By Carrol Sutton
In The Examiner (Jan., 1986), Dusty Owens wrote an article entitled, “Did God Name His Church?” In that article he quoted from an article by someone who had stated that for the church today to be the New Testament church, “it must have the same name.” Then Owens said: “it is implied that God gave His church a name. What name did He give it? Where is it stated in the Scriptures that God gave a name to His Church?” Owens continued: “The assumption that God named His church is believed by many today without questions. . . ” Later in his article he said: “People have made a denomination out of ‘church of Christ’ by insisting that this is a name given by God to His people. . .”
Owens also said: “Did God intend for that to be the name of His people? I reply emphatically, No! “, and “When you insist that ‘church of Christ’ is ‘the name God gave to His people,’ you make a denomination out of the Lord’s church. . . “
Some of the statements in Owens’ article are ambiguous, but if I understand the article, Owens is teaching that it is sinful to refer to the church as the church of Christ either in a universal or a local sense. To do so, in his mind, would be to make a denomination out of the people of God. If this is not taught in the article, then I missed it completely.
Does the word of God teach that it is sinful to refer to the church (either universal or local) as the church of Christ?
A serious consideration of the following osbservations should help clarify the question, “Did God Name His Church?”
1. Owens did not ask, “Did God Give His Church An Exclusive Proper Name?” If he had raised this question to be answered in the light of God’s Word, I (and probably every preacher I know) would certainly answer in the negative.
2. God did not give the church one specific name to the exclusion of all others. For various names, appellations and/or designations please read 1 Tim. 3:14-15; Eph. 4:12; 1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:13; 1 Cor. 11:16; Rom. 16:16 and Rev. 2:1,8,12,18, etc.
The fact that different appellations (an appellation is “a distinguishing mark, or title; appellation”) or names (a name is “a word or combination of words by which a person or thing is regularly known” acc. to Webster’s Clear Type Dictionary, 1976) are used in the New Testament by inspired writers to refer to the church prove that point.
3. When we have nouns used to refer to the church of the New Testament we have names because nouns are names! Nouns may be common or proper, but in either case (or both), they are names!
4. In Genesis 2:19-20 we read: “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field. . . . ” Question: Did Adam give each one a name? Did he give each one a proper name? Or did he call one fowl an “eagle,” another a “raven,” another a d6swan,” etc.? Did Adam give each beast a proper name or did he call one beast a “camel,” another one a “lion,” etc.? Did Adam give a proper name such as Leo to each and every lion? It would seem to me that Adam gave common, not proper names to all beasts and fowls. Note. Regardless, whatever Adam called them, that was their name – common or proper!
5. Isaiah 61:6 says concerning some: “But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God:. . . ” Note. Here are some names that some would be called. However, each person has a personal name or names. “The Priests of the Lord” and “The Ministers of our God” would obviously be names, although neither would be “the name” to the exclusion of the other.
6. Luke 6:13 says: “And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles.” Note. The twelve were named apostles! Of course, each one had a proper name. Is it sinful for us to use the name “apostles” to refer to the twelve? “Apostles” is a noun, hence a name!
7. The apostle Paul said: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the wholefamily in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15).
8. For a person to ask “What name did God give the church” or “What is the name of the church” is about like a oneness Pentecostal asking, “What name did God give His Son?” or “What is the name of the Son?” Note. Various names were given to God’s Son (see Isa. 9:6-7; Matt. 1:23-25; 28:19; Acts 2:38; 10:48; 1 Pet. 4:14; Rev. 19:14-16; etc.). There was no exclusive name given to Him! It is certainly scriptural to use any name, appellation and/or designation that any inspired man used to refer to Christ. Note: Various names have been used by inspired writers to identify or describe the church (see number 2 above). It is certainly proper for us to use any (and all) of the names, appellations and designations given in the Scriptures to refer to the church. The context in each case must determine whether reference is made to the church in a universal sense or to the church in a local sense. No one name should be used to the exclusion of all others! This principle would apply when referring to God’s church or to God’s Son.
9. If one of “the churches of Christ” of Romans 16:16 cannot Scripturally be called “a church of Christ” (or “the church of Christ”) then one of “the children of God” of Galatians 3:26 cannot scripturally be called a “child of God.”
10. I see no reason why we should object to or have any problem with referring to the church by any word or combination of words that is used by inspired writers to refer to the church. Obviously, whatever names (words or combination of words) God gave to identify or describe the church are names that are scriptural.
11. Names such as “churches of Christ” in Romans 16:16 and “churches of God” of 1 Cor. 11:16 along with all others used in the Scriptures were used by inspired men in the first century and we are certainly in good company when we use them. Note. There is no way God’s people can be properly identified without using a name or names! If so, how?
12. We should never attack and condemn a scriptural expression in order to expose and condemn what we believe to be an unscriptural concept or practice. We should expose and condemn the unscriptural concept or practice.
13. I have no objection to brethren using any scriptural expression (call it a name, appellation, designation or what) to identify God’s people. Do you?
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 9, pp. 268, 278
May 5, 1988