DOES THE CHURCH HAVE AN OFFICIAL, EXCLUSIVE, PATENTED NAME?
In our contemporary world of many religions, including a multiplicity of denominations under the umbrella of what is called “Christianity,” it is exceedingly difficult for most people to think in terms of simple New Testament undenominational Christianity. It is hard for many people to conceive of there being a body of religious people on earth who have become Christians only, but who have not joined any denomination, who do not wear a denominational name, who are not governed by a denominational creed, catechism, or church manual, who do not have a denominational organization/structure or denominational headquarters, who eschew denominational status, but who seek to be just Christians as were the followers of Christ in New Testament times (Acts 22:26; I Peter 4:16).
In the New Testament we read of a body of people belonging to God by virtue of having been purchased by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; I Peter 1:18-19). They are identified as God’s “own special people” (Titus 2:11-14). The more common term used to refer to these people is the word “church,” from the Greek “ekklesia,” meaning “the called out,” i.e., those called out from the rest of the world to be the people of God (II Thessalonians 2:14; I Peter 2:9-10).
Jesus promised to build His church and referred to it in the singular as “My church” (Matthew 16:18). The book of Acts is an inspired account of how Christ, through His Spirit-filled apostles, established His church (Acts 1-2) and of its amazing spread throughout the Greco-Roman world of the first century (Acts 3-28). Local congregations of redeemed people were called “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16).
These same people also were called the church of God (I Corinthians 10:32; I Corinthians 15:9), and various congregations were called “churches of God” (I Corinthians 1:1-2; I Thessalonians 2:14; II Thessalonians 1:4). Most often, however, they are simply referred to as “the church” (Matthew 18:17; Acts 2:47 [KJV; NKJV]; Acts 8:3; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 3:10; Colossians 1:18, 24; et al).
These people are likewise described in the New Testament as being the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18), of which it is emphatically stated that there is but “one body,” and, therefore, but one true church (Ephesians 4:4). In the context of this latter verse (i.e., Ephesians 4:1-6), one might as well ask which God do you believe in or which Lord do you serve as to ask which church are you a member of or which faith do you follow! The fact is there is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God!
These people constitute a spiritual kingdom, variously designated as the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, and the kingdom of heaven (Mark 9:1; Colossians 1:13; Matthew 16:18-19). They are referred to as the temple of God (Ephesians 2:19-22 [esp. v. 21]; I Peter 2:4-5), the house (family) of God (I Timothy 3:15), the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-32; Romans 7:4; Revelation 21:9), the church of the firstborn [ones] who are enrolled in heaven (Hebrews 12:23), a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (I Peter 2:9-10), the spiritual Israel of God (Galatians 6:16; Galatians 3:29; Romans 2:28-29), as well as many other informative terms which the careful reader of the New Testament will discover.
None of these descriptors, however, was ever intended to be the official, exclusive, and patented “name” for the New Testament people of God. Those who want to make any one of the descriptors “the name” of the church show a decidedly denominational concept of the church. Some do this unknowingly and unintentionally; others do it because they want to portray the church as “a denomination among denominations.”
At the same time, in the midst of a multiplicity of denominations (all of which arose this side of the New Testament), it is in order for those of us who are seeking to be just the church of the New Testament to have some descriptive term by which brothers and sisters in Christ may know one another, especially as they travel from place to place. Addressing this very point, the late Batsell Barret Baxter, in a tract titled “I Talked to a Stranger and He Asked These Questions,” and in response to the question, “What do you call this church?,” said (and here I am quoting brother Baxter from memory but it is virtually verbatim): “We call it by any of the terms used in the New Testament to designate the people of God, but in the midst of a sadly divided religious world we find it necessary to use one of these terms almost exclusively insofar as our public announcements are concerned and in order to avoid confusion in our modern world. Although it is no more scriptural than the other terms, we have most often used the designation ‘church of Christ.’ This is appropriate because the Bible speaks of the church as the bride of Christ and of Christ as the founder and head of the church.” Yet, neither brother Baxter nor any other informed Bible student regarded/regards the descriptor “church of Christ” as the official, exclusive, and patented name for God’s people! This truth understood, no biblically informed person will speak of “the Church of Christ church,” “Church of Christ congregations,” “Church of Christ preachers,” “Church of Christ colleges,” “Church of Christ worship services,” etc.
Some nit pickers and hair splitters (for whom I have little patience and less time!) love to point out that the singular expression “church of Christ” is never used in the Bible, only the plural “churches of Christ.” Yet the Scriptures speak of the universal body as the “church of God” (I Corinthians 15:9) and of local churches as “churches of God” (II Thessalonians 1:4). Based on that fact, since it is acknowledged that local churches are designated as “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16), then one may logically conclude that the universal body may be scripturally referred to as the “church of Christ,” as much so as “churches of God” warrants the use of “church of God”! To speak as the oracles of God (I Peter 4:11) and to call Bible things by Bible names simply means to set forth Bible concepts in language reflective of Bible teaching. The Bible nowhere speaks of “the New Testament church,” but clearly there was a New Testament church, and Jesus called it “My church” (Matthew 16:18), thus the “church of Christ.” Therefore, the use of all of these terms is to “speak as the oracles of God” and to call Bible things by Bible names.
In the September 1941 issue of the Bible Banner, Cled E. Wallace, who had a clear understanding of the undenominational nature of the church, wrote: “I am certain that the expression ‘church of Christ’ has been used in a sectarian sense, but not when it is applied to the right thing, however often it may be used. It is misused only when it is employed to cover too little or too much or applied to something that is not it all. For instance, if you call something ‘the church of Christ’ which is smaller than the entire body of Christ and larger than a local congregation, then you have employed the term in a
sectarian sense. Brethren keep me more uneasy sometimes
by what they mean by it, than they do by how often
they say it.”
Addendum: The December 2018 issue of The Christian Chronicle told of a church planting in Orlando, Florida with the name “Reclaimed Church.” When I read this, I could not help but think of “the Restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” a branch of the Mormons. I am all for doing everything within the realm of biblical authority to reach millennials (and all others) with the gospel, but I fail to see how the Reclaimed Church will more effectively communicate biblical, undenominational Christianity to others. How long will it be before “Reclaimed Church” will be used in a denominational sense? “Reclaimed Church people,” “Reclaimed Church congregations,” “Reclaimed Church preachers,” “Reclaimed Church elders,” etc., etc.? Earlier this year, the editor of the Chronicle spoke of “the name of the fellowship.” THE name? The FELLOWSHIP? Whatever became of the simple Bible descriptors for the body of Christ, the church of our Lord, the New Testament people of God?
I deeply love my brethren, but many of them are in need of some serious instruction on the undenominational nature of the church and how to think, speak, and write of the body of Christ in a non-sectarian, undenominational way. Sadly, some of them seem to be ingloriously unaware of their need for such instruction or of a willingness to receive such instruction in a humble manner, as if it were not at all possible for them to be guilty of thinking, writing, and speaking of the church in a denominational fashion. No unkindness is intended by these remarks, but simply a statement of the reality of the situation as it exists with far too many in the church today.
December 11, 2018