By Mike Willis
Ever so often, someone writes an article opposing the present usage by God’s people of the name “Church of Christ.” These articles seem to be written in opposition to the sermons which are sometimes preached on the name of the church. Some brethren seem allergic to any sermons which are presented on the New Testament church to distinguish the Lord’s church from modern denominationalism. Indeed, they believe that the Lord’s church is just another denomination. One area in which they think they have a legitimate objection is in the area of the name of the church.
Does The Church Have A Name?
Before we can answer that question, we must define the word “name.” Webster defines the word as follows:
1. a word of phrase by which a person, thing, or class of things is known, called, or spoken to or of. 2. a word or words expressing some quality considered characteristic or descriptive of a person or thing.
Would anyone like to deny that the church has a name? Using Webster’s definition, who could deny that the church has a name?
Yet these brethren would protest, “I object to ‘the’ name of the church. The church does not have a name like that of a man, John Doe.” First of all, I know of no one who is teaching that God gave the church only one name and that it would be sinful to use any other name than “church of Christ.” Secondly, this objection denies that the church has a “proper name. ” A proper noun is distinguished from a common noun by this objection. Yet, I affirm that Paul’s usage of “unto the church of God which is at Corinth” is no different than when I address a letter to the “Church of Christ, 622 Main Street, Any City, U.S.A.” Any English grammarian would state that “Church of Christ” is a proper noun; similarly, so is “church of God” in 1 Corinthians 1:2.
“Church of Christ” Is Just Like Other Denominational Names
Some brethren have written that the usage of “Church of Christ” just like the usage of any other denominational name. To this I object.
1. Church of Christ is in the Bible. Most denominational names are not in the Bible. I defy the man who claims that the name “church of Christ is just like other denominational names” to find these names in the Bible: Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, Episcopalian Church, Pentecostal Church, Mormon Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. He may respond, “I can find ‘church of God’ in the Bible.” That is correct and I know of no man who considers it sinful for the Lord’s church to be called the “church of God.”
2. It honors Christ. Most denominational names do not honor the Lord or Christ; instead they exalt some man, organizational arrangement, belief, or practice. To illustrate, consider these names:
Lutheran Church exalts Martin Luther
Baptist Church exalts baptism
Presbyterian Church exalts a form of church government
Episcopalian Church exalts a form of church government
Pentecostal Church exalts the miracles of Pentecost
Methodist Church exalts certain methods of holiness
The names revealed in the Bible honor and exalt Christ or God. In this respect the names are different.
3. It is a name in which we can stand united. Denominational names are divisive. The various members of denominations cannot unite under one denominational name (e.g., no Baptist wants to be known as a Roman Catholic; no United Pentecostal wants to be called a Episcopalian). In contrast, everyone could agree to be called by any name by which the Bible designates the church, such as church of God, church of Christ, kingdom of God, etc. By using a name by which the church is designated in the Scriptures, we can have unity. I know of no division among God’s people which has been caused because someone wanted to call the Lord’s church a biblical name.
Much Criticism But No Alternatives
Through the years, I have watched carefully the various articles written by those who oppose using “church of Christ” as “‘the name” of the church. Much criticism has been written about what is presently practiced by churches of Christ. Wanting to be objective, I have watched what these brethren do to learn their better way of doing things. What do they do? Surprisingly, they practice the very things which they condemn in others. Their meeting houses have “Church of Christ” written on them; their signs in front of their buildings have “Church of Christ” written on them. Their stationary has “Church of Christ” on the letterheads and envelopes. Their bulletins say, “published by the church of Christ which meets at. . . . ” How serious are these brethren in making their objections if they are going to practice the very thing which they condemn?
They express; a concern about what “Church of Christ” on our signs conveys to the world. I suppose that “Church of Christ’ I on the sign in front of the building where I preach conveys approximately the same thing to the world as it conveys when written on the sign in front of their building. But what alternatives do we have? Shall we get a sign on which we change the name every week or day? Perhaps we could say: “Church of God” on Mondays, “Church of the Firstborn” on Tuesdays, “House of God” on Wednesdays, “Kingdom of God” on Thursdays, “Kingdom of Heaven” on Fridays, “The Lord’s Church” on Saturdays, and “Church of Christ” on Sundays. Every fifth Sunday we could put up a “No-name Church.” Would this be more scriptural or less scriptural? What would this convey to the world? The world would probably think that we were a mixed up bunch of people, bordering on emotional instability. Or, we could get one sign on which we wrote every name in the Bible by which the Lord’s church is designated. Surprisingly, none of those who so conscientiously oppose the sectarian use of “Church of Christ” has opted for either of these alternatives. As a matter of fact, they have suggested no workable alternatives at all. For the most part, they just keep on practicing what they condemn!
A few come up with some alternatives such as “Undenominational Christians Meet Here.” The idea is true but the expression itself is not found in the Bible. Is it really more effective than “church of Christ” which God directly revealed? If we say “church of Christ,” we will need to explain it means “Undenominational Christians” and if we say “Undenominational Christians,” we need to explain it to mean the “church of Christ” about which we read in the Bible. This is tit for tat. The same would be true for “Undenominational Church,” “The Church,” or any other proposal.
What Is Sectarianism?
Is sectarianism determined by what is on the sign in front of the building? I think not. Sectarianism is not a state of the sign, it is a state of the mind. Our brethren have been working to oppose sectarianism, even among our own members, for as long as I can remember.
Gospel preachers have preached, in every sermon that I remember on the identifying marks of the church, that the New Testament church is called by many different names, including church of God (1 Cor. 1:2), church of the firstborn (Heb. 12:23), house of God (1 Tim. 3:15). church of the living God (1 Tim. 3:15), etc. They have worked to teach members that individual saints are called Christians, disciples or believers but not “Church of Christers.” They have opposed usages such as “Church of Christ preacher,” “Church of Christ church,” “I’m a church of Christ.” They have correctly pointed out that this is the language of denominationalism, not of New Testament Christianity.
However, there will always be Christians converted from denominationalism and influenced by the denominational world around us who will have to be taught more perfectly the way of Christ. Changing the sign in front of the building will not change this. The only thing which will change this is the consistent teaching of New Testament Christianity to contrast it with modern denominationalism.
Many of the sermons which are preached against the “Church of Christ” name are aimed, not at moving brethren into a better understanding of undenominational Christianity, but at moving them into the broad, mainstream of twentieth century, Protestant denominationalism. Some are working to silence the guns which are being fired against the use of denominational names such as Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Episcopalian Church, and other names not found in the Bible. Unfortunately, some naive preachers among us are picking up on these objections and parroting them around as if they had discovered some new truth – that the New Testament uses more than one name to refer to God’s people. And, maybe that is new to them.
Brethren, let us not allow these shallow and unbiblical objections to move us from our studied and steady opposition to denominationalism. Let us continue to preach sermons which will enable men to distinguish the Lord’s church from modern denominations. Let us preach the identifying marks of the New Testament church, one of which is the names by which it is called. Though the name of the church is not the only identifying mark of the New Testament church which distinguishes it from the denominations around us, it is one identifying mark – one which Christians need to remember and not forget.
I still believe and preach, “If you cannot find the name of the church of which you are a member in the Bible, you
are not in Christ’s church.” Do you agree?
Guardian of Truth XXX: 8, pp. 226, 247-248
April 17, 1986