A Question Concerning The Term -- "Christian Church"
A brother in Ohio, has forwarded the following question. He writes:
". . . In connection with your recent article in the Gospel Guardian relative to the term 'Christian church': Can the term 'Christian church' be scripturally used in any sense?"
In reply we wrote:
"By your limiting the question to "scripturally used" you make the task of answering rather easy,... for which I thank you.
'In the Scripture, the term 'Christian' is used only three times; and, in each instance, it is applied to individual disciples of our Saviour. Therefore, to apply the noun 'Christian' to any person, place or thing, OTHER THAN A FOLLOWER OF JESUS, is NOT Scriptural usage. Further, the term is NEVER used in the Bible as an adjective."
After having received the above inquiry, we happened to be browsing through some old publications, and came across an article in Lard's Quarterly, April, 1865, entitled: "Abuse of the name Christian." Because it so clearly sets forth the truth on this subject, we copy a portion of that treatise.
From Lard's Quarterly, April, 1865
". . . . Suppose, now, that Christ has a church in a given place. How shall we appropriately designate it? Call it simply the church of God, or the church of Christ. These are Scriptural names; no others are. But it will be asked: What is the distinction between the expressions church of Christ and Christian church? I answer: that is Scriptural and always will be; this is not Scriptural and never will be. Purity of speech requires that we speak of Bible things in Bible language. Church of Christ is Bible language; Christian church is not. Can we, then, as a people, hesitate as to which we shall use? But it may be said: this is becoming unnecessarily nice; there is no necessity for the observance of such minute and trivial distinctions. I shall not deny that the distinction is minute; but I trust no brother in our ranks will call it trivial; and as to whether we should observe it or not — this depends upon whether our speech should be pure or not. We have for some time labored under the belief that our popular vocabulary would be the better of revision; and not merely of revision, but of thorough revision. The work had just as well commence with the word Christian as with any other. Let us remember that this term applies only to persons, never to things, not even to organizations when composed of Christians; and we shall have no difficulty in knowing how to use it. But in thus speaking, do I not pass sentence against many a line of my own? Perhaps so; but is that a reason why I should not thus write? With me my own blunders can never become a plea for repeating them. When we complain of a fault we complain of it for self as well as for others. It matters not who may have practiced the abuses of which we speak; they are not therefore right, and should be corrected.
"But we have other abuses of the word Christian besides the preceding. We have Christian Universities, Christian Colleges, Christian Academies — how many we can not tell. That a people claiming to be reformers, to have returned to the faith and practice of the New Testament, and to a great extent even to its pure speech, should have fallen into this flagrant abuse of one of its most important personal designations, proves that even the most watchful have need still to watch and be watched. That a disposition to mark everything in our ranks as consecrated to Christ, and to render even our institutions of learning subservient to his cause, has contributed to the abuse in question may be readily admitted. But this does not justify it. The thing is wrong and should be abandoned. A college or seminary, no matter by whom owned, or how governed, or for what end conducted, can never be Christian in any sense save a wrong one. There is just as much philosophy and as good sense in a follower of the Saviour calling his horse and his cart respectively Christian horse and Christian cart, as in calling the bricks and mortar which compose a house a Christian seminary, merely because it happens to be owned and managed by Christian men. We have grown familiar with the thing; hence its absurdity affects us but little.
"Besides, as I thus write no less than four exchanges lie on my table sporting this abused term. In thus speaking I do not mean to be understood as delivering any unfriendly judgment against these papers, or as in any way impeaching the soundness of their contents. I have no quarrel with them, except in so far as they wear this common title. In this I think them all wrong, and should be glad to see them drop the word. When about to start the Quarterly, most brethren with whom I spoke on the matter, said, call it The Christian Quarterly. This would certainly have sounded better, and perhaps seemed less vain than the homely title it now wears. But to this I could not yield. The word Christian belongs exclusively to the children of God. It must not, then, be taken and applied to a mere thing. No matter how excellent a paper may be, it is not Christian, and should never be so called. But we shall pursue these suggestions no further."
We have quoted from Lard's Quarterly, not as proof of our contention concerning this matter, but merely to show that such a truth is by no means new and novel to the 20th century. Nor does the antiquity of a practice establish its acceptability to God. We can only go to Holy Scripture for our faith, doctrine and practice. Let us ever do so.