The Name of the Divine Church

By Cecil Willis

Nothing In a Name??

We are living in an age in which people think the name of an organization is unimportant. ,People seem to have been swept off their feet by the adage, “There’s nothing in a name!” Others prefer to quote Shakespeare attempting to prove the name of the church is unimportant, as he says, “a rose called by some other name would smell just as sweet.” But there is something in a name, and in speaking of almost any object besides the church, men readily will admit there is much in a name. Would you be willing for your wife to be called by another’s name? Or are you “narrow-minded” enough to think that since she is your wife, therefore she should wear your name? Is the name one wears really important? In speaking of this example all would admit that the name is important. If the name by which one is called is of no consequence, it should be perfectly all right to call a good American a “Communist,” or a truthful man a “liar,” or an upright citizen a “criminal.” After all, if it be true that, there is nothing in a name, it would make no difference what we are called. We realize there is something in a name.

But when it comes to spiritual matters, there is everything in a name. It is certainly important that we wear the right name. Men have deceived themselves into taking all too lightly the actions of God. When God calls the name of the church through the Apostles, it is a matter of tremendous consequence for a finite creature such as you or me to attempt to change the decree of God. It is an insult to God. It amounts to saying we are not pleased with what God has done, and that we feel we can improve upon it.

There is something in a name. Paul thought there was. He wrote to a church one time, in which people were wearing wrong names, and he reprimanded them for such divisive actions, He says: “For it hath been signified unto me concerning you, my brethren, by them that are of the household of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:11-13). Does this sound as though it makes no difference what name you wear? It certainly does not. Paul is saying it is wrong for you to wear the name of Paul, Peter, or Apollos. He says you should wear the name of Him into whose name you were baptized, and of Him who was crucified for you, which of course, is Jesus the Christ. To wear another’s name would be sin. Yet when a passage is as plain as this, men and women seem to think nothing at all is wrong with them wearing the name of some preacher who is of much less importance than Paul or Peter.

Is there anything in a name? Let us read a passage from the Bible, and you may answer the question for yourself. I know, after considering this reference, you cannot answer the question incorrectly, if you will but consider it carefully. Peter, in speaking of Christ, says: “And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). There is salvation in no other name under heaven, than the name of Christ. And yet, people will tell you “There’s nothing in a name.” That just is not so! There is something in a name. There is salvation in a name. There is redemption in the name of Christ, and outside him one cannot be saved.

Names of the Church

The church is called by several names in the New Testament, each of which describes some specific aspect of it. When speaking of the church, we must use Biblical language. Even though there are many different names of the church stated in the Bible, there is but one body, one church. Let us now note some of the different titles by which the church is known.

By far, the most frequent appellation given the church is simply to call it the “church.” In Acts 8:1 we read, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church which was in Jerusalem.” The word “church,” in the original language of the New Testament, the Greek, means “a called-out body.” This means that the church consists of people called out of the world, and set apart unto a life of righteousness. In Matt. 16:18, Jesus says “upon this rock I will build my church.” The church, then, belongs to Christ. We reed of another name given the church in 1 Cor. 1:1, 2: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth.” The church is here called “the church of God.” This means the church was designed by God. In Acts 20:28, Paul tells the elders of the church at Ephesus to “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.” The church is the “church of the Lord.” It belongs to Christ.

Hence, when Paul comes to speak of a plurality of congregations of the Lord, he speaks of “churches of Christ.” In Romans 16:16, Paul says “Salute one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ salute you.” From this passage some have concluded that Paul was speaking of the different denominations within the church of Christ. But this is not so, for Paul condemned anything that resembled denominationalism in 1 Cor. 1, from which we just read. Further, in New Testament times there were no denominations. He was speaking of different congregations belonging to Christ. We may speak of the several thousand different congregations of the Lord in this country as “churches of Christ,” for they are just that; they belong to Christ. He purchased them with his blood. We find the church called the “body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), “the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:15), the “one body” (Eph. 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:13), the “church of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:23), the “kingdom” (Matt. 16:18), and many other such names. When members of the Lord’s church come to speak of the church, they will speak of it in Bible language. They will call the church by a Bible name. The church is a Bible organization, and we should use a Bible name for it. A church not having a Bible name is not the Bible church.

It is apparent that men are not content to use Bible language in speaking of the church when you walk down the street and look at the names printed upon church buildings in any city. Look at some of these names, and then try to find them in your Bible. These names given by men are wrong because they are divisive in character, given to designate peculiar parties, sectarian in purpose and effect, separating some professed believers from others by some peculiar name, and therefore are antagonistic to the prayer of Christ recorded in John 17. These humanly devised names are condemned in the New Testament, as we read a moment ago from 1 Cor. 1. They give honor to some person, such as an outstanding preacher, or exalt some ordinance or form of government, thus diverting honor which duly belongs to Christ. These human names act as stumbling blocks to sinners, confuse honest truth seekers, and create the false impression that God has many churches, and that just any of them are all right.

Names of the Members of the Church

So far we have noticed the names by which the church is known in the New Testament. Now let us notice some of the different names by which the members of the church are known in the New Testament. It likely will be impossible for us to make special notation of all the names given, for our space is limited. (1) “Disciples” is one name given. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them” (Acts 20:7). It should be observed that the word “disciples” is not the name of the church. It is the name given for those who make up the church. (2) “Saints.” Disciples of the Lord were also called “saints” in the Bible. Most people think of a “saint” as one who has been dead several years; at least long enough for all to have forgotten his sins. But “saints” were living Christians. Paul writes to the “saints” of the church in the city of Rome (Rom. 1:7). He wrote to living people. Some people take the word “saint,” and try to name a church after it. This also is to misuse the name given. (3) “Brethren. ” In relation to each other the saints were called “brethren.” They were all members of the family of God. Paul so names disciples of Christ, when he- says that Christ “appeared to above five hundred brethren at once” (1 Cor. 15:6). We have denominations today that get their name from the word “brethren,” which likewise is a misuse of the word. (4) “Christian” is another name given to the individuals who make up the church. In Acts 11:26, we read “the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Paul almost persuaded Agrippa “to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28). Peter says “If any man suffer as , a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name” (1 Pet. 4:16). This term is always applied to members of the church; never is it given as a name for the church itself. So let us realize that the names given for the individuals who make up the church are not to be given as names for the church.

Neither the church, nor the members of the church have any one name; several are given for each in the Bible. But let us be sure that we are not presumptuous, in assuming a name for ourselves foreign to the Bible. The church is “the church of God,” “the church of the Lord,” “the body of Christ,” the “one body,” “the church of the firstborn,” and many other names. Several congregations are “churches of Christ.” Christians are “disciples,” “brethren,” “saints,” “priests,” “sons of God,” “children of God,” “heirs of God.” We must remember that it is important that we wear the names given by God, for God did not give us names or commandments that are unimportant. Let us not assume that where God has spoken, man can either obey or disobey, and yet have God’s approval.

We must wear the name of Christ for the church is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33; 2 Cor. 11:2); the church is God’s family, and thus should wear His name; whatever we do must be done in the name of Christ (Col. 3:17); it is only in his name that unity can ever be attained; and Paul says at the name of Christ every knee must bow (Phil. 2:9-11). The name of the church is of supreme importance. There is something in a name. “And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among brethren, where we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Salvation is in the name of Christ! “The Churches of Christ Salute You” (Rom. 16:16).

Truth Magazine XIX: 12, pp. 179-181
January 30, 1975