TGOC Bible Class Curricula – The Church of Christ (1st Quarter) - Lesson 8 -Names By Which The Church Is Called

TGOC Bible Class Curricula – The Church of Christ (1st Quarter)

Lesson 8

Names by Which The Church Is Called

Names are very important in our society. With them we identify and we summons. They also serve to distinguish one business, organization, or person from another. They also show affiliation. They show to which business, organization or family a person belongs. Names are also important to God.

God placed a great deal of importance on wearing the right name. In Genesis 17:4-5, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Why? Because Abram’s name was not appropriate for the plans that God had for him. “Abram” meant “exalted father”. God told Abram that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. (Genesis 26:4) God promised to make him the father of many. Therefore, God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude”. This was a more appropriate name for a man through whom God would create a nation.God placed a great deal of importance on the names given to Jesus. One of those names revealed to the prophets was Emmanuel. (Isaiah 7:14) Why? God chose a name that would be descriptive of who and what Jesus was and that would be in keeping with His purpose for coming. The name Immanuel means “God with us”. (Matthew 1:23) It shows the oneness of the nature of God and Christ. Christ was God on earth. Jesus Himself said that He and the father are one. (John 17:11) He chose the name Jesus because it was descriptive of His purpose on the earth to save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)

When God assigned and/or approved of certain designations to be used in His church, He did so for a purpose. They are designations which describe the function, relationships, and ownership of His kingdom.

Man-made names are wrong. We do not have to look very far into the Scriptures to see that the use of names God has not assigned is wrong and should not be practiced. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses this issue. These people were calling themselves “followers of Apollos”; “followers of Paul”; “followers of Cephas”; and “followers of Christ”. Paul let them know that what they were doing was not right. Notice what he says.

1 Corinthians 1:12-13, “12 What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?”

Calling God’s church by any other name than the ones He has authorized takes honor away from Him and His Son (just as calling your children by another man’s name takes honor away from you). We see the use of many different names on denominations across the world. However, when we look into The Book (Bible) we learn that most of them have not been authorized by God. God has not given man permission to call His church any name other than the ones he has assigned. Let us examine some of those names.

I. Names Jesus Called His Church:

There is not one official name given to Jesus’ church; there are, however, many designations. This was a very common practice in the first century. Designations were used in the New Testament to identify and distinguish one person or thing over another. For example, in Matthew 10:4, we read about a man called Simon the Zealot. There were many men called Simon, but when the designation “the Zealot” was added to his name, it distinguished this Simon from others with the same name.

In Mark 1:16 we read of a man called James the son of Zebedee. Again, there were many men named James, but only one was “the son of Zebedee”. 

A. Designations which Indicate Function: Some of the designations given to the Church were given to indicate how the church was to function.

1. The Body of Christ.

Ephesians 1:22-23, “22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

The church is to function like a body. Christ is the head. Christians are the members of His body. As the head, Jesus gives instruction to the other members of that body. As the head, He is the decision-making part of the body (as the brain/head is the center of all bodily functions in the human body). In the physical body, the members would never think of trying to make decisions for the brain. They do not have that privilege nor capability. The same should be true in the church. Members should never attempt to make decisions for nor change decisions made by Christ.

2. Kingdom.

Colossians 1:13, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.”

We have already looked at the significance of the use of the word “kingdom” earlier in our study. We saw that a kingdom required a king, subjects, and a law. We also saw that the church is a kingdom in the sense that Christ is the King, Christians are His subjects, and the Bible is our law. Just as the subjects in an earthly kingdom are to be obedient to the king, Christians, in like manner, are to be obedient to Christ, our King, in every way. Paul in writing the Colossian Church said this:

Colossians 1:18, “18 And he is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

The word “kingdom” is used in two different ways in the gospels. Matthew refers to the church as the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 16:18-19, and John calls it the kingdom of God in John 18:36. Both of these designations reveal the spiritual nature of the Lord’s church.

B. Designations Which Indicate Ownership: God shows ownership of His Church in the same way we show ownership of those things which we possess. We say, “This is David’s house.” We understand from this designation that the house belongs to David. The Bible uses two designations which indicate ownership when referring to the church.

1. The Church of God.

Acts 20:28, “28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

In the same way that we understand to whom the house belongs, we can learn to whom the church belongs. God the Son purchased the church with His own blood. He is rightfully the divine owner. Jesus’ church was planned before the worlds were created. Paul wrote:

Ephesians 3:10-11, “10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The church was to be the vehicle by which the world learned about God’s mystery. That mystery was that all (Jew and Gentile) could come to God through His Son Jesus Christ.

2. The “churches” of Christ.

Romans 16:16, “16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.”

This is another designation that indicates that the church belongs to Christ. 

When an individual becomes a Christian, he belongs to Christ. (1 Corinthians 6:20) Christ owns him. If Christians are owned by Christ and Christians are the church, then Christ owns the church. This designation shows that ownership.

C. Designations Which Indicate Relationships: There are three designations, in particular, that are used in the Bible to indicate types of relationships in reference to the church:

1. Temple of God.

This designation shows the relationship of the Godhead and the obedient child of God.

1 Corinthians 3:16, “16 Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?”

The Christian provides a dwelling place for the Spirit of God (as well as the Son and the Father, Romans 8:9-10; 2 Corinthians 6:16). He has told us that He will come in and dwell (live) with those of us who are faithful and obedient to the word of God (not in a literal, physical way, but in a representative way, Ephesians 3:17; Romans 10:17; Colossians 3:16).

Romans 8:11, “11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (See also Romans 8:11; Ephesians 2:22; 2 Timothy 1:14; 1 John 2:14)

The church is God’s sanctuary on earth. In the time of Moses, God’s sanctuary was in the tabernacle. There He made His presence (representatively) known. Today, His sanctuary is the church and the hearts of His children. This designation shows that relationship.

  1. The Family of God.

Paul said, ‘We are God’s household’. (Ephesians 2:19. He told Timothy that he was writing to him that he might know how to conduct himself in ‘the household of God’ which is the Church of the living God.” (Eddie Cloer, What Is the Church?, Resource Publications, 1993, p.102)

The relationship of God to the church and the church to God is often depicted as a family. God is the Father. Christians are His children. Notice the following:

2 Corinthians 6:18, “18 I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

God adopted all who were obedient into His family. (Ephesians 1:5) He gave them a new name. (Acts 11:26) And, they become heirs to His promises and His inheritance. (Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:29; Titus 3:17)

  1. Disciples of the Lord.

A disciple is a learner; a follower of Jesus Christ. This designation refers to a relationship of a teacher to his students and students to their teacher. (Acts 9:1; Matthew 28:19)

Sometimes the church in the first century was simply referred to as “disciples”. (Acts 9:26; 11:26)

II. Names He called His People:

God assigned names to His church as a whole in order to describe its nature, function, relationships, and ownership, so also He assigned names to the individual member. Here are some of them:

    1. Christians.

1 Peter 4:16, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.”

Paul and Barnabas left Tarsus and traveled to Antioch where they stayed for one year, teaching and preaching the gospel. As a result, many believed and were baptized. Under these circumstances at Antioch, the believers were first called Christians. This word is used 3 times in the New Testament. (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16)

The name “Christian” is descriptive of the relationship that baptized believers have with Christ. It is taken from the Greek word CRISTIANOS, which means “follower of Christ; Christian”. We are followers of Christ, so, we wear His name. Followers of Martin Luther call themselves Lutherans. Followers of Buddha call themselves Buddhists. In the same manner, Christians wear the name of the One they follow: Jesus Christ.

    1. Children of God.

Romans 8:16-17,“16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs— heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Ephesians 1:55 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—”

This designation appears 12 times in the New Testament and is descriptive of that special relationship that baptized believers have with God. We saw earlier that Christian’s relationship with God is often depicted as a family relationship (Ephesians 2:19; 2 Corinthians 6:18). God adopts all those who are obedient into His family. (Ephesians 1:5) He becomes a Father to them and they become His children. (2 Corinthians 6:18) 

    1. Disciples.

Acts 6:7, “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”

This word is translated from the Greek word MATHETES, which means “(1) a learner, pupil, disciple; (2) One who follows one's teaching.” (Thayer) It is the most common designation used for God’s people. It appears 266 times in the New Testament and is used most often in the four gospels.

This designation describes the relationship Christians have with Christ. He is their Master, and they are His students. They look to Him for enlightenment and guidance. A disciple is committed to his master and looks up to him as someone who is more informed and much wiser than they. Jesus ensured the perpetuation of this designation just prior to His ascension when He commanded His Apostles go into all the world and “make disciples” of all nations. (Matthew 28:18-20)

  1. Saints.

Acts 9:13, Ananias said to Jesus, “Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.”

The further away from the time that Christ died, the more was the tendency for the writers of the New Testament to make use of the designation of saint when referring to God’s people. In the Gospels and the first part of the Book of Acts, the designation of “disciple” was most often used. From the latter part of Acts through the remainder of the New Testament we find the word “saints”. It appears only once in the Gospels (Matthew 27:52), and 59 times in the remaining books of the Bible. This designation is from the Greek word HAGIOS, which means “set apart” (for God, to be, as it were, exclusively His).

This designation describes the relationship baptized believers have with their God. Through their obedience to His will, they have been set apart; selected as something that belongs only to Him. Another word which is used in this connection is “holy”. As saints, we are holy because we have been cleansed and are dedicated to God’s use.

  1. Citizens.

Ephesians 2:1919 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household.”

Christians also maintain a citizenship in God’s Kingdom in Heaven. To the Philippians, Paul wrote:

Philippians 3:20, “20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Earlier, in our study, we discussed how the church is like a kingdom, and is thus referred to as one. As subjects of Christ the King, Christians are referred to by the designation of citizen in the kingdom of God. As citizens, we are subject to the King and His Law.

  1. Servants.

Acts 16:17, a girl proclaimed about Paul and his Christian companions, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”

Christians are also referred to by the designation of “servant”. This designation shows both ownership and function. As servants of God, we belong to Him. As a servant in the kingdom of God, we function as one whose sole duty is to serve his/her master.

There are two basic words which are used to describe the Christian’s relationship to God. One is DIAKONOS from which we get the word “deacon.” This describes a person who renders service to the church. In doing so they are also serving God. The other word is DOULOS, which means “a slave, bondman, man of servile condition”. (Thayer) This word depicts a person who is the property of another. He has no will of his own. His duty is to serve the will of his master. Christians are owned by God. They are His property. He is their master. His will is their will. The apostle Paul describes this relationship for us. First, he says that he is a slave of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1); and he tells us what that means:

Galatians 2:20, “20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

God has assigned these designations for His people. It is important for us to understand that He has never authorized Christians to call themselves or allow others to refer to them by any other name. Especially, God does not approve of His people referring to themselves by the name of some man. (Luther, etc.) This takes honor away from God and gives it to another.

This material is copyrighted by The Gospel of Christ and its authors.  This information is free to use in its entirety without further consent, however, modifications should not be made without contacting for permission.  Any and all images contained herein are believed to be free for all distribution and content.