In an effort to avoid the denominational apathy for scriptural names and phrases we have preached a “church name” doctrine that sometimes borders on an evil as great as the sin of our erring friends. It isn’t uncommon to hear a gospel preacher, affirming the necessity of The Name in salvation, saying much about the “name of the church.” Many of the younger preachers have been influenced by this preaching to dwell long and loud upon the proper name for the church in contradistinction to denominational names. Thus, “The Church of Christ” is the proper name for the church, and not “The Baptist Church or some other.” Careful reflection upon the teaching of the New Testament will show that there is no more authority for preaching and writing about the name of the church, than there is for the denominational practice we have rightly condemned.
The New Testament says nothing about a name for the church. It never gives the church a name! The word church is never used as you and I would use a proper noun. How often has it been said that it is used two ways?—to designate all the saved; in the aggregate (Matt. 16:18) and to mention a congregation of the Lord’s people in some particular place (1 Cor. 1:2). Neither of these uses demand the proper noun meaning we put on the word church much of the time. Our most common reference is made to the church by speaking of “the church of Christ.” This is more an expression of truth and ownership than a name (Rom. 16:16).
The doctrine of the New Testament seems quite clearly to be: That we are saved by a name, but that this name is Christ’s (Acts 4:12) and that it is Christ’s good pleasure and will to save us in His church, or His body (Eph. 5:23) and certainly nowhere else; that Christians are to do all things in the name of Christ (Col. 3:17) and in the church in order that glory might be given to God (Eph. 3:21).
The point of all this is to rid our speech and writing of such usage of “the church” as will put it on the plane with sectarian institutions, and a competitive plane at that. This is exactly what we do when we talk about salvation in the name of the church, or when we make the term church a proper noun. Webster says a proper noun is “a name distinguishing some individual person, place, or thing, as a star, ship, river, or pet from other of the same class.” There are many stars, etc., but only one body, or church. There are no others “of the same class” and therefore no distinguishing name is needed to set it apart. The term church means set apart, separated, or called out.
To illustrate: It is as though there was only one house in all the land. There would be no necessity to give it a title. When the house was spoken of, everyone would know which one was meant. Since there are more than one, we give them names, addresses, etc. There are others in “the same class” and each must be distinguished. The only thing we need to distinguish the church from denominations is the name of Christ attached to the simple word church.
The same principle would obtain in such expressions as “Church of Christ Preachers,” “Church of Christ Doctrine,” “What the Church of Christ Practices” or “Church of Christ Elders.” There is only one kind of preacher with which the Lord is pleased: The Gospel preacher. To talk in one breath of a sectarian preacher and in the next of a Church of Christ Preacher is an insult to every faithful gospel preacher, and is no kind of Bible language.
May we never march so far in our efforts to restore New Testament principles, as to be unaware of the slightest trend away from Bible practice and Bible language