There are some things that people say that just mess with my mind. Phrases like, “I’m church of Christ” or “The church of Christ believes” just don’t make sense. It is right to say, “I’m a Christian”, “I’m a disciple of Christ” or even, “I’m a member of the church that can be described as the church of God, the churches of Christ, or simply as the church.” When someone ask the question, “What does the church of Christ believe about some issue they have heard about?” I want to respond by saying, “Who knows and who cares?” People who belong to the churches of Christ believe just about anything you can imagine on any given topic.
But what matters isn’t what people believe but what does God tell us through His inspired word? Jesus said, “Sanctify them through your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17). What God says in the Bible is right and to be followed whether anyone believes it correctly or not. Truth isn’t changed based on who believes it. If every Christ follower in the world believes something that is opposite to what the Bible teaches, it wouldn’t change or affect what is right and true. It might change our destiny or our ability to live pleasing to the Lord, but the truth remains the same whether or not people recognize and follow it.
When we talk about church the mental image that comes up is usually either a building where people meet to worship God or of some denominational body. But neither of those concepts are found in Scripture at all. The church isn’t a building, but people who may meet in a building to worship and praise God. The church is just as much the church on Monday morning as it is when it is meeting on Sunday morning.
Did you know that the phrase, “Church of Christ” is never found in the Bible? Only once is the phrase, “churches of Christ” found and that is in Romans 16:16. Even the word Christian is only found three times. It was used in Acts 11:26 when the disciples were first called Christians, in Acts 26:28 when Agrippa said, “Almost you persuade me to be a Christian” and in I Peter 4:16 when Peter said, “If anyone suffers as a Christian let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in this name.” Most of the times when the word “church” is used in the Bible it is tied to a location such as “The church in Jerusalem” or “The churches of Galatia.” When it isn’t being used to refer to a specific place the church is usually either referred to as just the church or as “The church of God.”
There isn’t a single time when the church is given a name in the Bible. There are different descriptions of the community of believers. It is described as “The body of Christ”, “The family of God”, “The church of the firstborn” and “The kingdom of God’s dear son.” But these aren’t names for the church. If any of them were it would be used exclusively. The translators are trying to make that clear to us when they don’t capitalize the word being used. It is “The Church of God” but “The church of God” indicating that it is the called out people who belong to God.
When people have tried to come up with names for the church they usually pick out some belief or characteristic of the body and use that as the name to follow. Think of the beliefs behind such names as Catholic, Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian. Or think of names that are often used today such as “Grace”, “Community”, “Open Door”, or “Fellowship”. In none of the cases whether from the past or present does the name indicate that the one thing mentioned is all that they believe. It usually doesn’t even mean that this is the most significant thing they believe. It just separated them from others who believed differently.
Names are given to a church for different reasons. One main reason is just so people can identify that group and know they are among people who believe in a particular way. For example, if one sees a sign saying, “Central church of Christ” they would know that it is in some kind of central location, perhaps of a city or county and they would know some things about how the people there believe on certain teachings of the Bible and how they worship. If the sign said, “Central Baptist church” they would know they believed in immersion for baptism and many other basic teachings about Christ and life. So the name helps us identify a group to decide if this is where we belong.
A name also has the effect of excluding those who reject basic teachings of the group. If one believed that baptism could be done by sprinkling it would likely mean they wouldn’t fit in among people who were Baptist and believed in immersion for baptism. If they felt a church was to be run democratically they would likely avoid a church named “Presbyterian” since the name would indicate they are led by “elders” or “overseers”. The giving of the name sets us apart both positively and negatively.
Giving a name also tends to set us on a particular course. If we put a particular way of believing into the name of the church we have settled what we will believe and follow on that issue at least. Even if we learn something different it is hard to change things that have been seen as so fundamental they are part of the name of the group.
Think of the word “church” or the word “Christian”. The basic meaning of the word translated “church” is “To be called out or set apart.” The word was used of groups of people gathering for any purpose. The word was even used of the mob that gathered to shout Paul down in the city of Ephesus. The word “Christian” means to be a “Christ follower” or to be “Christ like”. If a person doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God, they aren’t likely to be drawn to a group calling themselves “Christians”.
God cared so much about the names of particular people that He changed their names to fit the character He was about to give them. He changed Simon’s name to Peter, meaning a small stone or rock. He changed Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel. Names affect even how see ourselves and what we become in life.
A name that gives a location so a group can be found makes sense and will be helpful to people searching. A name tied to one particular teaching doesn’t make much sense because it sets one teaching apart as though it were the most important teaching the group has or maybe even that it is the only one that matters much.
Peter said there is only one name under heaven, given among men by which a person can be saved. That name is Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). He is the lord and savior of all who follow him. When you think of God seeing names as important and realize He didn’t ever give a specific name to the church, that too must be important. It indicates something that is significant to God. When God’s unique son was to be born He send Gabriel to tell both Mary and Joseph that they would call his name “Jesus” for He would save His people from their sins. Jesus promised “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” But God never said to anyone “And you shall call the name of the church _______.” If God left the church unnamed it just might be for a reason that we would do well to follow.