Is There Anything in a Name?
What is so special about the church of Christ? Our approach to the Scriptures distinguishes us from other religious groups. Many churches say the Bible is a good book, many churches say the Bible is inspiring and motivational, many churches say they read at least a little of the Bible when they assemble. We certainly agree the Bible is a good book, an inspiring and motivational book, and a book to be read in the assembly; but members of the church of Christ contend the Scriptures should hold a much higher place. This sets up apart. We believe genuine discipleship demands being NOT JUST a church that READS the Bible, but the church you CAN READ ABOUT in the Bible. Exactly how does that way of thinking make the church of Christ unique?
Consider, for example, the popular slogan, “Attend the church of your choice.” In our age of religious tolerance this slogan sounds broad-minded, democratic, American. Part of the appeal of Baskin-Robbins’ 5800 ice cream parlors is the ability of consumers to choose from its thirty-one flavors. There’s something for everyone! But, will we choose a church like we do ice cream? Many do. Many look to satisfy personal tastes when evaluating a church. Man tends to ask, “What’s in it for me?” This manifests itself in the priority of self-centered questions instead of God-centered questions - questions with no biblical foundation: How is the athletic program? youth programs? Are the facilities state of the art? Do they have big crowds? Do important people attend? Will there be opportunities to promote my business? These questions trump spiritual questions like: Do they show the love of Christ to all regardless of success or charm? Is truth paramount? Do they teach the plan of salvation in its entirety? Do they worship “in spirit and truth?” Do they uphold Biblical morality?
The assumption behind the statement, “Attend the church of your choice” is that one church is as good as another. This assumption ignores the principle set forth in 1 Timothy 3:15 that the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Is every church the “pillar and ground of the truth” even though they teach different doctrines? Imagine how this “attend the church of your choice” approach would work if applied to the churches Jesus wrote in Revelation 2 and 3. Jesus called the church at Sardis a “dead church” (Revelation 3:1). I don’t want to be a member of a dead church. Because they tolerated immorality, Jesus told the church at Thyatira in Revelation 2:20, “I have a few things against you.” He told the church at Pergamos in Revelation 2:14, “I have a few things against you” because they tolerated doctrinal error. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a member of a church Jesus has something against. Jesus is even more direct with two other churches. How would you like to be a member of a church that was told “I will vomit you out of My mouth” like the lukewarm Laodicaea church (Revelation 3:16)? He told the church at Ephesus because of their lack of love, “repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place--unless you repent.” I don’t want to be a member of a loveless church that lost its lampstand, do you? Understand, lampstand removal signaled it was no longer recognized (Revelation 1:20) as the Lord’s church. Man is no better today. Surely, if Jesus wrote modern churches, he would say to some of them “I have something against you” – some because of doctrinal error like Pergamos, some because of moral error like Thyatira, some because they are dead like Sardis, some because they are lukewarm like Laodicaea and some because they lack love like Ephesus. Clearly, one church is NOT as good as another, therefore the slogan “attend the church of your choice” is not biblical. This morning we will notice characteristics of the church of Christ that separate it as not merely A CHURCH that reads the Bible, but THE CHURCH you can read about in the Bible, after our song…
Using the name of Christ to identify itself, makes the church of Christ the church you can read about in the Bible. Have you ever noticed how many churches today claim to follow the Bible yet cannot find their name in the Bible? Seventeen of the twenty largest denominations omit the name of Jesus and Christ in identifying themselves. Does that trouble you? Instead of the Lord’s name, churches identify themselves with the names of Bible ordinances, systems of church government, countries, regions of the country, nationalities, Jewish holydays, reformation leaders, and days of the week; all of these in identifying themselves, but not the name of Jesus or Christ? How can this be?
Many dismiss this point and say, “Ah, there’s nothing in a name.” Really? Scripture suggests there absolutely IS something in a name. For example, in Luke 1:57-62 when Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were blessed with a son, there was a move to call the baby boy Zacharias after his father. Zacharias was a perfectly good name, but Elizabeth said frankly, "No; he shall be called John." There was considerable pressure exerted on them in verse 61, “But they said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.’" Then Zacharias insisted that his name would be John because it was given from the Lord by an angel (Luke 1:13). There’s not much difference between the names Sarai and Sarah; Abram and Abraham, and yet God changed their name. Why? Because names matter. There IS something in a name!
People in the world really do understand this. On Friday night, let a fan at a High School football game cheer for the name of the visiting team in the home stands and see what happens. Members of the Lions Club don’t want to be called Kiwanis club members. Call a midshipman a marine and see if he believes there’s anything in a name.
What about the Scriptures? What do they say about the importance of the name of Christ? Peter taught in Acts 4:10-12, “[L]et it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is NO OTHER NAME under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." You see, there is something in a name!
Paul adds in Philippians 2:9-11, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the NAME which is ABOVE EVERY NAME (How could that be if there is nothing in a name?), that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Nothing in a name? We know better. Again, 2 Thessalonians 1:12, “that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you…” 2 Timothy 2:19, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:10, 12-13 that one root of division is the elevation of other names over the name of Christ, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment….[E]ach of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Any unscriptural terminology is divisive. The suggestion: unite under the name of Christ.
What should we call the “one body, one faith” that practices “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4-5)? We read in Ephesians 1:22-23, “the church, which is His body…” So the church is His body – Christ’s body. Christ’s body is the church. The body of Christ is the church. We honor the name of Christ by calling the body of Christ, the church of Christ? After all, Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build MY church…” If it belongs to Him, shouldn’t it wear HIS name? The church is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23-25; Romans 7:4). Have you ever heard of a bride refusing to wear her husband’s name? People say, “The church can’t save you.” Is that so? The Holy Spirit tells us in Ephesians 5:23 that Christ “is the Savior of the body.” The body is the church (Colossians 1:18). Therefore, Jesus is the Savior of the church. We better be sure we’re in the church of the Bible.
The Bible says in Acts 20:28, “shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Which member of the Godhead purchased the church “with His own blood?” Jesus Christ! Hebrews 12:23 speaks of the “church of the firstborn.” Who is that? Jesus Christ! No wonder we read in Romans 16:16, “the churches of Christ salute you.” The church of Christ distinguishes itself from most religious bodies by identifying itself with the name of Christ.
However, identifying itself with the name of Christ does not mean all is well with a religious institution. When it comes to religious identification, there has been widespread identity theft. Jesus told the church at Sardis in Revelation 3:1, "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” Mormons call themselves the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints. They wear the name of Jesus Christ but claim the book of Mormon is more accurate than the Old and New Testament. The United Church of Christ is not the same as the church you read in the Bible despite wearing the name of Christ. Twenty-seven years ago, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ declared, “We welcome lesbian, gay and bisexual people to join our congregation in the same spirit and manner used in the acceptance of any new members…” Meanwhile the church of the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin that must be repented and abandoned. The Church of Christ, Scientist identifies itself with the name of Christ yet teaches ideas contrary to God’s Word. They write, “Evil is the belief in evil. God is all that is real and God is completely good; therefore, good is real and evil is an illusion/delusion. The only power evil has is to destroy itself…” The Holy Spirit tells us in 1 John 3:8, Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil.” This cannot be the church of the Bible. Obviously, not all churches who wear the name of Christ will honor Christ in doctrine or morals.
If someone asks you how you identify yourself religiously, what would you say? The vast majority of the people in America will use some unbiblical, modern, man-made term to describe themselves: “I’m a Mormon; I’m a Muslim; I’m a Buddhist.” This is true even among those who consider themselves Bible believers and followers of Jesus Christ. They say, “I’m a (blank).” You can fill that blank in with scores of denominational names OTHER than what is found in the New Testament – different than any other disciple used in the New Testament. Have you ever thought about how divisive this is? Isn’t this what the Holy Spirit urged believers not to do when He said through Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10 and 13 “Now I plead with you… that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment….[E]ach of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Imagine if Paul visited your town today. What would he think about all the different terms of religious identification that omit Christ.
Instead of identifying ourselves religiously with some denominational term developed fifteen centuries after Christ or more, isn’t there a name we could all agree to use that would enable us “to speak the same thing” in identifying ourselves? While nearly every church in town says, “No,” members of the church of Christ say, “Yes, there is!” In fact, just as a new covenant was prophesied in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31) so a new name was prophesied in Isaiah 65:15, “You shall leave your name as a curse to My chosen; For the Lord GOD will slay you, And call His servants by another name…”
God’s people are no longer called Jews; there is a new name. We read in Isaiah 62:2, “The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD will name.” What name do you think God was referring to? Is it the name you use to identify yourself religiously? Some terms of religious identification used today are: “Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah Witness, etc.”
Do you think any of those were the name God prophesied He would call his servants? If so, which one and why? What Scriptures support that suggestion? Jamieson, Fausset and Brown suggest in their commentary on this verse the name Christian! This name is not merely sensible; it is scriptural.
Keep in mind, Isaiah 62:2 says “the mouth of the Lord,” not man, would give this name. Burton Coffman emphasizes this truth in his commentary on 1 Peter 4:16. He writes: “It is distressing that in the 20th century, the old lie that Satan is the author of the name ‘Christian’ is still widely circulated, and alas, accepted as gospel truth even by Christian commentators who certainly should know better. The Bible reveals that in the new dispensation, the children of God are to be called by a new name which the ‘mouth of the Lord’ would name (Isaiah 62:2). If the enemies of Christ were privileged to name his followers, whatever became of that new name which was to originate in the mouth of God? As Hervey declared, ‘There is no evidence of its having been given in derision.’ (Pulpit Commentary, Acts, 359). Admittedly, the name Christian glorifies Christ as the head of the church; and could there be anything reasonable in the supposition that evil men, under the influence of Satan, would have concocted a name that would glorify the Lord Jesus Christ?”
This argument is substantiated when we review a series of New Testament Scriptures pointing to the name “Christian.” Luke writes in Acts 11:26, “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Why at this point and not at the conclusion of Acts 2? Perhaps there is some connection to this timing and the conversion of the first Gentile converts, Cornelius and his household, immediately preceding this announcement. You may remember from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:17 that he referenced the prophecy from Joel 2:28-32, "And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh…” This prophecy was fulfilled in part on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Jewish apostles. The prophecy was to include “all flesh” yet no Gentiles were converted until Cornelius in Acts 10 and 11. This made Acts 11:26 a fitting time to announce the new name God had for his people that included both Jews and Gentiles in one body.
The next time we see the name Christian is when Paul is pressing Agrippa to obey the gospel in Acts 26:27-28. Paul asked, “‘King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.’ Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a _____ Methodist, a Baptist, a Roman Catholic? No! Almost thou persuades me to become a CHRISTIAN! Paul and Agrippa were on the same page; Paul was persuading Agrippa to become a Christian.
Finally, the apostle writes in 1 Peter 4:16, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” Here again we see the name “Christian.” Peter says we should glorify God “in this matter.” The American Standard Version and the New American Standard add a little clarity to the Scripture: “but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” The English Standard Version has “in that name.” Christian Standard Bible - “with that name.” New Century Version - “because you wear that name.” New Revised Standard Version - “because you bear this name.” Revised Standard Version - “under that name.” This amounts to a command to the believer to glorify God in the name “Christian.” Why take up another name? Why hyphenate the name “Christian” and diminish the glory that belongs only to Christ and the God who gave this name?
Think about it: what better name could God have given to the disciples of Christ than the name “Christian?” Burton Coffman cites the following from David Wheaton’s New Bible Commentary (1246) on the Greek name “Christianus.” Wheaton writes: “The Latin suffix ‘-ianus’ may have been added to the Greek word Christ to indicate ‘supporters of,’ in the same way that Herod's followers were called Herodians (Mark 3:6, etc.). A Roman custom followed in adoption was that of taking this same suffix and adding it to the name of the one doing the adopting. Thus one adopted by Domitius would call himself Domitianus ... The Christians may well have applied the name to themselves as having been adopted into Christ's family.” Is there anything in a name? Absolutely! Is there any name on the same level as Jesus or Christ? Don’t you want to glorify Christ and promote unity by identifying yourself religiously by the name Christian alone? Contact us so you can be baptized into Christ and become a Christian, a member of the church of Christ. We’ll tell you how to get a free copy of this message, after our song…