By Robert L. McDonald
Over the past few months, I have heard and read where some are preparing (intentionally or,” otherwise) the hearts of the brethren for a change of designation of the church. I am not calling into question the motives of brethren who write and speak of the church of our Lord as being “nameless,” but I do state that such loose thinking land preaching), which denies the church of our Lord has a “name,” will eventually lead the unlearned to the conclusion that the church can be called by almost any designation, for -whats in a name!”
A bulletin came to my desk with an entire article attempting to prove the church has no name. After citing Romans 16:16 as a proof text which has been offered for the scriptural designation for the church, the author said: “But this oft-quoted passage does not say the name of the church is church of Christ. All that maybe fairly deduced from it is that a plurality of local congregations is spoken of as churches of Christ. They are referred to as churches of Christ because such they were. They were of Christ, or belonged to Christ. This is all the passage says. It is no proof that the name of the Lords church is Church of Christ.” In the article the author goes on to say the New Testament also refers to the church as “the church of God,” “church of the Lord,” “church of the first born” and “churches of the gentiles.” Then, in the last paragraph, he said: “The Lord gave no name to his church. It is merely the church. Since it belongs to Christ, is his body (Eph 1:23) it is most proper to refer to it as the church of Christ. And so we do.”
Since the author stated “it is most proper to refer to it as the church of Christ, ” I wonder why all of the double-talk about the church without a name and then turn around and say -it is most proper” to refer to the church as the church of Christ.” If the church has no name, as the author contended, why is it most proper to refer to the church as “Church of Christ?” I dont quite understand this reasoning. Why would it be more proper to give that designation than “church of the gentiles?” I havent heard of any contending we should start designating the congregation with which we worship as “church of the gentiles!”
Every Bible student realizes the church was identified by different appellatives and in every instance such distinguished the church of Jesus Christ from religions of human origin. For example, Paul, writing to those who had been in Christ Jesus was, collectively, called “church of God” (I Cor 1:2). This designation was especially apropos since Corinth was so near the pagan center of the world, Athens. These people sanctified in Christ Jesus, belonged- to and served the true and living God. They were the “church of God.” For them to worship, work, organize and serve in an unlawful way would result in their losing their identity (even though they continued to refer to themselves as “church of God”) as belonging to Christ. And, to employ some designation which removes the name of Christ, or deity, from use, equally loses identity as the church one reads of in the New Testament.
When the apostle Paul wrote, “churches of Christ salute you” (Rom 16:16, it is necessarily inferred that such designation was universally employed by Christians of the first century. Since a number of congregations saluted the church at Rome and such was reported by the inspired writer as he did, how would the same act by one congregation be expressed? It does not take an “Einstein” to understand when speaking of one congregation of many could only be “church of Christ.”
A basic role of Bible interpretation is to understand the use of words in the context in which they are found. And so it is when endeavoring to understand Pauls use of the expression of “churches of the gentiles” (Rom 16:4f. The text states that Priscilla and Aquila had undergone great peril so as to save the life of Paul. As a result, Paul and churches composed of gentiles offered thanks for the two saints. Williams translates the text in question as: “Remember me to Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow-workers in the work of Christ Jesus, who once risked their very necks for my life. I am so thankful to them; not only I but also all the churches among the heathen thank them.” (The New Testament, Charles B. Williams) The congregations (among the gentiles) established by Paul would specialty offer thanks for the deeds of Priscilla and Aquila. To take this verse of scripture to try to establish the idea that the church was “nameless” is to wrest it from the intention of the Holy Spirit.
In Hebrews 12:23, we read of the “church of the first-born.” The context plainly shows that the inspired writer was identifying the units of the church, the members, as “first-born.” To the Jew, the first-born man or beast was reckoned more excellent than subsequent births and were allotted to God. This expression was employed by the Holy Spirit to impress the minds of the Hebrews that the church of our Lord is composed of those who were truly the “first-born” and in the end heirs of the eternal blessings by the Father.
Does the use of other designations (names) escape the prejudice that people are supposed to have against the church of Christ? I suspect this was the deciding factor which prompted the liberals of a hundred years ago to use the designation, “Christian Church.” And, when unthinking brethren today delude themselves into believing they should not attach the name of Christ to the church so as to escape the stigma and prejudice (according to some), they have taken mother step into digression and complete apostasy.
I am not ashamed of Christ or his church. I am not ashamed to wear the name Christian. I am so thankful to God that I am a member of the church of Christ, for in the church I am at peace with God and with the redeemed. (Eph. 2:14-10)
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 43, pp. 6-7
September 7, 1972