If you look around at the churches, you will notice a variety of names. Some point to their founder, such as the Lutheran church, other emphasize their structure, such as the Presbyterian church, and others emphasize a particular practice, such as the Baptist church.
What about us? Why do we call ourselves the "Church of Christ?" Why even examine this question? I believe it is important to know why we do what we do. (2 Peter 3:15). Let's examine some of the traditional reasons for the name that is on our signs in front of our buildings:
- The church should have a name that gives honor to its founder.
- The founder of the church is Christ (Matthew 16:18), and should thus bear His name.
- Having different names for the church is divisive (I Corinthians 1:10-13).
- Christ wanted unity for his followers (John 17:20-21).
- The church is the Bride of Christ and should wear His name (2 Corinthians 11:2).
- Whatever we do must be done in the name of Christ (Colossians 3:17).
- There is no other name by which men are saved (Acts 4:11-12).
- The name is found in the Bible (Romans 16:16).
I always concur with scripture. However, when it comes to church titles, I believe that these scriptures have been misused or misunderstood by well-meaning, sincere brethren. I can remember passing out tracts and other literature that put emphasis on the "Church of Christ" being the one true church and all others were false. I believe with all my heart from scripture that we are right. However, I do not believe that the scriptures mentioned above support the wearing of a title on the church as a test of "rightness" the way we have often done.
The "churches of Christ" (Romans 16:16) is one of the many names given to the church. It is also called among other things, the "church of the Lord" (Acts 20:28), the "church of God" (1 Corinthians 1:2), the "household of God" (Ephesians 2:19), the "household of Faith" (Galatians 6:10), and the "kingdom" (Acts 28:23,31).
One of the brochures we used to hand out dealt with how to identify the "one true church". After listing of the names if scripture for the church, it asked "is your church mentioned in the Bible?" This implies that if the name on the building does not match any name in the Bible, that it is not the true church.
What about the brethren in foreign countries who cannot legally use the name "church of Christ" because it is used by some denominational group? Are they not legitimate because they call themselves simply, "Christ's Church"? There are many churches in this country that are now beginning to use this same designation, "Christ's church." There are some that call themselves the "Assembly of Christ." Are theses not legitimate also?
Looking at all of the names of the church in the Bible, I believe many have misunderstood. These were never intended to be titles. Instead, they are descriptions of the church. The authors of the New Testament never used them as titles. True, there is no other name by which men are saved (Acts 4:11), but this passage is not talking about the name or title to put over the door.
G.C. Brewer, in the 1952 Harding College Lectures, said this when he was asked what names should be used to designate the church:
"The church is nowhere named in the Bible in the sense in which we speak of church names. Why should it be? No limiting or distinguishing adjective is ever used to modify this noun in God's word. There are adjectives that describe the qualities or attributes of the church, but there is never any term attached to that noun that would designate a church among many churches..."
Notice the title of this article. The word "church" has a lower-case "c". They way we often use the word often communicates a "denominational" attitude. We speak of the "C"hurch of Christ, and "C"hurch of Christ schools, preachers, etc. in a divisive way without even being aware of it. Many have even claimed that only members of the "C"hurch of Christ are saved, being the one true church. However, there are brethren outside the sociological designation of the "C"hurch of Christ who are every bit as much our brethren, such as "Christ's church" in some foreign countries, and in our own country.
We have taken a Biblical description of the church -- (church –belonging to-- Christ) and have given a denominational sound to it - "C"hurch of Christ, instead of "c"hurches of Christ. Ironically, in an effort to rid the church of divisive titles, we have given ourselves one.
We are right, not because of a title, but because of our faithful obedience to the word (Matthew 7:21; John 12:48). Instead of focusing on a "right title", we should strive to live up to the descriptions of the churches of Christ in scripture.