a name to His people collectively? Does the church He built have a name? 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 identify of the Lord’s people is expedited by knowing by what name the Lord intended for them to wear. 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 church, the very one He promised to build. That the Lord named His church is clearly seen by the point made by W. E. Vine.
Names do different things and 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. With all genuine respect, the very fact that some are denominated Methodists, others Baptists, others Catholics, and any other kind of denominational name shows that division is a reality. Denominational names divide people and destroy the unity for which Jesus prayed.
There are names that simply denote relationship, rather than personal identity. This is true 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. Disciples designates those who stand in relation to Christ as student to teacher. A disciple is a learner of Christ. A Christian is one who is “of Christ.” Christian denotes relationship.
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.” This expression is not 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.
It is essential to use the scriptural name for God’s people. It is also accommodative. One may travel from one community to another that is 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 which identifies their relationship to Christ. While most Christians know full well that the Lord did not give His church a name like the denominational world uses, still some means is necessary by which to identify the church Jesus promised to build 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 on the wrong church but you can’t have the right church without the right name.” That is still sound logic and it is impossible to dispute it. Some denominational groups use scriptural names such as “Church of God,” or even “Assembly of God.” That is about the only thing that is scriptural about them, however. Calling a denominational body that does not resemble the New Testament church in any other aspect is a case in point of having the right name on the wrong church.
Name are important. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham to signify a new relationship the great man entered. When God selected him to be the father of many nations, Jehovah said, “Neither shall your name any more be called Abram (exalted father) but your name shall be Abraham (father of a multitude); for a father of many nations have I made you” (Genesis 17:5). His ancestors were given a name, Israel. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel because he entered a new relationship to Jehovah. The Almighty said to him, “Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, for as a prince you have power with God and with men you have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). God’s people in the Old Testament had a definite name to wear, one which Jehovah gave them.
It is still essential to be properly identified by our relationship to God. That is why the name “church of Christ” is one to which every professed believer in Christ can agree to be identified. Only blind and adamant denominational prejudice would prefer some human name to the name given by Christ. Why will people persist in wearing a name not found in the Bible anywhere? What would cause a person to reject being identified with Christ by wearing the name, “Church of Christ?” Please remember, this is the name Paul said that the Lord has given.
As individual members of His church we are to wear the name Christian. Christian is a name also given by the Lord. It is a name the prophets prophesied would be given by the Lord. His prophetic statement is, “And the Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you will be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will name” (Isaiah 62:2). The righteousness and glory of God’s people was seen by the kings of the world as the gospel pervaded the precincts of earth in the first century. At this time, the prophet said the Lord would reveal a name to be given His people. It was to be a new name. We look to Acts 11:26 which tell us, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
The name Christian is given by the mouth of the Lord. The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. But by whom were they called Christians? Some argue that the calling was an effort to insult the disciples by the opponents of Christianity. They affirm that the people of Antioch called these disciples Christians in derision. That is hardly possible. No disciple then, or now, would feel the slightest bit insulted by any name which associates one with Christ. Furthermore, there is a special verb used in this text. The normal verb for calling is kaleo. This verb is different. It is the Greek verb krematidzo. The verb is found eleven times in the New Testament is always refers to a divine utterance, an oracle, or a divine calling. This is the new name of Isaiah 62.
The name Christian is a worthy name. The inspired apostle James asked, “Do they not blaspheme that worthy name by the which you are called” (James 2:7). It is a worthy name because of its association with Christ. The word Christian cannot be formed in the mind or the mouth without first forming the word Christ. The apostle Peter wrote, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf” (I Peter 4:15,16). There is only one name in which God’s people can glorify God -- the name Christian.
The name Christian is never modified. Today we hear of “hyphenated Christians.” One will say, “I am an _______ Christian,” and someone else will admit to being another kind of Christian. But there is only one kind of Christian in the Bible -- one who follows Christ faithfully, and who is a member of the church Jesus built. We probably develop this practice from our American heritage. We have Italian - Americans, Jewish Americans, and native Americans. There should be only one kind -- just an American. Equally, and more important, there should be only one kind of Christian -- a Christian only.
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. If you have a question about this, or any other Bible topic, please let us know. Contact us at [email protected]
Back to Religious Issues