Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 14, 1961
NUMBER 19, PAGE 2,14

The Divine Names Of The Church

J. D. Phillips. Austin, Texas

The noun "church" is from the Greek word ekklesia (from ek, out of, and kaleo, to call) and means "called out people." It was used among the ancient Greeks to denote any assembly of any kind whatever. See the Greek classics. In Acts 19:32, 41, it is applied to the lawless and excited assembly of citizens called together and headed by Demetrius; and in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (in common use in the days of the Messiah) it is several times used for the Hebrew word kahhal, to denote the whole assembly of the Jewish nation. It is so used in the New Testament at Acts 7:38. Ekklesia of itself means nothing as to the kind of assembly denoted, hence we read "ekklesia of Christ" (Rom. 16:16); "ekklesia of God" (1 Cor. 11:16), etc., to show the ownership. The expression "the church" would mean but little except for the occasional "of God" or "of Christ" to show what kind of au assembly or body is meant.

Sectarianism is, I think, the worst evil that the world has been cursed with. All forms of sectarianism headed up under the Papacy, is called "Mystery, Babylon the Great" (Rev. 17:5); and we are warned "to come out of her." (Rev. 18: 4) Every manmade name for a "church" is a sectarian one. Such a name applied to a religious institution indicates sectarian teaching or practice. Sectarianism is sometimes-taught and practiced under scriptural names. That form of sectarianism is, of all "isms," the most deceptive. Such teaching is an abomination to Yahweh, even though it may go under the divine name "Church of God" or "of Christ." In that case the divine name is misappropriated and misused. Most sectarian names have been derived from certain ordinances, or doctrines, or practices of the ones wearing their. Thus, for instance:

The word "Baptist" as a church name, signifies that the people wearing it practice baptism by immersion, the word baptist being derived from baptoo, "to dip."

"Methodist," as a church name, arose from the fact that the followers of Mr. Wesley used various methods of church work.

The name "Presbyterian" means that those who wear it believe in a plurality of presbyters or elders in each congregation, as opposed to the episcopal form of church government.

The name "Congregationalist" means that those people believe in congregational church government.

The word "Catholic" signifies that they who wear it consider themselves the universal church, it being from the Greek word that means "on the whole, general."

"Christadelphian" (from Greek, Christou adelphoi) means "Christ's brethren" and indicates that those who have taken it upon themselves as a church name consider themselves the brethren of Christ.

When the Restoration Movement (led by A. Campbell and others) of the 19th century got well under way the question of church names naturally and logically came up for consideration. "Where the Bible speaks," said the leaders, "we speak; where it is silent, we are silent." When, then, "the Bible spoke" on a name for the church to wear, "they spoke;" when (and where) "the Bible was silent" on the matter, they were "silent." Thus they tried to "speak as it were the oracles of God." (1 Pet. 4:16) Any name used by the Holy Spirit to designate the people of God is scriptural and should be accepted, whether men like it or not. Any name not so used is unscriptural, regardless of how well some may like it.

Certain recent investigations have led me to reconsider the question of scriptural names, with a diligence never before experienced by me. We must not go wrong on the matter! "We as a people" have been guilty of much unscripturalness. Many among us are beginning to see it and are trying to free ourselves from "the yoke of (human) bondage" and be bound only to "Jesus, the King." Have we been unscriptural in the use of names? Have some taught and practiced innovations (and bound them on the church) under the name "church of Christ?" Yes! Does the scriptural name justify the innovations and heresies? Certainly not!

The church has received (from the Lord) different names according to the standpoint from which it is viewed and the various relations under which it is contemplated. We shall notice, first, the name —

Church Of God

The church is so called many times, in the New Testament. "The church of God which he bath purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28) It has long been a question in the minds of editors of the Greek text whether Theos (God) or Kurious (Lord) is the correct reading here, the manuscript evidence being about equally divided between the two words. If "God" be the correct reading Paul means that the church is God's. If "Lord" be the correct word, then it belongs to the Lord — to Christ. Even Christ is sometimes called God — "Thomas said unto him, my Lord and my God." (John 20:28) Christ and God "are one," (John 17:22) not in person (for Christ is "the Son of the living God" — Matt. 16:16) but in purpose or will. If "God" be the correct reading and refers not to Christ, the Son; but to God, the Father, then the meaning clearly is: God "purchased" his church by the blood of Christ, his Son; for "God is spirit" (John 4:24) and his only blood was in Christ. But to put the matter beyond dispute, we have the expression "the church of God, (1 Cor. 15:9) where all uncertainty is out of the question — Paul says "I persecuted the church of God." It is fitting that the church should be so called because as "the man is the head of the woman" and "Christ is the head of the man" so "God is the head of Christ." (1 Cor. 11:3) God designed it all. He sent his Son to establish his church. (Matt. 16:18)

Church Of The Living God

Paul speaks of "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (1 Tim. 3:15) The meaning of the expression is the same as the "church of God" except that the word "living" is emphatic and urges the fact that he is not one of the image-gods of the heathen, without life or sound, etc. God is Yahweh. (Ever-living One) If you say you are a member of the church of God and one asks "What God?" — (there being 'lords many and gods many") you may answer, "The Living God."

Church Of Christ

This name has been commonly used to designate us. It it scriptural? Yes, if not used exclusively of other scriptural names. In Rom. 16:16 the plural form is used — "the churches of Christ salute you." It is scriptural, then, to speak of the different congregations as "churches of Christ." The singular form, "church of Christ," nowhere appears in the scriptures. However, in Matt. 16:18, Christ says, "I will build my church." He called it his. He was given "to be head over all things to the church, which is his body." (Eph. 1:22, 23) He was made "the head of the body, the church ....that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell. (Col. 1:18, 19) The church is called "the kingdom of God's dear Son." (Col. 1:13) Christ is his "dear Son." (Matt. 16:16) When the scriptures speak of the "church of God" Christ should not be forgotten, for "in him dwells all the fulness of the Deity (or Godhead) bodily;" (Col. 2:9) and Jesus says, "Even as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee" (John 17:21) and "we are one." (Jno. 17:22) Therefore, the church is "the kingdom of Christ and of God." (Eph. 5:5) If all the "churches of God" (1 Cor. 11:16) constitute "the church of God" (1 Cor. 15:9) — and they do — then all "churches of Christ" constitute the church of Christ. It is fitting that the church should be called by the name of Christ: for "Christ" (Heb. "Messiah") means "Anointed One" — anointed as Prophet, Priest, and King of the present dispensation. We must "hold fast" the "name" of Christ. (Rev. 2:13)

Church Of The Firstborn

"Ye are come unto the Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect." (Heb. 12:22, 23) In this highly figurative language we have "the church of the firstborn." The Greek is plural — proototokoon, "firstborn ones," corresponding to the plural verb "are" — "which are enrolled in heaven." It means a church made up of firstborn ones and is used of the membership, like "the churches of the saints." (1 Cor. 14:33)

The expression, "the church" is often used of the church of God or of Christ. It means, simply, "the ekklesia" (ek, out of, and kaleo, to call); that is, "the called out (ones)" — "called out" of Judaism, heathenism, Babylon (confusion), the fellowship of the world, etc., into "the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 1:9) When it is spoken of as simply "the church" and no distinguishing name (such as church of God or of Christ, etc.) is given, it is understood by the attentive reader that the people of God are under consideration. This expression is never used in the scriptures of any church except the church of God or Christ.

Plural Forms

The local congregations are often spoken of in the plural. When contemplated with reference to the several congregations of which the general is composed, it is variously called "the churches of Christ," meaning that the various congregations belong to him; (Rom. 16:16) "the churches of God," suggesting that, as he and Christ "are one" the churches belong to him as well as to Christ; (1 Cor. 11:16) "the churches of the saints," (1 Cor. 14:33) meaning churches composed of saints or sanctified people; "the churches of the Gentiles," meaning churches composed of Gentiles and not of Jews; ( Rom. 16:4) "the churches of Judea," "Asia," "Macedonia," "Galatia," etc.; (Gal. 1:22; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Cor. 8:1; Gal. 1:2), meaning the congregations in (or at) those countries or cities; or simply "the churches" or congregations of "called out ones," regardless of where they may be located.

"The propriety of these various designations will at once be perceived and acknowledged by the intelligent reader." (R. Milligan)

Any scriptural name is not a safe-guard against division. Division is sure to come, regardless of what name is worn. "Even from your own selves shall men arise teaching perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." (Acts 20:30) We cannot find any scriptural name that no faction or denomination wears. For not only do several factions among "our people" wear the name "church of Christ," but one branch of the Mormons wears the name. Several denominations wear the name "church of God," while at least one denomination (of Holiness fame) wears the name "church of the living God." One small group of denominationalists wears the name "church of the firstborn."

Let us not become so exclusive that we will reject any scriptural name or names, nor so inclusive that we will include a name or names not authorized in the Bible. Let us be true to our time-honored and threadbare claim that "Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent." Yes, dear brethren, let us get back to all the scriptural designations for the people of God; then we will be scriptural on the name question.