By Kenneth D. Sils
Among all the religious confusion and division we see in our country, the true church of our Lord Jesus Christ is alive and can still be found today. Sadly, while pursuing the truth, many sincere people have been so overwhelmed by denominational error that they conclude that one church is just as good as another. Jesus teaches us that we don’t have to give up. In Matthew 7:7, he says, “Seek, and you will find.” Jesus promised, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). If one is searching for the truth about the church Jesus built, he must go back to the Bible and accept its absolute authority. Paul said only the Scriptures are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
The foundation of the church of our Lord can be found, understood and built upon. In Ephesians 2:19-22, we learn that the foundation was poured with Jesus being the chief cornerstone and the rest of its foundation was laid by the apostles and prophets of God in the first century. The apostle Peter teaches in 2 Peter 1:3 that our God has delivered to us “all things pertaining to life and godliness.” Surely, the church of our Lord must come under this heading of “godliness.” In the first century men knew all the doctrine of Christ’s church. Christians understood and fully accepted the names given by God in his sacred writings for the church. This is my plea for all people today. It is my duty to persuade men to come back to God’s writing, the New Testament, for within it lies the key for all people to escape man’s divisions and be a part of the church which Jesus built.
Within the doctrine of Christ, the New Testament Scriptures, the names for the church of our Lord can be found. Yes, the names for the church. The New Testament is very clear that Jesus built one church. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” This term is obviously singular and designed to stay that way. In Ephesians 1:22-23, we learn that Jesus has been made head of the church which is his body. Later, in this same letter, Paul tells us there is one body (Eph. 4:4). I do not shrink from, nor apologize for, this truth of God. Our Lord built one body, the church; yet at the same time, we should also recognize andunderstand that God has given many descriptive names for the church of our Lord. Here is a listing of eight prominent names given by God to describe the church our Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament:
1. The church (Acts 5:11). This name is most commonly used to describe the people who have been “called out” of darkness and translated in the kingdom of God’s dear son, Jesus Christ. In Acts 2:47, the Scriptures tell us, “God added to the church (called out) daily those who were being saved.” The church is simply the people, not a physical building that man erects. These followers of Jesus in Acts made up the church of our Lord.
2. The churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16; Matt. 16:18). Let’s not forget that Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 that he was going to build his church. The church belongs to Jesus, no other. It is totally his possession for he is the head of the body, the church. When Paul was telling the Romans, “the churches of Christ salute you,” he was sending them greetings from congregations all across the world. This does not endorse denominational division. It expresses nothing more than “called out” groups separated by location who assembled with only Jesus as their head and lawgiver.
3. The body of Christ (Coll :18f; Eph. 1:22-23). These terms “church” and “body” are used interchangeably and for good reason; both accurately describe a particular aspect of the members. The body of Christ is the one place where the “called out” contact the life saving blood of Jesus, for his blood is in his body. The body of Christ is not made up of man-made denominations, but only members individually (1 Cor. 12:27).
4. The bride of Christ (Eph. 5:23-32; Rev. 21:9). The Ephesian writer tells us that Christ became “one flesh” with his church. Jesus gave himself for her to wash her of her sins and present to himself a glorious church. In Philippians 1:1, Paul refers to Christians as “saints” “holy ones” for they were made holy by the love of their husband, Jesus Christ. Paul reminds the body of Christ in Ephesus that they were “members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones.” Again, God has chosen another descriptive name for the purpose of expressing his affection, care and love placed upon true disciples in the church of Christ.
5. The church of God (1 Cor. 1:2; Acts 20:28). This term, church of God, is not a denominational title, but a phrase which reveals the truth that Jesus is God, the Son. In Acts, Paul told the Ephesian elders, “to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.” Only Jesus, not the Father or the Spirit, purchased the church with blood through his death on the cross. This name, church of God, reveals the eternal truth that the church belongs to none other than God, the Son.
6. The church of the Firstborn (Heb. 12:23). Once again, we have another descriptive term emphasizing that Jesus is the head of his church. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus said, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.” The church is subject to him as eternal king and priest. All Christians are members of the church of the Firstborn.
7. The house of God (1 Tim. 3:15; 2 Tim. 2:19-20). In both of these passages, Paul referred to the greatest house ever known to man as the church of the living God, Jesus Christ. Throughout the Bible, Christians are known as the children of God. Think about it! It only makes sense that if we are in God’s family, we must be living in his house. In the Ephesians letter, the household of God, the church, was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. Peter likened Christians to spiritual stones building up the walls of God’s spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5). God’s house is still being built.
8. The churches of the Gentiles ( Rom. 16:4). This descriptive name for the church demonstrates to the world that Gentiles, as well as Jews, were meant to be a part of Christ’s church. Jesus told his apostles to, “go out into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:16). This phrase does not provide ownership to the Gen-tiles, but demonstrates God’s universal love and plea for all men to come to him and be saved from their sin. This plea still stands for all people today.
Friends, in conclusion, we’ve observed that our God has chosen descriptive names for his “called out” group, the church. These descriptive expressions present for us one glorified body, washed in the blood of Jesus. Can you find the name of the church you belong to in this list? We should oppose all organizations who have rejected God’s inspired names for his church. Man’s denominationally created names are foreign to the pattern given us in the New Testament Scriptures. Let’s be determined to let his church be his. Investigate (Acts 17:11), for the truth has no fear of investigation. Search the Scriptures for within lies the true names of the church of Christ.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 20, p. 14-15
October 19, 1995