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Questioning… The Name of the Church [pt. 2]

In part 2 of our series “Questioning the Questions,” we will look at the question “What is the name of the church?”

In each of these articles, I will answer the question the way I typically would due to my upbringing. Then, I will break down each major argument by challenging the original question.

What is the Name of the Church?

In Leroy Brownlow’s book Why I am a Member of the Church of Christ he said that one major reason for him being a member of the Church of Christ was that it has a scriptural name. He wrote, “The church has no special name, but it is spoken of in several significant appellations” (p. 29). The word appellation means “name or title.” So while the church has no one name, according to Brownlow, it does have several significant names given in the Bible. Some of these are “The church,” “Church of God,” “Churches of Christ,” and “Church of the firstborn,” among others he gave.

The argument goes that members of Christ’s church will speak of the church in scriptural terms. Brownlow suggests to look over the doors of the various meeting houses to see what names are above the door. Most of these names, he says, can’t be found in the Bible. Some of the names he disproves of are Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Baptist, Holiness, and Catholic. These names, he says, dishonor God, Christ, and the Bible.

Another part of this argument is the idea that the church should wear the name of Christ. Passages like Acts 4:12 are often quoted, “And in none other is there salvation; for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.” Brownlow says, “What an awful warning! Are you willing to heed it?” So, in calling ourselves Christians and using the name “Church of Christ” we are wearing the name of the one who died for us. Brownlow offers a syllogism to prove this last point:

There is salvation in no other name (Acts 4:12). The name “Baptist” is another name. Therefore, there is no salvation in the name “Baptist.”

p.35

While the last argument has some problems I will cover in the next section, on the surface, all of these arguments appear to make sense. At the very least, you could probably see why someone would accept this answer. In fact, there are probably many of my readers who do believe the above arguments to be valid and that we should only use expressions like “Church of Christ” on our buildings. I ask that you bear with me as we challenge this question in the section below.

Questioning the Question

Does the Church Have a Name?

The original question was “What is the name of the church?” This question assumes that the church has a name. Brownlow was correct in saying that the church as no special name, but when he went on to say that “several significant appellations” were given in Scripture, he was off course in my opinion. The so-called names he mentioned were not official names of the church but descriptions of the church, whether it be the universal body of believers, congregations within a region, or a specific congregation.

Take Romans 16:4 for example. There Paul mentions the “churches of the Gentiles.” Is that an official name of the church? Or notice Galatians 1:22 which talks about the “churches of Judea.” Is that one of the accepted names of church? Obviously not, but these are no different than the expression “churches of Christ” that is used in Romans 16:16.

These various terms are not “significant appellations” but descriptions.

Congregations meeting in the first century had no official names or titles. The word “church” in those cases simply meant assembly. For example, Paul mentioned “the church that is in [Prisca and Aquila’s] house” in Romans 16:5. In this case he is talking about the assembly of believers in their home. The examples above, churches of the Gentiles and churches of Judea, are just talking about the assemblies of Christians belonging to that ethnic group or region.

In our modern world, we have signs in front of our church buildings, something they would not have had in the first century. Worrying about the so-called “name” of the church is a modern phenomenon and not something the Bible addresses.

One preacher who has a call-in television program argued with a caller, “Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. I don’t read about any Baptists in my Bible. Since the Bible says that whatever is not of faith is sin, you can’t go to Heaven and wear the name Baptist.” To be frank, the Bible speaks of no Christians who met in a building with a sign out front that said Churches of Christ either. It uses the phrase one time to talk about how all the “assemblies of the Messiah” sent greetings to the church at Rome. It isn’t an official name of the body of Christ.

Wearing Christ’s Name

Some have argued that we ought to wear Christ’s name. Of course, this argument falls apart when one realizes that the only group I’m aware of that wears His name on their sign out front is the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Christ isn’t Jesus’s last name like my last name is Rogers. It is His title. Christ is the Greek equivalent of the title Messiah which means the anointed one. If our sign out front needed to bear the name of Jesus, it ought to say Jesus, but since there were no church buildings and signs in the first century, this entire argument is irrelevant.

Some preachers, in their ignorance, would say that since the church is the bride of Christ, then the church should take His name and call themselves the Church of Christ. This argument falls apart because Jesus’s last name wasn’t Christ. That term, again, was His title.

Please know that I have no problem with a church sign saying Church of Christ. The congregation I worship with has that on their sign, but this argument simply makes no sense.

Baptist is Another Name

There is salvation in no other name (Acts 4:12). The name “Baptist” is another name. Therefore, there is no salvation in the name “Baptist.”

p.35

Allow me to get a little geeky with you concerning logic. Since syllogisms were used in the source quoted above, we have to get a little more technical.

There are three parts to every syllogism: the terms, the premises, and the argument. The terms are the individual words and phrases within a premise. The premises are the statements within the syllogism. The argument is the entire thing put together. Terms can be clear or unclear. Premises are true or false. And arguments must be logically sound. If terms are unclear, the premises are false, or the argument doesn’t logically follow, then the conclusion isn’t necessarily true. It’s also important to point out that just because these conditions aren’t met does not mean that the conclusion is false; it just means the argument, as stated, doesn’t work.

In the syllogism presented in the quotation above, the problem is found in the terms, specifically the term “another name.” The syllogism could also be rewritten to be a little more clear by making the phrasing of all the terms identical, but this isn’t an absolute necessity. Still, I’ll do it below:

There is no salvation in another name. The name “Baptist” is another name. Therefore, there is no salvation in the name “Baptist.”

Like I said above, the term “another name” is the problem here. The assumption is that the “name” refers to the name on the church sign or the name by which Christians distinguish themselves from other Christians by using a term that describes what makes them different. In this case, “Baptists” immerse believers, not sprinkle infants, so the “name” Baptist is actually a description to make it easier for those who practice believer’s baptism to identify each other. However, since the first statement (what’s called the major premise) is based out of Acts 4, which isn’t talking about a name that Christians wear or a name they put on signs in front of church buildings, the argument doesn’t follow. When Peter said that there is salvation in “no other name” he wasn’t talking about names Christians call themselves or put on their signs, so it is inappropriate to take this passage out of its context to condemn those who use descriptive terms like “Baptist” to make it easier for other “Baptists” to find them.

Believe it or not, I actually wish we would do away with all party names including “Church of Christ.” They only serve to divide Christians, which goes against Jesus’s prayer for unity, but I don’t condemn those who use them. The term “Church of Christ” when used as a name to identify other “true Christians” is a denominational way of thinking and only leads to more division, not unity. This is especially true when people within Churches of Christ have nothing to do with other believers. That is a denomination. It is giving the church a name ( “to denominate”) where one was never given and cutting off ties with anyone who doesn’t use it.

But let’s take a closer look at Acts 4 to show how this passage should actually unite Christians, not divide.

A Closer Look at Acts 4

In Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested for teaching that the dead are raised in Jesus. The high priest and those present asked them this crucial question for understanding Peter’s response: “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” Isn’t it interesting that if we don’t know the question that was asked, the answer Peter gives becomes an answer to a question the text doesn’t even ask like “What name should we put on a church sign?” The passage isn’t dealing with names Christians wear at all; instead, it is asking the question “By who’s authority were Peter and John healing the sick, raising the dead, and teaching that the Messiah had come?”

Peter said it was done “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene.” He said, “By this name this man stands here before you in good health.” He went on to say, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Ask a Baptist, an Episcopalian, a Methodist, or any other person professing to be a Christian whose name they are saved by and they will all say Jesus. No Baptists I know believe that there is salvation in the name Baptist. They put their trust in Jesus. The local Baptist church has under “Our Beliefs,” “We believe that Salvation is a gift received through repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” There is no mention here about the name Baptist, only the name Jesus.

If Baptists claimed to be saved strictly because they’re Baptists, that would be just as wrong and just as divisive as saying that we are saved because we have Church of Christ on the sign. We are saved by Jesus, not by church signs, descriptions, or so-called names.

Conclusion

Since the Bible gives no name for the church, and since the Bible doesn’t address things like church buildings, signs, and names for individual congregations, what a group of believers decides to put on their sign to signal to the community what makes them distinct doesn’t ultimately matter. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul talks about those who say “I am of Paul” and “I am of Peter.” This is not the same thing as calling oneself a Baptist or a member of the Church of Christ. Both groups boldly say that they are of Christ, not of any man. While some do behave this way about their denomination, even some among the Churches of Christ, simply describing themselves with these terms isn’t inherently wrong. The Bible simply doesn’t address the issue posed by the question “What is the name of the church?”

How we word the question matters. When we ask the question “What is the name of the church?” we will naturally look for passages that appear to give it a name. But they only appear to give it a name because that’s what we’re looking for because of the question we ask. When we take a step back and ask a more foundational question like “Does the church have a name?” we realize that the first question doesn’t even make sense! The Bible doesn’t give the church a name.


3 thoughts on “Questioning… The Name of the Church [pt. 2]”

  1. Daniel, I thank you for an excellent commentary on Romans 16:16. My prayer is that more and more Christians will come to a greater understanding of the nature of the Christian community. The words “church” and “Christ” are terms that are frequently misunderstood. Your short essay helps individuals to come to grips with these two words in CONTEXT, which understanding should go a long way in curbing our sectarian views about the nature of the Christians community. By the way, you have captured the very heart of the Greek word that is inaccurately translated “church.” The word “assembly” is more accurate–“the assemblies of the Messiah salutes you.”

  2. The word church comes from the Old English cir(i)ce, cyr(i)ce, related to Dutch kerk and German Kirche, based on medieval Greek kurikon, from Greek kuriakon (dōma) ‘Lord’s (house)’, from kurios ‘master or lord’. Meaning that the “church” was being identified as belonging to the Lord, “This ir the Lord’s house”

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