Blog, Questions

Does a church have to wear the name “Church of Christ”?

The real question is if the name “Church of Christ” or any derivation of that name is actually a Biblical title and if so, is it mandated by scripture.

Again almost all of these questions about whether it is “legal” to do this or that in order to find favor with God are derived from a false logic that God has established a firm pattern which must be followed without deviation. This is not only untrue, but it flies in the face of Jesus’ death on the cross to free mankind from the burden of a law being the key to salvation. Until we get our head around the purpose of Biblical laws we’ll constantly be straining at gnats like the Pharisees were.

But for the sake of argument, we’ll first look at a few reasons outside of scripture people have made for why this name is necessary:

People know it is the true church by its name. – This leads into a debate about what is the true church and if any group or party can actually lay claim to being the one true church to the exclusion of all others. But that’s a topic for another article. Aside from that, I’ve known enough churches of Christ (big c and little c) to know that they don’t all get along, they don’t accept each other openly, and many claim every other flavor of the churches of Christ but their own are in error (hence not part of the true church of Christ). So this assertion about the name is just not true.

All brides wear the name of their husbands, so should we. – This is Westernized logic. In the middle east, in days of Christ, this simply was not true. Last names or surnames are a modern addition to culture. The tradition of a bride changing her last name after marriage post-dates Jesus completely. Also, it should be noted that Christ is not Jesus’ last name. In fact, it is not part of his name at all. It is his title. It means Messiah.

Not wearing the name, Christ, means you are ashamed of him. – If we are called Christians, then we are wearing the name of Christ. The sign in the yard doesn’t reflect individual commitments or a dedicated life to Christ.

I’m sure there are others, but let’s just see what the Bible has to say about this?

What the Bible says about the name of the church

In short, it says nothing specifically about a “name”.

That is correct, there is not a name given to the church. Church itself is simply a descriptive term derived from the Greek term ekklesia, which simply means a called assembly of people. No proper name is ever given or used by example. The closest the scriptures come to a name are found scattered through the book of Acts where the term The Way is used many times to refer to the church. [1]Acts 9:2; 18:25; 19:9, 23; 24:4,14,22

If a name of an assembly of people was overly important, the New Testament would’ve told us specifically to use that name. What we do find primarily in scriptures are descriptive terms for congregations or the church as a whole. Here is how the scriptures address the church descriptively:

The body[2]Col 1:18; Rom 7:4; 1 Cor 10:16; 12:27; Eph 4:12 – This is a metaphor used since Paul refers to us as body parts to symbolize our unity in Jesus.

Church of God[3]Acts 12:5; 20:28; 1 Cor 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Co 1:1; Gal 1:13; 1 Tim 3:5; 3:15 – Again this is not a proper name, but a descriptive term. The word ekklesia means a gathering of people. We are God’s assembled people. This is completely synonymous with “of Christ”[4]Rom. 16:16, “of the Nazarene” (Jesus came from Nazareth)[5]Acts 24:5,14; 28:22, “of the Firstborn” (a reference to Jesus)[6]Heb 12:23, “of the saints”[7]1 Cor 14:33, “of the living God”[8]I Tim 3:15. These terms are used completely interchangeably and no one of them is singled out as a proper name which must be used. If churches of Christ is the only proper way to refer to the church, then the very writers of the new testament are in error for using these other terms.

Kingdom of God[9]Col 4:11 – Again this is a descriptive term and not a name. It is not only synonymous with everything we’ve listed so far, but it is also the same as the “kingdom of his dear Son”[10]Col 1:13 and “kingdom of Christ and of God”[11]Eph 5:5

Location names – In addition to the church being referred to by God’s or Jesus’ many names or titles, sometimes the church is just referred to by its geographical location. You will find the church at the house of Aquila and Priscilla[12]1 Cor 16:19, at Judea, Jerusalem, Antioch, Cenchrea, Corinth, the Laodiceans, the Thessalonians, and Ephesus.[13]Gal 1:22, 1 Thess 2:14, Acts 8:1, Acts 13:1, Rom. 16:1, 1 Cor. 1:2, Col. 4:16, 1 Thess. 1:1, Rev. 2:1 None of these are referring to names but are descriptive.

The point here is that the variety in the references to the churches should help us understand that how they are named is not as important as what is happening in the hearts of the believers in those assemblies. Why are we binding something that was never bound? This is another area where we are seeking to add less freedom when Christ came to set us free from such issues:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
– Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

What’s in a Name?

We live in a modern culture that is littered with church parties. The names often used or denominations are there because we can’t get along and we have used it as a way of dividing the body. So in that sense, they could be considered less than ideal. But saying that one name is the proper Biblical name of the church while other names are Biblically wrong is just Biblically incorrect.

So let’s think about it in terms of our own personal name. My name is Thomas. When I became a Christian my name remained Thomas. In order to be a Christian, I did not have to change my name (although there are many examples of such events in the Bible). This is because God and Christ are concerned about my faith and my love for them… not my name. If I chose to start calling myself Thomas of Christ there would be nothing wrong with that. It might be kind of strange but it would convey my convictions in Jesus. However, since I choose not to do that, does it make me in the wrong or ashamed of Christ in any way? Of course not.

This same concept is true collectively. God and Christ are not concerned with the name on our building or our sign or on our organization’s legal papers. They’re concerned about our collective faith and our love for them and each other. I can state this because if it were not true, the Bible would’ve addressed the name of the church specifically. But the Bible is silent about it. And aren’t we the ones claiming to be silent where the Bible is silent? Then why aren’t we?

Notes   [ + ]

1. Acts 9:2; 18:25; 19:9, 23; 24:4,14,22
2. Col 1:18; Rom 7:4; 1 Cor 10:16; 12:27; Eph 4:12
3. Acts 12:5; 20:28; 1 Cor 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Co 1:1; Gal 1:13; 1 Tim 3:5; 3:15
4. Rom. 16:16
5. Acts 24:5,14; 28:22
6. Heb 12:23
7. 1 Cor 14:33
8. I Tim 3:15
9. Col 4:11
10. Col 1:13
11. Eph 5:5
12. 1 Cor 16:19
13. Gal 1:22, 1 Thess 2:14, Acts 8:1, Acts 13:1, Rom. 16:1, 1 Cor. 1:2, Col. 4:16, 1 Thess. 1:1, Rev. 2:1