This article is part of a series responding to an article titled "THE BIBLE VERSUS THE CHURCH OF CHRIST" by James L. Melton. The original article is no longer available at av1611.org as it once was. Reading a response without access to the original writing can be frustrating. Having the context of quotes is important. You can download Mr. Melton's article here.
by William J. Stewart
Mr. Melton makes two false statements in his opening sentence to this section. He wrote:
“The Church of Christ claims to reserve for itself the ONLY scriptural name for a New Testament church, although the term ‘church of Christ’ is found nowhere in the Bible.”
I don’t know of anyone who would affirm that “Church of Christ” is the ONLY scriptural name for a New Testament church. The Lord’s church is referred to a few different ways in the New Testament:
“the Way” (Acts 19:9, 23), “church of God” (1 Corinthians 1:2), “house of God” (1 Timothy 3:15), “kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14-15), etc.. I believe any of these—any description used in the Bible—would be scriptural to use. Why then do we use “Church of Christ”? I cannot speak for all Churches of Christ in the world, but I can speak for the local church. Years ago, when this congregation began to meet together, we considered using “Church of God” on our signs and in our advertising. We decided against it because “Church of God” is used by adherents to Armstrongism and some Pentecostal churches, and we wanted to avoid being confused with them. Also, when Christians from other areas are in Kingston and are looking for a place to worship, they will likely be looking for a place which identifies itself as “Church of Christ.” Having said that, we do not believe, nor do I know of anyone among the churches of Christ who does believe that “Church of Christ” is the ONLY scriptural name for a New Testament church.
In fact, the idea of the church having or needing a formal name is not consistent with what we see in the New Testament. As mentioned above, these are descriptions (the church belonging to Christ, the church belonging to God, the household of God, the kingdom of God, the temple, the body of Christ, the flock of God, the bride of Christ, etc.). They are not formal names. Consider an illustration. What is the name of the moon? Don’t say moon—that’s not a name, that’s a description. We haven’t given our moon a name. Why not? Because there is only one. It doesn’t need a name to distinguish it from other moons, for we only have one moon. We distinguish the planets by name (Earth, Saturn, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Uranus, Neptune) because there are several of them. We can’t just say “the planet” and expect someone to know which planet we are referring to. But, if we say, “the moon,” everyone knows what we are talking about. In the early centuries, if someone spoke of “the church,” they knew exactly what was being spoken about. It is a modern thing (since the Protestant Reformation) to have to distinguish between this church or that church. It is a denominational thing. It’s grounded in religious division due to differences in doctrine and practice.
The author said, “the term ‘church of Christ’ is found nowhere in the Bible.” Either (1) he has not read the book of Romans all the way through, (2) he has, but didn’t do so very carefully, or (3) he is banking on the ignorance of his readers and hoping they will accept him at his word. Romans 16:16 reads, “Salute one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.”
Melton scoffs at the idea that since the church belongs to Christ we believe it should be called after His name. He identifies such as “the result of human reasoning, not Bible study.” Let me be blunt. There is more Bible study involved in concluding we should glorify Christ in the “name” (description) we use for the church than there is in calling a church “Baptist,” “Presbyterian,” “Free Methodist,” etc.. These names are nothing but the product of human reasoning and doctrinal division.
Years ago, I studied with a woman by the name of Sue. She was adamant that it didn’t matter what the church was called, that names really don’t matter. So, I started calling her “Bob.” As we continued to study, I kept calling her “Bob.” She was visibly annoyed with me. Why? What was the problem? She got my point—names do matter. If a man and woman get married, it is custom that the woman takes the man’s last name. All you fellas out there, what would you think if your wife took your neighbour’s last name instead? Names matter. The bride of Christ should wear His name.