By Clint De France
In most areas of life, the world certainly understands the power of a name. There are some names you could give to a business that would ensure it to be doomed to failure from the start. It wouldn’t matter the quality of the product or the service, because in business there is something in a name! If I was going to go off and get involved in politics with a name like De France I don’t know how I would fare, but there are other names that could make or break my political career, because in politics there is something in a name. People understand that.
A good name can take you places and a bad name can hold you back. That’s why people name their children Peter, James and John, and their mad dogs and mules Ahab, Judas and Lucifer. But can you imagine a mother and father naming there sweet little girl Jezebel, or naming their son Satan! I tell you that people wouldn’t take that! A few years ago a family in Pennsylvania named their new born son Adolf Hitler. An outcry ensued that eventually drew the attention of the national media. A local bakery refused to personalize a cake for the infant- because a name means something!
If you don’t believe it, why don’t you try to go up to some fellow and call him a liar, or a thief, or a murderer and then say, “Well there’s nothing in a name!” I guarantee you he’ll teach you better! But now as clearly as people can see this in most areas of life and livelihood, when it comes to religion this notion is suddenly as far-fetched and absurd to the minds of men as you could imagine! We are told from all sides, “THERE IS NOTHING IN A NAME!”
There was a song that was very popular a few years back and I think it captures this mindset about as clear as anything: “Some people think today, if heaven you would see, you must belong to their church, or be lost eternally. But according to God’s word, what he’s still looking for, is what he finds within your heart, and not what’s over the door.” Well, although the writer claims to be holding true to the word of God, the truth is that the word of God teaches quite differently! The Bible teaches that there is more in a name when it comes to the religion of Jesus Christ than in any other area of life. The wise man Solomon said in Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches…” And again in Ecclesiastes 7:1, “A good name is better than precious ointment…” It certainly seems then that Solomon thought that the name “over the door” was rather important!
When God is involved, a name takes on a greater weight and a more profound meaning than it ever did in business or politics or anything like that. Consider that while God allowed man to name the animals, God himself named man. (Gen 5:22) Throughout the Old Testament we see a continuous train of divinely appointed name changes that were all a part of God’s great plan. We think of Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham, “a friend of God,” showing that God had chosen this man’s family to be his special children. We think of Esau, whose name was changed to Edom, “Red Earth” symbolizing his materialistic choice when he sold his sacred birthright for a bowl of pottage, this name rightly suited his children, the Edomites, as they trusted in earthly alliances, the pride of their hearts and their great stone fortress of Petra, rather than the power of God.
We read of Jacob who God called ‘Israel’ after the remarkable and strange event when he prevailed over the Angel of the Lord, “the Prince that Prevails with God.” The Children of Israel cherished this name as they found that any foe they faced would fall before them when God was on their side. And surely we think of Jesus, “Jehovah is Salvation”, as the Angel told Joseph, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” And the Apostles would later risk their own lives to say, “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
Yes, God says, there is something in a name, and I want you to consider that if God put such effort and importance into the names of men than how much more must he have put into the name of the Church that his son purchased with his own blood, and the disciples in order to give him glory and honor! Now friends, there are a lot of names that sincere, good, decent, religious, and bible-believing people have been very proud to wear over the years, but I want to consider with the Bible for a little while today which name is really worthy in the sight of God.
The Name of the Church
There has never been an institution of any greater import, and worth any more honor and adoration on the face of the earth than the Church that Jesus built! The Bible says that Jesus loved the church so much that he gave his own life for it! (Eph. 5:25 and Acts 20:28) We further find the church is made up of all the saved people in the earth! In Ephesians 5:23-24, “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” And thus the Church is made up of those who are saved and are subject to Christ.And further more notice Hebrews 3:6 “but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.” Thus the church is the household, or the family of God! Well friends imagine what an awesome name God must have prepared for such a magnificent organization! So what is it? Well when we look into the world around us we will find that hundreds, in fact perhaps thousands of different names are applied to the church, but the Bible says that there is ONE from heaven! In Ephesians 3:14-15 we read, “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.”
We have noticed the importance the Divine has placed on names throughout the history of His interaction with humanity. Continuing we want to look at some of the names that are commonly applied to the church in search of the one that is given from heaven. (Eph. 3:14-15)
The Names of Men
It is very common today to see churches claiming to be the Lord’s church that wear the names of men. Now we will grant that most of the time these are men who have accomplished great things: Martin Luther, John Wesley, even Alexander Campbell as well as many others. But as great as these men may have been, are their names worthy of being applied to the Church that Jesus built? Notice if you will 1 Corinthians 1:10-13:
“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
It seems that in the Corinth church there were some who were not unlike many folks today; they rallied around their favorite preacher and even called themselves after his name. Now some say that Paul is condemning any group of disciples who call themselves after Christ. Actually, quite the contrary, the credentials that disqualify Paul, Peter, and Apollos (were you baptized in the name of/was he crucified for you) are met by Christ and no one else and that means that, only Jesus Christ! The sad truth is that most of these organizations who seek to honor men by stamping their name on the church really are doing a great dishonor to those men according to their own words! Did you know that?
Alexander Campbell hated the term “Campbellism” with such a passion that he wrote of it saying, “it is a nickname of reproach invented and adopted by those whose views, feelings and desires are all sectarian; who cannot conceive of Christianity in any other light than an ism.”
Martin Luther also, I am quite sure would have no gratitude toward anyone for giving the church his name. He is recorded as having paraphrased Paul saying:
“I pray you leave my name alone and call not yourselves Lutherans, but Christians. Who is Luther? My doctrine is not mine! I have not been crucified for anyone. St. Paul would not let anyone call themselves after Paul, nor of Peter, but of Christ. How then does it befit me, a miserable bag of dust and ashes, to give my name to the children of God? Cease, my dear friends, to cling to these party names and distinctions: away with all, and let us call ourselves only Christians after Him from whom our doctrine comes.” – The Life of Luther, by Stork, p. 289.
Thus we see that when the church wears men’s names it not only displeases God, but the men themselves!
One of the largest groups of professed believers and followers of Christ designates their organization as, “The Roman Catholic Church.” But even as popular, historic, and accepted as this name is by many good and honest people, I believe that it falls short of being the name worthy of the Church that Jesus built.
The first major problem with it is that it isn’t in the Bible! You can read from the founding of the Church in Acts 2 on through the book of Revelation and never once find the name ‘Roman Catholic’ in God’s Word. That is enough to conclude that it is without divine authority.
The second great problem that I find with this name is that is represents an unscriptural ideal. I have no problem with the term catholic, which means universal, although it is not a sufficient name for the Church.
It is true that the church is universal, it is a borderless kingdom, but when one says that the church is Roman Catholic he is insinuating that the headquarters of the global church is in Rome, and the Bible doesn’t teach that. The Bible teaches that Christ, not the Pope, is the head of the church, (Eph. 5:23) and Heaven, not Rome, is the headquarters of the Church! (Acts 2:34-36)
The group of professed Bible-believing people in America today called Southern Baptists, which represents only a portion of the great whole of Baptists, claims a membership of 16,247,736! The point being that there are a lot of people just in America today who associate themselves with the church called, “Baptist.” But, if the Bible teaches us anything it is that the crowd isn’t always right. Only the scripture can tell us for sure if the name Baptist is the right name for the Church to wear.
This name is a little different than the name Roman Catholic because you can find it in the Bible, but I am afraid it still falls short of being the name God has given to the Church. The only person we read of being called a Baptist is John the Baptist, (actually the “immerser”) and he wasn’t a member of the Church! I know that some people say that he was, so we will take the time to notice some reasons why John the Baptist could not have been a member of the Church.
First notice Matthew 14:10, “So he sent and had John beheaded in prison.” This passage marks the death of John, but two chapters later Jesus says, “I will build my church…” (16:18) The church hadn’t been established yet when John died, so he could not have been in the church. Notice further, Matthew 11:11 where Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Now why would it be said that a great man like John was “less” than the least in the kingdom? Because John died before the kingdom was established, he was never in it, therefore the least in the Church was greater than John! Since John was not a member of the Church then we must conclude that no member of the Church was ever called a Baptist and no church was ever called a Baptist church, thus it is not a scriptural name! Consider how Jesus must feel when men wear that name, instead of his name. In John 3:29-30 John the Baptist said:
“He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
How would you feel if your wife wore your best man’s name? How do you think Jesus feels? Before we move on from this I would like to notice a quote from one of the most respected Baptist scholars of all time, the late Charles Spurgeon,
“I say of the Baptist name, let it perish, but let Christ’s name last forever. I look forward with pleasure, to the day when there will not be a Baptist living. I hope they will soon be gone. I hope the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ’s name endure forever.” – Spurgeon Memorial Library, Vol. 1, p. 168.
I say to Mr. Spurgeon, AMEN. In the next article we will continue our investigation of the right name for the church to wear.
So we have observed some of the names that men have given to the church and saw many of the most popular fall into condemnation when examined with the scripture. Now we want to look at a few more in search of the one that is given from heaven. (Eph. 3:14-15)
Part 3 Party Names, the Scourge of Sectarianism
Many religious institutions bear names that reflect a particular doctrinal distinction that they hold which separates them from other denominations. For instance, Baptists are so called, not actually because John the Immerser is called a Baptist in some translations, but because they believe in adult believer’s baptism by immersion only. This was an after the face defense.
Doctrinal distinctives that characterize a certain sect have been the most common source of religious names throughout history. The name Methodist originated when John and Charles Wesley became part of the so-called ‘Holy Club’ of Oxford, a group of no more than twenty to twenty-five like-minded friends who believed that repentance from worldliness and holy living were necessary for salvation. This group became known as ‘The Methodists’ because of the methodical approach to spirituality of its members. The group became larger and grew until it formed its own, more evangelical Church with the ideas of Wesley at its head. The name ‘Methodist’ has stuck to this day.
The full name of the Methodist Church is ‘Methodist Episcopal’. The name ‘Episcopal’ which denominates another protestant group is in reference to a particular view of church government and organization–that being that ‘bishops’ (the Greek word episkopoi) are an office superior to ‘elders’ who govern over the churches of a city or region. The Methodist Episcopal church agrees with this, but also adheres to the unique teachings of John Wesley and others.
There is a similar history in the name ‘Presbyterian’ Church. Again the reference in the name ‘Presbyterian’ is to the view of government and organization that the denomination holds, being that ‘elders’ are over congregations and that two classifications of ‘elder’ (teaching and ruling) exist.
‘Pentecostals’ are so called because they believe that the beginning of the Church and the ideal of Christianity is found on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2). ‘Adventists’ are so named because they believe in the second personal, visible coming of Christ. ‘Seventh-Day Adventists’ derive their name from their belief that worship is to be done on the Sabbath. ‘Congregationalists’ are so called because they believe in the total independency and autonomy of congregations. ‘Holiness’ churches are so called because they believe that holiness in Christian living is essential for salvation.
There are ‘General’ Baptists who believe that the atoning death of Christ was for all mankind in general, whosoever will receive it, and there are ‘Particular’ Baptists who believe it was for only elect individuals. We could go on and on. Some of these names refer to false, man-made doctrines and would obviously be wrong for that reason, but others refer to true doctrines of Christianity. What would be wrong with wearing the name of a doctrine of truth? Each of these names would be insufficient because they describe only one part of the doctrine of Christ. It is not enough to accept only one part, and neither is it enough to be called after only one part. We must look for a name that encapsulates all of these doctrines in one!
Another kind of name that is not uncommon, and (like the aforementioned) is the product of sectarianism and division, is to call a church after a convention or association of churches (i.e. Southern Baptist, Missouri Synod, American Baptist Association.) The error of this is that no such associations or conventions existed in the early church. Each congregation was independent and all faithful churches where in fellowship with each other as brethren.
Some have suggested that the name of the Church should be ‘Christian.’ But while I cherish and respect the name Christian in its proper application, I do not believe that it is the name of the church. The church does not belong to its members and so to call the church after its members as a possessive is incorrect and disrespectful to the true owner. Moses Lard put it about as simply as anyone ever could I think by saying that the Christian Church is “not scriptural and never will be” because there is simply no bible for designating the church that way.
Does the Church Universal have a Name?
The church universal is called by many names from ‘Bride of Christ’ to ‘House of God’. But as an invisible institution with no earthly structure or organization, there is no one name that is applied to the church universal. When it comes to what we should call the church we must look to the congregational level.
Church of Christ or Church of God?
There are many who contest that the name should be the ‘church of God’ seeing as this term is used 11 times in the New Testament. But I think it is important to consider even more closely the relation of each member of the Godhead to the church in order to conclude what the Bible writers are trying to communicate in this terminology. We understand that God is a “Triune Being, three in Persons, one in purpose.” So which part of the God head does the church belong to? Is it the church of the Father? Or perhaps is it the church of the Holy Spirit? Well, let us allow the scriptures to answer that question.
Notice first Acts 20:28:
“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
Now, which member of the Godhead purchased the church with His own blood? Which one of the three came to earth in the flesh and died on the cross for our sins? The Father? No. The Holy Spirit? No. Only Jesus Christ, the Son. And so when Paul spoke of the Church of God, as a possessive, he seems to have been speaking of God the Son.
This is evident in other passages as well. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build MY CHURCH…” It is the Church that belongs to Jesus Christ. You remember that when Jesus gave the commission unto the building up of His Church, He stated that “all power and all authority” had been given to Him by the Father.
Notice what the Apostle Paul says over in 1 Corinthians 15:20-24:
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.”
Until the end of time when Jesus delivers the kingdom up to God, the kingdom belongs to Christ. Oh what a perfect, awesome and worthier name the Apostle Paul ascribes to congregations of God’s children in Romans 16:16 when he says, “the churches of Christ salute you.”
The Name of the Members
One final point of consideration is of the name that individuals in the church should wear. I first want to stress that it is not ‘church of Christ!’ We are not called ‘church of Christ people.’ The statement, ‘I am church of Christ’ is not only grammatically improper but it is altogether unscriptural!
When we speak this way we are calling the church universal by a term that insinuates she is just another fraction (denomination) of the Christian world. This is terribly destructive! In years past one of the hardest fought battles was to reclaim the name Christian and Christian only. Biblically speaking the only Christians are those who are in the Lord’s Church and if you are in the Lord’s Church you need not say, ‘I am church of Christ or I am a Church of Christ Christian.’ Just say ‘I am a Christian.’ If the world asks, ‘What kind?’ then a wonderful opportunity has been presented to share the truth.
There are many descriptive terms given in the Bible like ‘disciple’ (meaning a follower), ‘saint’ (meaning a sanctified person), ‘brethren’ (meaning members of the same family), ‘children of God’ (meaning offspring of the father), but these are not proper names.
The Prophet Isaiah had given three great prophetic statements regarding a new name that God was going to give to His people.
“The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD will name… You shall leave your name as a curse to My chosen; For the Lord GOD will slay you, and call His servants by another name… Even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 62:5; 65:15; 56:5)
The prophet speaks of a ‘new’ ‘everlasting’ name that would be given by God after the Jewish system had ended and “the Gentiles saw righteousness.” (or were converted.) That occurred in Acts 10 with the conversion of Cornelius and his household, and in the very next chapter the Bible says: “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) Many scholars say that the word “called” here used has special reference to a divine calling. Certainly there is no other name than Christian which better fits these prophecies and can better describe what we are in our relationship to Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul expressed his approval of this name and his great desire to see it applied to all men over there in Acts 26:27-29 where the Bible says:
“Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”
In 1 Peter 4:16 the Apostle Peter exhorted that we “glorify God” in the name Christian. I attest to you there is no other name by which we can give Him the glory. There are some today who would try to minimize the name Christian! Liberal scholars claim that it originated with the heathen as a form of derision, but surely the scriptures we have thus far noticed demonstrate that this precious name is not only divinely approved, but in fact it is of divine origin!
But now we might mention in closing that James, in the words of our text warned how the conduct of the men and women he was writing to allowed that “worthy name” to be blasphemed. Is that you today? If you call yourself a Christian, but have not obeyed the Gospel, then it is! You take the Lord’s name in vain every day that you call yourself one of His children. I can call myself Bob Smith all day long, but I am still Clint De France, and until you are born again, you cannot truly wear the name Christian. Maybe you are a Christian, but your conduct and your lifestyle drags that name through the dirt, people know that you are a member of the church of Christ, and you have brought reproach on him by your ungodly living!
Thank God for the wonderful fellowship He has given us with Him as individuals and churches to wear the precious name of Christ. Let us all cherish that treasure.