The sect will insist that the church is named “Church of Christ” and there is no other acceptable name. This comes straight from Merie’s Church Lesson, but honestly, it used to be widely taught in mainstream churches of Christ as well. Thankfully, truth is prevailing, and that practice is slowly going away, because it is entirely unbiblical.
This may be a shock to you, but the Lord’s church is not once named in the Bible. Ever. In fact, it is not even a human organization, so it needs no proper name to distinguish it from other human organizations. It is a purely spiritual organization, and believers are added to it by God. They then proceed to seek out other believers to meet with, and that then becomes the visible “church” we are all talking about when we talk about “going to church.” That’s where men can come in and try to shape it, organize it, grow it, and mold it into a human institution, and that’s when we start having to deal with the issue of what to name it.
So how can we know that “Church of Christ” is NOT the exclusive name for the church? Well, a casual reading of the New Testament scriptures makes it obvious. An honest reading shows that there is much more scriptural precedent for the name “Church of God” if we are going to adopt a name for the church at all. But the objections start coming:
- There is already a group calling themselves “Church of God.” (So someone else got to it first, so we have to pick a different one? Really?)
- We need to show Jesus’ ownership of the church. (There are many options for this outside of the name “Church of Christ?” Why the blind devotion to that one? Answer: Tradition.)
- A bride takes on the name of the groom. (This is a western custom that didn’t arise until hundreds of years after the time of Christ.)
- We have been called by a new name, and it is “Church of Christ.” (This is actually one of my all-time favorite out-of-context verses taught by Merie. Yes, Isaiah said Israel would be called by a new name, but unfortunately, it’s not Church of Christ. It’s actually “Hephzibah.”)
All of these objections make some sense using man’s wisdom, but the New Testament writers, as moved by the Holy Spirit, saw fit to use other terms. That is just a fact. The only precedent for the proper name “Church of Christ” is in history books, and those precedents date back less than 200 years to the unity movement started by Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone (a movement with a lot of merit, but which has been perverted by time and by many layers of human tradition.)
We have made the mistake of insisting upon an exclusive proper name from what was meant to be merely a description. A proper name is defined as “The title by which any person or thing is known or designated; a distinctive specific appellation, whether of an individual or a class.”
So where do we find the proper name of Christ’s church to be “The Church of Christ?” Tens of thousands of signs have been posted on the walls of church buildings in the last 150 years saying “The Church of Christ meets here” and quoting Romans 16:16 underneath, “the churches of Christ salute you.” Is this proper authority for what we should name the church?
No. That is simply one of many ways to describe the church, it is not an exclusive name. When I read the Word, I find His church described in the following ways:
- the church (Col 1:18)
- churches of the gentiles (Ro 16:4)
- churches of Christ (Ro 16:16)
- the church of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Co 1:2; 10:32; 11:16; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Co 1:1; Ga 1:13; 1 Th 2:14; 2 Th 1:4; 1 Ti 3:5)
- churches of the saints (1 Co 14:33)
- church of the living God (1 Ti 3:15)
- general assembly and church of the firstborn (He 12:23)
- the faithful in Christ Jesus (Ep 1:1)
- the saints in Christ Jesus (Ph 1:1)
- household of God (Ep. 2:19-22)
- “the church which is at” the many different locations mentioned in the New Testament. (Acts 8:1; Acts 11:22; 2 Co 1:1; Ga 1:22; 1 Th 1:1; 1 Th 2:14; 2 Th 1:1)
What makes any one of these references a proper name that we ought to capitalize and use as an exclusive moniker? Nothing. They are all descriptive terms.
So why is the church a denomination?
Here’s the kicker. When we take the descriptive language used in the Bible for the church as a proper name, we are denominating it–we are giving it a name. That makes the “Church of Christ” a denomination. Why do we name pets, people, cities, buildings, churches, etc.? The only reason for naming anything is to distinguish it from another similar thing.
name n. 1. A word or words by which an entity is designated and distinguished from others.
de·nom·i·na·tion n. 1. A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy. 2. One of a series of kinds, values, or sizes, as in a system of currency or weights: Cash registers have compartments for bills of different denominations. The stamps come in 25¢ and 45¢ denominations. 3. A name or designation, especially for a class or group.
To name the church is to denominate it. That is simply the definition of the word. To suggest that “to denominate” means “to divide” is simply another word game the church plays, and it is not factually true, as the above definition illustrates.
I’m not saying I favor so-called “denominationalism” in the slightest. I’m simply pointing out that the definition of denominationalism is to name or denominate something. It is only because we have accepted the notion that there are multiple “churches” that we have bought into the essence of denominationalism, which is to form our own sect with our own unique name, “The Church of Christ.”
The answer is not necessarily to reform this or that organization (although that will happen as our thinking comes into line with the Bible on this), or to change its name, or even remove its name (although I’d shout hallelujah if all churches did that), but to recognize that all organizations are fallible because they’re built by fallible humans. It’s the humans inside them we need to reform, starting with ourselves, because we are the church, not the organizational structures we use to organize ourselves.
Believers ought to recognize no human organization at all as the “one true church” of Jesus Christ, and should maintain undying loyalty only to Jesus Christ himself. To do otherwise is to make an idol out of the human expression of The Church. The idea of radical adherence to any one Church as an organization, even when members know it is flat out wrong on certain issues, is spiritual idolatry, pure and simple. It is putting a fallible human organization as an object of devotion rather than the truth.
Sects and denominations come and go, and change dramatically over time, as we’ve seen in the 45+ year history of this sect. The teachers within them come and go, just as the doctrines of those teachers come and go, and change over time. But each congregation of saints is made up of individuals who stand or fall before their own maker. The church–the spiritual body of believers–is eternal and not made with hands. We are God’s workmanship, not the house of cards built by fallible men.
It is indisputable that the nominal Church of Christ (mainline included) made a “test of fellowship” out of that which the Bible made no requirement of whatsoever. The designation “church of Christ” is used purely in a descriptive sense in the Bible, as is “church of God” and the other terms listed above. We could help abolish the “language of Babylon” and get the minds of our fellow travelers back to the Biblical concept of what the local congregation is supposed to be if we stop speaking where the Bible is silent on this issue. The Bible didn’t insist on a particular name; neither should we.
The local church was not intended to be a denomination with a distinctive name on the door. It is simply a group of believers that chooses to assemble to worship God and edify each other to the best of their understanding and abilities.
The first century church had no formal name. All of the terms used to describe the church (the church of God, the general assembly and church of the firstborn, etc.) are descriptive references, never used as proper nouns. It is the difference between saying “I have a black cat” and “My cat is named Black Cat.”
If we insist on our own unique, uniform “identifier,” we are deviating from the New Testament pattern. Whether that’s right, wrong, or neither, can be debated as another subject altogether, but the fact remains that we’re doing something that the first century church didn’t. If we are to speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where it is silent, then we cannot insist that other believers call themselves the “Church of Christ.”
Refuting the Church Lesson
Here are the exact scripture quotations taken from Merie’s Church Lesson under the heading of “Does it matter what the church is called?” Take less than five minutes per verse to read the context, and you can plainly see that these verses make no reference to the name “Church of Christ,” much less insist upon it. And Merie was deemed to have “special insight” from the Holy Spirit? Let’s all assume she had great motives, but to say her teachings are somehow deep spiritual insight is a delusion.
- Acts 4:12 – Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. [This is referring to the name of Jesus, not the name of the church.]
- I Timothy 3:15 – But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. [Yes, the church ought to be the pillar and ground of the truth, but there is no guarantee it will always be, so it’s not something we can place our trust in. Historically speaking, that blind trust is what produced the Catholic Church.]
- Hebrews 12:23 – To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect…
- Romans 16:16 – Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you. [Simply a description, not a proper name.]
- Ephesians 3:21 – Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
- Colossians 3:17 – And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
- Ephesians 1:21-23 – Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. [Jesus has been given headship over all things to the church. It does not say the Church has been given headship over all things by virtue of Jesus being the head of it. Big difference.]
- Isaiah 62:1-2 – For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name. [Read through verse 4, where Isaiah points out that the “new name” is actually “Hephzibah.”]