CHAPTER 3-THE NAME OF THE CHURCH
We believe a church of Christ is an organized body of baptized disciples, equal in rank and privilege, agreeing on what the Bible teaches, and covenanting to do what Christ has commanded. His command was to make disciples, and this can only be done by preaching the gospel to the lost. And this is the only way the church can perpetuate itself. There will be no disciples tomorrow if they are not made today. Evangelism is the life blood of the church.
We are now confronted with this question: By what name is the church of Christ to be known and identified? What is the proper name of His church? The writer is so bold as to say that there is no proper name by which the church is to be called and identified. If the reader dissents from this, before he is too critical, let him turn to the Bible and find the proper name of the church. And when he has found it, he may reject the position we have taken.
The true church is to be identified by its characteristic features rather than by name. "Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife" (#Re 21:9). I will not show you the name of the bride, but the bride herself.
The followers of Christ are called by a variety of names in the scriptures, but none of them is a proper name. They are called believers, brethren, children of God, children of the kingdom, saints, sheep, disciples, etc. But none of these is to be thought of as the proper name of the church. These names indicate their relation to God, to Christ, and to one another.
They are called "Children of God" because God is their Father.
They are called "Children of Abraham" because of their spiritual descent from Abraham who is the father of the faithful.
They are called "sheep" figuratively to fit in with the figurative title of Christ as the good Shepherd.
Now let the reader, if he can, use any of these words as the proper name of the church.
They are called "Christians" three times in the New Testament, but this name seems to have been given as a term of reproach. "And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" (#Ac 11:26). This name originated at Antioch, but this does not mean that it was then and there that they began to call one another by this name. In #Ac 26:28 the name Christian is used by King Agrippa as a sort of slur. I do not agree with the usual interpretation that Agrippa was about to become a Christian. The Greek here is difficult to translate and there are several different renderings. Perhaps the latest, "Good News for Modern Man" renders it thus: "In this short time you think you will make me a Christian?" Notice, that in reply, Paul did not use the word Christian. In #1Pe 4:16 the word Christian is used the third and last time. The Amplified New Testament renders the verse like this: "But if (one is ill treated and suffers) as a Christian (which he is contemptuously called), let him not be ashamed, but give glory to God that he is (deemed worthy) to suffer in this name." Be that as it may, these verses afford little ground for applying the name Christian to the church. If the name "Christian Church" is correct it is strange that we have no example of any of the believers calling one another Christians, and that no epistle was addressed to "The Christian Church." Nobody objects to being called a Christian unless it is used as a term of reproach, in which case we should be glad to suffer in this name.
Several Bible names have been adopted as the proper name of the church by several denominations. For example, we have "The United Brethren, "and "The Plymouth Brethren, ""The Disciples, "and "The Church of God, "and "The Church of Christ, "and "The Church of the Latter Day Saints." It is a wonder that we do not have a denomination named, "The Sheep Church." If any of the Bible names were meant to be the proper name of the church, then the most heretical and false churches could adopt the name as proof they were the true church.
Names given to churches in the New Testament indicate the kind of people who were in the church. And for any denomination to take to itself any one of these names is to imply that such people are to be found only in their denomination. For instance, the Mormons call their church "The Church of the Latter Day Saints, "clearly implying and claiming that they are the only saints in the latter days. Perish the thought!
Let us now examine the name Baptist for a church of Christ. We never use the definite article "The Baptist Church, "without locating a particular church. There is no such thing as "The Baptist Church" in a provincial or national sense, as in the case of most other denominations, such as "The Methodist Episcopal Church, "or "The Presbyterian Church, "etc. When Baptists wish to speak of something larger than a particular assembly they use the plural: Baptist Churches.
The name Baptist is a denominational name to distinguish it from other denominations. There were no denominational names until there came to be distinct denominations. Before the time of the so called Reformation under Martin Luther there were scattered churches under different names, and the Roman Catholic Hierarchy. The Reformation started in the Roman Catholic Church, and was only partial. The reformers took with them some of the heresies of Rome such as baptismal regeneration, a graded ministry and a form of government much like that of Rome. And some of the Protestant denominations hated and persecuted Baptists.
Baptists are sometimes accused of being narrow bigots because we believe Baptist churches are after the New Testament pattern. The line must be drawn somewhere, for all the hundreds of diverse and conflicting denominations cannot be the church Christ founded and to which He promised perpetuity.
While claiming to be the true church, Baptists do not deny the salvation of others. We put salvation in the person of Jesus Christ, and believe any and every sinner who pins his faith and hope to Jesus Christ will be saved. We never tell the sinner to unite with a Baptist Church in order to be saved. Like John the Baptist we point the sinner to the Lamb of God, even the Lord Jesus Christ, Whose blood cleanseth from all sin.
The writer is a Baptist but not a Baptist braggart. We lay no claim to superiority in character or conduct or education. When you find a Baptist with a superiority complex, you may be sure that he is an off brand. The churches of the first century were not made up of perfect people in character and conduct. In an experience of salvation the sinner becomes nothing in his own eyes and Christ becomes all in all. Before his conversion Saul of Tarsus was proud and self-righteous, but after he trusted Jesus as the Christ he thought of himself as less than the least of all saints. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (#Eph 3:8); "For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,)dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin" (#Ro 7:14-25); "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample" (#Php 3:1-17); "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" (#1Co 15:9).
The first New Testament preacher was called John the Baptist. "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea" (#Mt 3:1); "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John" (#Mt 11:13); "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it" (#Lu 16:16). Proof that John's baptism was valid is in the fact that the followers of Christ and members of the first church had only John's baptism. The only difference between John's baptism and that of Christ is that John's looked forward to the coming of Christ, and since then valid baptism looks backward to the Christ who has already come. John baptized those who confessed their sins and who trusted the Christ who was to come; we baptize those who profess faith in Jesus Christ who has already come.