A gracEmaiI subscriber writes: “I am considering worshipping with a nearby Baptist congregation. However, I keep thinking about the Scriptures that refer to churches as Churches of Christ, Churches of God, Assemblies of God, etc. Where does that leave people who attend churches with other names such as Calvary Baptist Church?”
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Ideally, we followers of Jesus would all be called simply “Christians,” “believers” or “disciples of Christ.” Unfortunately, we live in a world that is not ideal — which, of course, applies also to each one of us. I am well aware of the arguments regarding a so-called “scriptural name” for the church. In fact, the “church” in the New Testament is simply those people who have responded in faith to God through Jesus Christ and who have been baptized consistent with that faith. These people constitute Christ’s “assembly” or “congregation” — which is what the Greek word translated “church” really means. The term “churches of Christ” appears only once in Scripture, and there it is not a proper name (Rom. 16:16). Nor is the expression “churches of God” (1 Thes. 2:14).
The New Testament church does not have a particular name, although it is variously described or designated — by its ownership and allegiance (Acts 20:28; Matt. 16:18), by its constituency (Rom. 16:4; Heb. 12:23), and by its location — whether in a house (Philemon 1-2), a city (Rev. 2-3), a province (1 Cor. 16:1, 19), or the whole world (Eph. 5:23). When some Corinthian believers began wearing the names denoting special allegiances, Paul roundly criticized their conduct as misguided and divisive of Christ’s body. His criticism apparently included those also who used Christ’s name, but in a sectarian manner (1 Cor. 1:10-17). That surely does not mean, however, that Christians cannot freely call themselves after God, or Christ, without an improper spirit.
The variety of names used by major Christian churches today reflects a lack of common understanding. Some names signify forms of church governance — whether universal (“Catholic”), by regional bishops (“Episcopal”), by local elders (“Presbyterian”), or by local majority (“Congregational”). Other names point to an understanding of the nature of the church (“Baptist,” “Bible”), or to a form of life and piety (“Methodist,” “Holiness,” “Quaker,” “Charismatic”). Other names reflect the influence of a great man (“Lutheran,” “Wesleyan,” “Mennonite”), or moment (“Pentecostal”) or movement (“Reformed”). Some names are purely geographical (“The Church of England,” “The Church of Scotland”).
I am persuaded that denominationalism reflects our human weakness and error, and that it impedes the progress of the gospel. Until we outgrow denominations, I suggest that we ought at least to place in parentheses all names which distinguish some Christians from others, with the distinguishing name coming after another, nonsectarian, designation which acknowledges the oneness of all God’s people in Christ. “Christchurch” would be my nomination, since “Church of Christ,” “Church of God” and “Christian Church” have all become denominational names.