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Insight #272 – Name of the Church

Suppose I didn’t like the name of Walmart. Is it in my power to change the name to Bestmart? What if I bought a McDonald’s franchise and called it McHenry’s? Would McDonald’s say, “That’s fine. McDonald’s by any other name is just as good”? Absurd! When the owners of Kentucky Fried Chicken changed to KFC, they had the authority to do it.

All this is so simple, so basic that everybody knows it without even thinking about it. No argument. No discussion – until it comes to religion. Somehow in religion we can disregard the obvious.

Whose Church Is It?

Who does the church belong to? Who is the Head? Who bought the church with His own blood? Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Paul added, “which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The Holy Spirit said that God “put all things in subjection under his [Jesus’] feet, and gave him to be head over all things for the church” (Eph. 1:22).

What business is it of mine to put whatever name I want on Jesus’ church? Who gave me the right to say, “I don’t like ‘church of God’ (1 Cor. 1:2). I don’t like ‘body of Christ’ (1 Cor. 12:27). I don’t like ‘churches of Christ’ (Rom. 16:16). I don’t like ‘house of God’ (1 Tim. 3:15). I’m going to invent my own name: Community Church, Evangelical Church, New Light Church, Graham’s Church, Spirit-Filled Church, New Testament Church, Peter & Paul’s Church.

Most of the time, Scripture just says “church” with no further identification, unless it be location. Some brothers make the point that the church does not even have a name; rather, it has an owner. That’s a thought worthy of consideration. In any case, be it “name” or “owner,” it should be all about Jesus. The church is His, not mine.

Divisiveness in Corinth

Many things were out of order in the church at Corinth. Not least among their childish, unspiritual ways was their divisiveness: “Every one of you says, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were you baptized in the name of Paul?… I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ… while one says, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are you not carnal?” (1 Cor. 1:12-13; 3:1,4).

Brethren in Corinth were grouping along party lines. The names of many churches today are following the bad example of the carnal babes in Corinth. They declare “I am of…” a particular person, a leading doctrine, an organizational type, a chosen headquarters, or whatever. As important as any of these issues might be, they pale in comparison to the importance of Jesus. There is no doctrine or practice in Christianity that is more important than Christ Himself. Jesus’ church may and should teach holiness but that doesn’t make it a Holiness Church. God’s church may and should teach the Second Coming, but it is not the Second Coming Church. The church is Jesus’ church. As Paul asked, “Is Christ divided?” Does He have a Holiness Church and a Second Coming Church? Or does He just have His Church?

In the list of divisive factions in Corinth, we find those who were “of Christ.” Were they in the wrong? That depends. Of the other three persons mentioned, two were apostles and one was a preacher: all good men. What if those “of Christ” were rejecting these good men? What if they were like some today who say they accept whatever Jesus says, but not what Paul says? If that was the attitude of those who were “of Christ,” then they were just as much in the wrong as the others.

On the other hand, what if those “of Christ” respected the other three as good men of God but wanted to make it clear that they were followers of Jesus, not of any man? Indeed, when Paul questioned the Corinthians, he brought to their attention who they were baptized into and who was crucified for them: Christ Jesus.

Speaking as the Holy Spirit Speaks

Any church which uses a name other than those given by God in the Bible is acting on its own authority. Just as Burger King is not McDonald’s, even though the food is quite similar, even so the MyName Church is saying up front that the Bible is not its only basis for belief and practice.

Of course, just because some church calls itself Church of God or Church of Christ is not proof that that church really is of God and Christ. There is more than just the term. But the term does tell us something about the church.

Two important texts come to my attention: “Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches… If anyone speaks, let it be as it were the very words of God” (1 Cor. 2:13; 1 Peter 4:11). We need to be filled with God’s Word. We need to accept that we are not in charge. We need to understand that the church is a divine, not a human, institution. Christ said, “I will build my church.” It’s His, not mine.

NOTE: To read about the name “Christian,” click here.