Romans 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
Names are Important. Corporations are extremely insistent upon their product name being emphasized correctly in advertising. They want the correct name to be displayed so that consumers buy the correct product. The names of the inheritors of a will must be correct in order for that inheritance to properly apply. If someone uses a derogatory term to describe us, our reaction is usually hostile. Many are brought into court on the charge of public slander because the name of someone has been defamed. Names matter. What we call others, and the terms we use to describe things, are important. Without names, there is confusion.
We must consider whether it truly matters what a church calls itself. On the one hand, I intend to show that what we call our local congregation is important. On the other hand, I intend to point out that names do not always define us unless we are living up to that name.
God holds names as being important. He named Adam (Gen. 5:2), and renamed Jacob to Israel (Gen. 32:27-28). God even prophesied the name of His Messiah (Is. 9:6). Names were important among the Christians of the 1st Century, though sometimes for the incorrect reason (1 Cor. 1:13).
I am often asked “what kind of church” I go to. When I mention that the congregation I worship with has “church of Christ” on its sign and is known by that name, it seems that many lump that into the denominational designation. Because those among what I would call the Faith do not organize themselves as a denomination (primarily meaning a central man-made organization that claims to be a part of a bigger whole), to say that the “church of Christ” is a denomination is a misuse of the term.
The church I worship with uses the name “church of Christ” to describe themselves. This is more utility than tradition, however. It succinctly describes what we are all about. We seek to be the Church that Christ built (Matt. 16:18), but “Church of Christ” is not the only name we could use. In various places throughout the New Testament, it is called “My Church” (Matt. 16:18), “The Church” (Acts 8:1), “Church of God” (1 Cor. 1:2), “The body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), “The church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:15), “Church of the first born” (Heb. 12:23), and “Churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16). We would suggest that any other names of identification are simply inaccurate, and not descriptive of the Body.
Are there churches calling themselves “church of Christ” who act as a denomination? Undoubtedly. Congregations of brethren who use the treasury to fund human institutions and universities are essentially “denominations” without using the term. Their doctrine is often “handed down” in many ways as the Baptists or Methodists.
Again, we seek to be the Church that Christ built. The reason for this is that there is only one Church that we want to be identified with. The Bible Emphasizes that One Church. Paul writes, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;” (Eph. 4:4). There are actually multiple bodies in the religious world, composed of many different spirits. Some - even among those I would call brethren and saints - would have us believe that the denominations are just the same as we are, when their faith and practices are different from what the Bible teaches. This confusion should not be so (1 Cor. 14:33). We should listen to our God.
Further, we can find that many of the names used by the denominations are only partly descriptive of the One Body. For example, the Baptists use a term that focuses on baptism – a necessary component of the plan of salvation (Mk. 16:16); this, however, does not completely describe the Church. Methodists traditionally believed in a method of biblical interpretation, doctrine, and practice. While we certainly see a method to God’s plan in Scripture, this also is not completely descriptive. Even still, Presbyterians emphasize in their original teachings of the need of “Presbyters”, essentially Elders of the church. This again only describes in part concerning the church that Jesus died to build (Acts 20:28).
Someone might say, “The Bible mentions ‘churches’ in the plural form!” Indeed it does. However, when the plural form is used, it does not refer to different denominations, all teaching different doctrines, offering different plans of salvation and diverse in their practice and worship; but rather to congregations who have obeyed the same Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4). We are not born so that we can be just “part of a Church”, but we are born again to see and enter the Kingdom of God - His rule (John 3:3-5)!
To claim that the plural form of “churches” in the New Testament references bodies of saints who believe and practice all sorts of different things is a woeful misunderstanding and misuse of the text. The different churches in the New Testament were similar in their uniform faith and practice, and the Apostles pressed them to become increased in their unity. Paul writes, “Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” (Phil 3:16). Yes, we have different congregations, but the model is for all of us to be unified in doctrine and practice - not different doctrines and different practices! Paul appealed to the brethren in Corinth to be truly joined together: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:10)
Christians need to be clear to the world. Some suggest that we abandon all names and just call ourselves “the Church”. This would not be unscriptural, yet we have to ask, would it be honest? We cannot be ashamed of the name of Jesus (Mk. 8:38). Further, we need to be open and honest about what we believe and practice (Rom. 12:17). Certainly we can use other names than “church of Christ”, but I would suggest that no other name would be so completely descriptive of the beliefs, teachings, and practices of those saints who stand for the Lord daily, and sacrificially give themselves to His service. Of course, what we are called means nothing if we are not standing for Him in the first place (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:16, 22-25). -Steven McCrary