Free in Christ – Chapter 11, Why should we Denominate Ourselves?

by Cecil Hook

WHY SHOULD WE DENOMINATE OURSELVES?

When the Lord adds the saved to His church, He does not make them parts of a sect or denomination. They are the church. As there is only one church, it needs no name. God gave it none. He did not denominate it. To name is to denominate; to denominate is to name. A denomination is a class or kind having a specific name. To give the church a name is to give it a denominational trait.

A proper name designates a specific person, place, or thing like John Doe; Rochester, Texas; or Congress. Proper names should be capitalized. Man is a common or class name distinguishing us from animals, trees, cars, and metals. Generally we can be designated as persons, individuals, and inhabitants. We may be described as intelligent, moral, passionate, and inventive. Not one of these designations or descriptions is a proper name of man either individually or collectively.

In like manner the term church distinguishes the saved from lodges, banks, corporations, and labor unions. Other designations, such as body, kingdom, and family, reveal its nature. None of these, however, is a proper name for the saved people.

Names are given to identify. A person wishes to be distinguished from all other persons. So he accepts a specific, or proper name. His name may be Hook. There are other Hooks. So he accepts a full proper name of Solomon Slaughter Hook. That distinguishes him from everybody else! (That was my father’s name.)

The church, being one, needs no proper name to identify it as being different. Sects and divisions may want to identify themselves because of their lack of identity with the one church. So they name (denominate) themselves. When we denominate ourselves, how can we convince others that we are not really a denomination? When we “place membership” with a group that rejects others in the universal church, we join a denomination.

If the Lord had intended that the body of believers have a proper name, surely He would have told us about it. But He didn’t. The claim that church of God, church of the living God, church of the fist-born, church of Christ, and church of the saints are all proper names is unfounded and confusing. Since no proper name is given for the church, who can claim that one name is more authentic or scriptural than another?

Some seek to solve the name problem by referring to the body as the church of Christ with a little c. It is true that the word church is not capitalized in scriptural usage; however, it is not used as a proper noun in the Scriptures. Putting church of Christ on the sign, letterhead, and bulletin violates basic grammar. church of Christ is being used as a proper name, and proper names must be capitalized.

An acceptance of the name Church of Christ has been nurtured which is sectarian in spirit. The name has come to have a true ring to it. We hear about Church of Christ preachers, Church of Christ literature, Church of Christ colleges, and Church of Christ weddings. In publications we read of congregations being specified as Northside Church of Christ, Eastside Church of Christ, and Westside Church of Christ. Isn’t it sufficient to use Northside church, or, if that is the full and accepted name of the group, Northside Church? Individual congregations may be designated rightly by location without any sectarian name.

Evidently Paul was in the church of God at Corinth when he wrote: ìthe churches of Christ salute you.î In sending greetings from the church of God of Corinth, was he sending greetings from a church of Christ or a Church of Christ?

Techniques of scholasticism have been employed to support loyalty to the name Church of Christ. The devised arguments maintain that (1) the church belongs to Christ; hence it should wear his name, and (2) the church is the bride of Christ, and a bride always honors the husband by wearing his name.

The church does belong to Christ, but which inspired writer used that as an argument for a proper name? How far does that rule apply? My dog belongs to me, but it does not wear my name. The church belongs to God also. How does the rule apply here? Which of our buildings has Church of God on it?

If the church wears the Savior’s name, it will be called the Church of Jesus because His name was Jesus, not Christ.

My bride honored me by wearing my name, but we have no record in the Bible of any wife wearing her husband’s name. We have taken a modern Western custom and tried to make a Biblical pattern out of it. Wives still do not wear their husbands’ names in come countries and cultures today.

To argue that the bride should wear the name of the groom is to admit that the church should have a proper name to denominate it.

My wife wears my name, but she did not do so until after our marriage. Jesus and His bride are engaged, but not married. His bride has not been presented to Him yet (Ephesians 5:25-28). We have been invited to their wedding (Revelation 19:7-9; 21:2).

If the body of the saved is to have a proper title, we are still faced with a problem. The Greek word from which church is derived is not even used in the New Testament in relation to God’s people! When you look up the word church in An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by Vine, you will be instructed to see assembly and congregation. There is no listing under the word church.

The Greek word ekklesia has been translated into the English word church, but that is not its meaning. The word church is derived from the Greek word kuriakos. You may learn that from your English dictionary. That word is used only in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and Revelation 1:10, and it means: belonging to the Lord; pertaining to the Lord. How could a word which has no counterpart in the New Testament be a part of an authorized title for God’s people?

The Greek word ekklesia, in pre-Christian use, designated a regular assembly of the whole body of citizens in a free city-state called out by the heralds for the discussion and decision of public business. Jesus took this common word to describe those whom He would save. The emphasis is not on what or where they were called out from, but in being called into an assembly. The closest single-word translation into English would be assembly or congregation.

Assemblies designated by location may be parts of the general assembly and church of the first-born ones. We have ample scriptural precedent for designating congregations by location. They had no problem about identity in the first century. We have a denominational problem today. Why add to the problem by denominating ourselves? Let those who wish to be distinguished from the universal church take distinctive names. But if we are part of the universal church, why should we want to be distinguished from it? The problem is that there is no one, true, all-inclusive church in organized form in existence. We all align ourselves with distinguishing groups that are less than the one body.

Time-honored names are not changed readily. Reform never comes easily. It has never been the easiest course to speak where the Bible speaks and to call Bible things by Bible names.

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