Some Are, But Others Are Not
"What's in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell just as sweet."
With respect to Shakespeare's deep-thinking (that's sarcasm) Juliet Capulet, not everyone agrees that names are a non-issue. Reformation hero Martin Luther is a much deeper-thinking example of a much more credible someone who believed that the proper use of names was, well, proper. Hearing that his followers had begun to call themselves Lutherans, he said,
I ask that people should not make use of my name, and should not call themselves Lutherans. What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone.
This Morning's Lesson
This morning's sermon has to do with the biblical characteristics of the church. The name by which the church should be identified is only one correct characteristic of several. This article will give more attention to the suitable name for the church than can be given as part of one sermon.
Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build my church" (Mt. 16:18). What are the traits and attributes given to the church that Jesus built according to the New Testament that Jesus authored? Just as Luther reacted against the misuse of names, we present some names for the church that are appropriate, and some names that are not.
Names in the New Testament
As our son and daughter-in-law select names for our upcoming grandson, they have looked in baby books and on internet sites. This is entirely appropriate as these books and sites are excellent sources for names of children. They stopped going to me, by the way, when I told them that the Prather family has a long tradition of Claudes, Clydes, Earls, Ottos, and Floyds. Their subtle wisdom is a subtle reminder that some sources for names just are not any good.
What is an excellent source for names for the church? This question cuts to the quick about source material and authority for all of Christianity. Claude, Clyde, Earl, Otto, and Floyd come from outside of scripture, as do some other popular names. All of Christianity, including the proper name for the church, must come from within the Bible's books, chapters, and verses.
Several names were used interchangeably in the Bible.
- "Church of God" was very common (Acts 20:28, Gal. 1:13, I Tim. 3:5, and etc.).
- "Church" was often used all by itself (Acts 2:47, Eph. 1:22, Rev. 2:14, and etc.).
- Also present in the New Testament are "Churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16) and the direct parallel, "Church of the firstborn" (Heb. 12:23). Many other passages emphasize that "Christ is the head of the church...and ishimself its Savior" (Eph. 5:23).
Regarding these names, three statements are true.
- There is no single,exclusive name for the church. Any New Testament name will do, but those New Testament names are few.
- While the name of the church is 100% important, the name of the church does not represent 100% of the important characteristics of the church. The proper name must combine with proper doctrine, organization, and practice.
- There is no biblical basis for the common practice of designating the church in honor of a religious leader (example, Lutheran), after some form of organization, (example, Presbyterian), reflecting a kind of piety (example, Methodist), according to a point of doctrine (example, Baptist), or in keeping with one's favored lifestyle (example, Cowboy Church).
Juliet Capulet was crazy in love with Romeo Montague, so we can forgive her romantic question, "What's in a name?" She was also two weeks away from her 14th birthday when she killed herself, so we should not follow her immature and suicidal love to biblically immature and religiously suicidal conclusions.
Why would anyone set aside God's chosen names for the church and substitute "Church of Claude" for "Church of Christ?" or any of the other myriad names used for "Church of God?" Some names are acceptable, but others are not.