Belonging To God: The Church
Lesson 5

Lesson Five

The “Church” and Names

Texts: see references in the lesson

The three branches of the American Restoration Movement have been big on having the correct name for the church.  The earliest designation of the church (in the New Testament) evidently was the “way.”  Depending on the translation used, Acts 9:2 refers to Jewish Christians who also attended the Jewish synagogue in Damascus as “the Way.”  (The King James Version translates it “this way,” but the Revised Standard Version, the Today’s English Version, the New International Version, the Jerusalem Bible, the New King James Version, and the New American Standard Version all translate those Greek words “the Way.”)  This designation occurs six times in Acts (9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), and it may refer to the way of salvation (consider Acts 16:17); the way of God (consider Acts 18:26), the way of the Lord (consider Acts 13:10; 18:25), etc.  There is no clear New Testament statement of what “way” referred to. 


Other than the undefined “way,” there is nothing that could honestly be called a name attached to “the church” in the New Testament.  The most frequent designation of those who followed Jesus Christ was simply “the church.”  There were the designations of “the churches of the gentiles” (Romans 16:4); the churches of Christ (Romans 16:16); the church of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 3:5, 15); the churches of God in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 2:14); churches of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:33); churches of Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1); churches of Asia (1 Corinthians 16:19); churches of Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:1); the church of the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1); the church of the firstborn (Hebrews 12:23); and numerous references to churches in houses (consider Philemon 2).  In all of the of references, please note this is not references to names, but declarations of possession.  It is “the church (or churches) that is composed of or belongs to;” it is not a name.


Whereas name was and is an important consideration in many centuries, it was not an important consideration in the New Testament.  This is not a suggestion that it is “wrong” to use any of the of designations in the capacity of a name for the church today.  For such things as legal records and transactions often it is necessary to have and refer to a specific name for a congregation to have a legal entity.  However, to affirm that one of designation is theologically sound, and other of designations are theologically unsound is questionable.  To associate an exclusive name with the church Christ built is to do something that was not done in the New Testament.  It is not wrong, but it is a legal necessity and not a biblical directive.


The emphasis in the New Testament is on being a follower of Jesus Christ so that the Christian manifests his (her) genuineness by motives and behavior rather than by depending on claims.  The emphasis in the New Testament is on what does a Christian look like or how does a Christian behave rather than what is the proper name for a follower of Jesus Christ.  Do remember that “church” is not used in the Old Testament. The Christian should never forget that there are many statements about Christian motivation and behavior in the epistles.  Again, if you are a Christian, the emphasis is on what you are instead of what you call yourself.  The notion, “If I call myself the ‘correct’ name that I am okay,” is not a New Testament concept.


Through the years of much of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first century, there have been two basic approaches to being “the church” that Jesus Christ built.  One could be called “the castle” mentality, and one could be called “the outreach” mentality.  Basic to each is the view of people whose lives reject the influence of Jesus Christ (knowingly or unknowingly).  These approaches to being “the church” that Jesus built answer the question of dealing with ungodly influences very differently.


Consider first “the castle” mentality.  This considers all people outside “the church” as being intentionally ungodly.  These people represent a bundle of ungodly influences.  They are to be feared because they can corrupt “the church” easily.  Thus, the safest thing to do is to build a wall around “the church,” close the gate, and protect “the church” from all harmful influences or harmful teachings.  The primary emphasis is on protecting “the church.”  What often happens is that Christian principles are reduced to lists of dos and don’ts and accepted (approved) procedures.  A person is allowed into the congregation only if he (she) passes unwritten tests, believes accepted concepts, and behaves in ways that are acceptable to the Christian group.  Those who enter “the church” are to be regarded with skepticism until those persons are given the group’s approval.  The basic concern of this mentality is protection.


Consider “the outreach” mentality.  This considers some people out of “the church” as being seekers.  These people may be victims of ungodliness, but they are not in knowing and willful rebellion to God.  They are teachable, but not easily identified at “first encounter.”  Such people are not to be feared (the fear of terror) but given the hope that Jesus Christ provides.  “The church” should teach them.  The risk is ungodly influences, but these influences will be reversed through biblical teaching.  All godly principles can be understood and applied by the individual. The primary emphasis of “the church” is on giving Jesus’ hope to people who are without hope.  The objective of “the church” is to show Jesus’ hope to those who struggle to escape sin and to encourage those persons in their spiritual development. The basic awareness is that forgiveness is needed by all, not just those who are not yet in Christ.


There are numerous forms of “the castle” mentality and “the outreach” mentality.  There are also numerous combinations of both mentalities.  The question each seeks to answer is not easily answered.  The answer often depends on (a) one’s concept of “the church,” (b) one’s concept of the purpose of physical existence in Jesus Christ, and (c) one’s concept and definition of faith.



For Thought and Discussion


1. What was the earliest designation of “the church”?  To what did that refer?


2. The many of references to the church are what and not intended as a what?


3. For what reason is a name of a congregation important to Christians today?


4. The emphasis of the New Testament is on what, not on what?


5. For several generations, the emphasis has been on some form of what two mentalities?


6. Discuss the concept of “the castle” mentality.


7. Discuss the concept of “the outreach” mentality.


8. Discuss the weaknesses and strengths of each concept.


9. Our answer to the question of dealing with ungodly influences often depends on what three concepts?

Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 5

Copyright © 2009
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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