Sunday, May 28, 2017 am                                               NT Church 2017 Index

Does It Matter What We Call Ourselves?


Last week, we presented a lesson on how to identify the New Testament church.  That lesson was an overview of some areas we might consider to help us distinguish a congregation of the Lord’s people from those that are not.  We noted that in the coming weeks are going to look at various aspects of that lesson in greater detail. 

For many of us, nothing new is going to be said.  But it is my intent to remind us of what we do and why we do it so that we might be better equipped to “give a defense for the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15) AND to make sure of our salvation and foundation (cf. 1 Peter 1:10).  Furthermore, we make all of our sermons available on our website and thus they become a resource for others who are searching for Bible answers. 

Today we want to begin by addressing the importance of how we identify ourselves, both as the Lord’s church and as individual Christians.  We mentioned some of the things we are going to address this morning, but we want to further develop this.

There are many today who say that names are not important, especially in the religious realm.   Ecumenicalism calls for acceptance of all faiths and names.  Often community churches deliberately use names that are accepting of anyone of various denominational backgrounds (without repentance or repudiation).

 I.                     How important is a name?

a.       Names serve to identify who we are.  A name can help distinguish us from others.  Often, when a name is mentioned, we immediately know who or what someone is talking about. 

b.       Names are important – not only do they identify, but they can convey important information.
They can identify WHO you are with – consider Mrs. Thornhill – in a given environment that tells them something. 
If you think a name is not important, let someone use the wrong name – Let Mr. John Doe claim to be Mr. Sam Smith.  If so, see what Mrs. Doe and Mrs. Smith and Mr. Smith think about that.
   Also, suppose someone tries to buy a car using your name and credit.  Is a name important.
All these examples show that names do mean something.
   Often associated with names are reputation. Let a newspaper call you a thief and a liar without any proof and see if your name is important.  Let them say, “Don’t worry, it’s only a name!”

c.        Names are important to God

                                                   i.      Consider the name of God – He views His name very seriously.  
Exodus 20:7 – do not take it in vain.  He will NOT be held guiltless who does. 
  Leviticus 19:12 – do not swear falsely by His name, nor profane it.
Leviticus 46:5-7 – as Moses went up to Mt. Sinai a 2nd time, the LORD descended and declared His name. 
Psalm 29:2, Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

“Hallowed be Your name.” – Matthew 6:9, Holy and awesome is His name – Psalm 111:9
Names of God include – Genesis 14:18 – “God Most High”
Genesis 17:1 – “Almighty God”
Exodus 3:14 – “I AM WHO I AM” spoken to Moses at the burning bush.
Exodus 6:2-3, the LORD answers Moses after his first encounter with Pharaoh,  “I am the LORD”  Note: The word LORD in this form is the Hebrew YHWH (aka Jehovah).

                                                 ii.      Consider names given by Him
Abraham – from Abram (Exalted father to father of many peoples) – Genesis 17:5,
Sarah – from Sarai to Sarah (from Princess to Princess of many) – Genesis 17:15
Isaac – Genesis 17:19 – meaning, “to laugh” (cf. Genesis 21:3-6)
Jacob changed to Israel – Genesis 32:28 – “prince with God”
John (the Baptist) – Luke 1:13, 63 – meaning, “YHWH is gracious”
Immanuel – Matthew 1:23 – the name of Jesus, “which is translated God with us”
Add to this that most of the prophets have names that associate them with God (“yah” in a name means YHWH, and “el” is the word for God) 
Elijah – “God is Yah”, Elisha – “God is help”, Isaiah – “YHWH is salvation”; Jeremiah – “Elevated of YHWH”, Ezekiel - :”Strength of God”, Daniel – “Judge of God”, Hosea – “YHWH is help”, Joel – “YHWH of God”, etc. 
In THESE examples, we see how names given by God are reminders of His working in their lives (the meaning of the names reveal something about who they are).

d.       Concerning the name of Jesus

                                                   i.      Hebrews 1:4 – He has obtained a “more excellent name than they”

                                                 ii.      Philippians 2:9-10 – a name above every name, at His name every knee shall bow

                                                iii.      Matthew 28:19 – we baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” – an expression addressing authority.

                                                iv.      It is by “calling on the name of the Lord” that we are saved – Romans 10:13, Acts 22:16

e.       In all of this we see that God sees names as important. 
Should we consider this as we address the identity of His church and how we identify ourselves?

 II.                   The names that identify the church

a.       Church of Christ – Romans 16:16. Only used here, but clearly and unmistakably this name identifies WHO the church belongs to.  Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:23-32, Matthew 16:18. 
Hebrews 12:23 – “church of the firstborn” is a reference to Jesus (see Colossians 1:18 - And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.)
Never forget, it is HIS church!

b.       Other namesChurch of God – used 11 times and often 1 Corinthians 1:2 & 2 Corinthians 1:1 (at Corinth); 1 Cor. 10:32 (give no offense…to the church of God); 1 Cor. 15:9 _ Paul persecuted the church of God
1 Corinthians 11:6, 2 Thessalonians 1:4 – “churches of God” (plural). 
NOTE: 1) Christ is part of the Godhead (see Acts 20:28 – Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood – note: Alternate ready, “Church of the Lord” has early mss support); 2) Ephesians 3:10-11 – the church was a part of God’s eternal purpose (His plans).  He had a part in it.  

c.        Other names - The church(es) – used more than 80 times, it is simply describing that we are an assembling of God’s people (i.e. a congregation) – Consider 1 Corinthians 14:33 which describes “all the churches of the saints” (i.e. where saints are gathered); 1 Corinthians 16:19 – the churches of Asia; Galatians 1:2 – churches of Galatia; Colossians 4:16 – the church of the Laodiceans, 1 Thess. 1:1 – the church of the Thessalonians (adding – “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ), etc.

d.       Descriptions of the church – kingdom, family, household, temple, bride and temple, etc. We have examined many of these which describe what the church is and what it does. 

e.       All of these names are descriptive and demonstrate unity.  They show how Christ has brought us together to worship and serve in one body.  They demonstrate relationship with Him and one another – (consider: Kingdom – king/subjects; body – head/body parts; Household – family with God our Father and we are siblings; temple – Christ is High Priest, we are priests, etc.  
ALL the names found in scripture HONOR God and Christ and proudly wear His name.

Furthermore, these names are NOT designed to be a title, but an identifier.

 III.                 What is wrong with denominational names? 

a.       Throughout our study of the NT church, we will notice some problems with denominationalism as well as various denominations.  Here we begin by the fact that many of them use names not found in scripture.

b.       By their very definition, they are divisive.  The general premise of denominationalism (more so today than when they first were established) is that what we believe is left to our discretion and that all (or most) denominations are part of the body of Christ.  Some might reason, “We are all headed toward heaven, just by different paths” and/or as long as we are in agreement on certain key principles which they get to choose, (i.e. The Bible is God’s word, Jesus is the Son of God and our Savior, etc.) we are acceptable.  
That is not the teaching of the Bible – Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10 noted there are to be no divisions among us. We are to be of one mind and one body (Philippians 2:2). 
Paul taught the same thing everywhere he went (1 Corinthians 4:17); He also noted there is ONE body (Ephesians 4:4).
John 17:20-21 – Jesus prayed for TRUE unity where there is AGREEMENT among brethren.
Denominationalism declares we are NOT agreed on what the Bible teaches – in matters of organization, worship, teaching, work, godly living, etc.  AND they by their conduct declare that such things do not matter.

c.        The names of most denominations are not found in scripture.  Rather than honoring God they honor either some person or some teaching.

                                                   i.      Lutheran is named after Martin Luther (against his wishes)

                                                 ii.      Mennonites – named for Menno Simons

                                                iii.      Mormon – named after the prophet who supposedly compiled the book of Mormon

                                                iv.      Many Catholic churches name themselves after “saints”

                                                  v.      Baptist – named either after John the Baptist, or the doctrine of baptism (which they do teach as admission into their denomination).

                                                vi.      Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Catholicism are named for their form of government

                                              vii.      Holiness churches are named for their call for holy living

                                             viii.      Pentecostals are named for the day the church began (with emphasis on the events that occurred that day)

                                                ix.      Methodists (aka Wesleyans – after John and Charles Wesley) emphasize methods, especially following the methods toward holy living espoused by John and Charles.

                                                  x.      ARE any of these names found in scripture????  No.  AND they emphasize their differences which is why they are divisive titles

d.       Yet in spite of this, the Bible calls for us to avoid sectarianism – 1 Corinthians 1:10-15. 

e.       Including the name we wear, let us resolve that we will speak “as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).

f.         NOTE: The name a church uses is NOT the only criteria for determining the true church.  There are denominations that do wear Biblical names – “Church of God”, “Church of God in Christ”, “Churches of Christ” that teach doctrinal error in organization, work and worship, etc.   That is why we need further investigation. 

g.       Observation: Why would one want to remove their identity with Christ from their name? 

                                             i.      It has become a practice in recent years for some congregations of churches of Christ to change their name.  While scripturally such may not be wrong (depending on what they call themselves), I do wonder about motives.

                                           ii.      Reasons given by some is “the stigma” attached to the name, “church of Christ”. 
Sometimes this is done by churches that want to change and be different just because they can (whether it is truly expedient or not)
Or they may accuse some “churches of Christ” as having made themselves into a denomination.  (When and if that has happened, there IS a need for repentance – but is that cause to remove something that IS scriptural?).

                                          iii.      Are these valid reasons to change a name? 

1.       Especially when you consider THE NAME we use is in the Bible AND it gives due honor WHERE it ought to be.  We OUGHT to declare to the world that we are different, yet united through His word.

2.       We ought to be more concerned about offending God than we are the world (cf. Mark 8:38 – do not be ashamed of Him and His word).

3.       Furthermore, is there an intent to be deceitful by implying, “We are NOT like the church of Christ” when in practice we do the same thing.  In my studies and observations – it is not the name of a congregation that turns people away – but what is taught (i.e. baptism for the remission of sins, what a church does and teaches matters, there is only ONE true church, denominationalism is sinful, no instruments of music, etc.)

4.       And often, the changing of a name is a symptom of something bigger – a loosening of God’s standards and a desire to be more appealing to the world (like community churches that have done the same thing with their denominational affiliations).

5.       IF these, or the like, are reasons for changing one’s name there are bigger problems than simply what we call ourselves.  Beware!

 It does matter what we call ourselves.  Let us resolve to be part of the one true church we read about in the Bible.  And may our name reflect both our understanding and our conformity to that goal.  Are you a part of the church of Christ?