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What Names Should Jesus' Church Wear?

What names should the church wear?Do names matter to God? What designations or terms are used to describe Jesus' church in the New Testament? 

What problems result from wearing names that men have invented to distinguish denominations? Should the church be named after people or doctrines? Is there "nothing in a name" religiously? What does the Bible say?


Sometimes people claim "there is nothing in a name."

Sometimes they claim this in order to justify the names worn by different denominations.

But if names don't matter, why don't parents give their children names like "Benedict Arnold" or "Adolph Hitler" or "Beelzebub"? Names really do matter to people, and we will see that names matter even more to God, especially regarding His people.

In religion people are often confused by many aspects of denominations, and one of the most confusing aspects is the names groups use. Different groups with different practices use different names to distinguish themselves from other groups.

The purpose of this study is to consider New Testament teaching regarding the terms that should be used to designate Jesus' church and His people.

Why are names important? What terms or designations does the gospel use to refer to the church of the New Testament and its members? What should be our attitude toward the many names used by modern denominations?

Consider the definition of the word "name": "A word or a combination of words by which a person, place, idea, etc., is known or designated" (Random House College Dictionary). Hence, a name (as used in this study) is a word or words used to identify, describe, or designate something. When we speak of the "name" of the church, we refer, not to what English grammar refers to as a "proper name," but simply to terms used to designate the church.

I. The Importance of Correct Names

To try to prove that names do not matter, some people quote Shakespeare: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." However, ...

A. Names Are Important in Everyday Life.

* Poisons must be properly identified with labels. Suppose someone took a bottle of deadly poison, labeled it "Root Beer," and put it in the refrigerator. Would that be OK, because "There's nothing in a name"?

* Family names: Suppose Mrs. Jones told everyone she was Mrs. Smith, and called her children by the family name Smith. Would Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith agree "nothing in a name"?

* Names on checks and official documents: Suppose I bought a new car and paid by signing your name to the check. Would you say, "There's nothing in a name"? When I went to court, would the judge let me off if I just said that names don't really matter?

* Names that describe people's character: Suppose I called you a "liar, thief, drunkard, and wife beater." Would you be satisfied if I said, "There's nothing in a name. A rose by any other name still smells as sweet"?

Names do matter. Names convey information: correct names give accurate and true information, but incorrect names give false or misleading information. Names may give honor or dishonor to people. Names may identify authority for actions. Names may describe character. In all these areas, it matters whether or not the names we use are accurate.

B. The Names God Wears Matter.

What Shakespeare said has no authority in religion. You and I will be judged but by what God says in the Bible. So consider the Bible teaching:

Exodus 6:2,3 - God identified Himself by the name "Jehovah." Does that name matter?

Exodus 20:7 - Thou shalt not take the name of God in vain. If names don't matter, why can't we use His name in any way we want?

Matthew 6:9 - Pray, "Hallowed be Thy name." Suppose someone addressed a prayer in our assembly to Mary, Baal, Buddha, or Satan. Would you say, "There is nothing in a name."?

[Ex. 15:2,3; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 47:4; 54:5; Ex. 23:13; Lev. 19:12; 24:15,16; Hebrews 1:4; Phil.2:9-11; Gen. 12:8; Deut. 18:5,19; 1 Sam.17:45; 1 Kings 18:24; 1 Chron. 16:2; Matt.28:19; Luke 1:49; 24:47; Acts 2:21,38; 4:12; Colossians 3:17, Isaiah 42:8]

C. God Cares About the Names His People Wear.

God chose special names for certain of His servants.

Genesis 17:5,15 - God changed the names of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah.

Genesis 17:19 - God told Abraham to name his son Isaac.

Genesis 32:27,28 - He changed Jacob's name to Israel.

Luke 1:13 - God told Zacharias to name his son John (the Baptist).

Matthew 1:21 - God told Joseph to name Mary's son Jesus.

If names don't matter, why did God give these people special names? Why even change their names? Would it have been all right for people to use other names instead of the ones God gave?

[Genesis 16:11; 35:10; Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; Luke 6:14]

God assigned to His people special names that give honor to God.

Deuteronomy 28:9,10 - Israel would be a holy people unto God and would be called by the name of God. Because they belonged to God, they should be referred to by God's name.

Isaiah 62:2 - God's people would be called by a new name, which the mouth of God would name. If God doesn't care about the names His people wear, why bother to choose a new name for them? [Isaiah 62:12; 65:15]

1 Corinthians 1:10-13 - God rebuked His people for wearing names of men to identify themselves. If names don't matter, why did God object?

Names do matter. Would you want to be a member of a group called "Church of Satan"? When God creates something, owns it, and rules over it, He has the right to name it. Especially when God honors a people by giving them the right to wear His name because they belong to Him, wouldn't His people be disrespecting Him if they didn't use the name He gave?

God cares about the name we wear, so we ought to care about it too.

[Ex. 19:5; Daniel 9:19; Jeremiah 14:9; 15:16; Deut. 14:2; 2 Chron. 5:1,14; 1 Kings 8:43,48; 2 Chron. 6:33; Genesis 1:5,8,10; 2:19,20,23; 3:20]

II. New Testament Designations for God's People

New Testament terms for the church and its members are generally descriptions. They describe the character of the church or its purposes or relationships. Some are figurative comparisons. The gospel uses several different terms, but these all refer to the same group, not to groups teaching different doctrines. Just as a man may be called father, husband, son, doctor, citizen, or Christian, so the same group or body of people may wear different descriptive terms.

A. Terms for the Church

The church (Gk. ekklesia)

Matthew 16:18 - Jesus promised to build His church.

Romans 16:16 - Churches of Christ (local congregations) salute you.

"Church" refers to a called-out body or assembly of people (always people, never a physical building). In the New Testament it is the people called to belong to Jesus (Acts 20:28). They are called by the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14), out of darkness (1 Peter 2:9 ), into fellowship with Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9), to receive eternal glory (1 Peter 5:10).

[Acts 8:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 14:33; 16:1; 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Ephesians 1:22; 3:10; 5:22ff; Colossians 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:14; 1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 12:23]

The household (family)

1 Timothy 3:15 - Paul instructed Timothy how men ought to behave in the house of God, which is the church. "House" often refers to a family (Acts 10:2; Hebrews 11:7; Luke 1:27). [Though it sometimes refers to a temple.]

Galatians 6:10 - Do good to all, especially the household of faith.

This term emphasizes a relationship of love and subjection, in which God is the Father (2 Corinthians 6:16-18) and we are His children (1 John 3:1,2). We must love Him as He loves us, submit to His will, and treat our brothers and sisters with love and kindness.

[Ephesians 2:19; 3:15; Hebrews 3:6]

The kingdom

Matthew 16:18,19 - Jesus promised to build His church and give Peter the keys of the kingdom.

Colossians 1:13 - God delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into His Son's kingdom. [Cf. v18.]

This term emphasizes the government of the church. It is a monarchy in which Christ rules as king on David's throne (Luke 1:32f) over the citizens of the kingdom.

[Luke 22:16; John 3:3-5; 18:36,37; Acts 8:12; 20:25; 28:23,31; Hebrews 12:28; Revelation 1:9]

The body

Ephesians 1:22,23 - God gave Christ to be Head over all things to the church which is His body.

Colossians 1:18 - Christ is head of the body, the church.

This term emphasizes the subjection of the members to Christ as Head, and also the unity, cooperation, and care for one another that should characterize the members.

[1 Corinthians 12:12-28; Ephesians 2:16; 4:4,16; 5:23; Romans 12:4,5]

Other terms are also used (temple, bride, vineyard, etc.). Any Scriptural term would be a proper to use to designate Jesus' church, use in advertising, use on the sign out front, etc.

"How would travelers or people who move find the right group?" This concern generally leads faithful churches to identify themselves as "church of Christ," but this is done for expediency and convenience. This is not the one "exclusive" name of the church. When God's word uses many different terms, how can we say that any one of them is the only acceptable one? How could we say a group is wrong if it chooses to use some other Scriptural name?

However, while other Biblically authorized names are not inherently wrong, one must question the motives why some groups, that used to identify themselves as "churches of Christ," have chosen to change to a different name. Is the reason because they are changing their doctrine and practice? Is it because they no longer seek to be identified with the practices that are identified with "churches of Christ"? If so, then the change should be vigorously opposed because the reasons for changing are wrong.

B. Terms for Individual Members of the Church

Disciples - This designates us as followers or learners of Jesus (Acts 20:7). [Acts 11:26; 9:1; 6:1; John 8:31; 15:8]

Children of God - (Galatians 3:26,27) [Romans 8:16,17; Galatians 4:7; 1 John 3:1,2,10]

Saints - This indicates we are set apart, holy, dedicated to God's service (Acts 9:13). [Rom. 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1; Jude 3]

Believers - This expresses the saving (obedient) faith we have in Jesus (Acts 5:14). [2 Cor. 6:15; 1 Timothy 4:12]

Christians - This is probably the new name God promised to call His people (Isaiah 62:2).

Acts 11:26 - Disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Acts 26:28 - Agrippa said to Paul, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian."

1 Peter 4:16 - If any suffer as a Christian, let him glorify God in this name (behalf - KJV).

This term was used for disciples (Acts 11:26) - people who follow Christ, become Christ like, belong to Him, and imitate His example.

All these are Scriptural terms (there are others too) that the gospel uses to refer to God's people. Do you care what name you wear religiously like God cares?

[Other terms for members: priests, etc.]

III. The Dangers of Wearing Denominational Man-Made Names

A. We Should Wear Names that Honor the Father and Son.

New Testament terms for the church honor the Father and Son, emphasizing our relationship and submission to Them.

One thing all Bible names for the church have in common: they all honor God.

References to the church often show that it belongs to God.

Converted people become God' possession (1 Corinthians 6:19,20 - you were bought with a price; Titus 2:14 - A people for Jesus' possession). [1 Peter 2:9; Ephesians 1:14; John 17:9-11]

Matthew 16:18 - Jesus called it "My church"

Acts 20:28 - The church of the Lord, which He purchased with His blood

Romans 16:16 - Churches of Christ

Colossians 1:13 - The kingdom of His dear Son

[1 Cor.1:1,2; Luke 1:32; Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:24; 1 Timothy 3:15]

The very meanings of Bible terms for the church show our possession, relationship, and subjection to God.

"Church" - The body is called out or separated to be God's people.

"Body" - Members are subject to the Head (Christ)

"Kingdom" - Citizens submit to the kingship of Christ.

"Family" - Children submit to the will of the Father.

The emphasis of terms for the church is always on honoring and exalting Deity by showing our relationship and subjection to the Father and Son.

A bride honors her husband and shows her relationship to him by wearing his family name. Children also honor their parents and show their relationship to them by wearing the family name. So Christians ought to wear Biblical names that honor God and show our relationship to Deity. To fail to do so is to dishonor and disrespect our spiritual Father and Husband.

[Cf. Ephesians 5:22ff; Genesis 5:2; Romans 7:2-6; 2 Corinthians 11:2.]

Other Scriptures also emphasize the importance of this point.

Acts 15:14,17 - To prove Gentiles could obey the gospel, James quoted Amos 9:11f saying Gentiles would be called by God's name. They would wear His name because they belonged to God, just as Jews did in Old Testament (Deut. 28:9,10). [Romans 9:25ff]

1 Peter 4:16 - We glorify God in the name "Christian" (ASV, or "in this behalf," KJV). To wear the name "Christian" is to proclaim to all that we are followers of Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:10-13,31 [3:21] - Wearing someone's name gives them glory and honor. This is true spiritually, just like wearing the family name of a father or husband gives them honor. This is why it is wrong to wear men's names religiously. To do so would be to honor men. Instead, we ought to wear the name of the One who did die to purchase us and in whose name (authority) we were baptized. Note v31.

Most denominations wear names that fail to honor the Father and the Son.

Many wear names that exalt men or angels.

* The Lutheran church wears Luther's name (though he said not to do so).

* The Mennonite church was named for Menno Simons.

* "Mormon" is the name of a prophet who supposedly compiled the Book of Mormon.

* Many claim the "Baptist" church was named after John the Baptist.

* Many local congregations of denominations name themselves after people: "St. Peter's," "St. Mary's," "St. Joseph's," "Our Lady of...," etc.

Naming God's people after men is just what 1 Corinthians 1 forbids!

Many other groups wear names of certain doctrines or practices.

When you understand why it is wrong for people to wear the names of men, then you understand that it is wrong, for the same reasons, to wear names of doctrines.

* Presbyterian and Episcopal churches are named after their form of organization.

* The Roman Catholic church is named for its center of government (Rome) and "universal" character.

* Holiness churches are named for their emphasis on holy living.

* Pentecostal churches are named for events on day of Pentecost.

* Methodist churches are named for emphasizing good methods.

* 7th Day Adventists are named for observing the 7th day and for Jesus' 2nd coming.

Why should we not name the church after men? Because men are equally important to one another and should not be exalted above one another, but all are vastly unimportant compared to God. To name ourselves after a man exalts him above others, when we should be exalting Deity.

But the same is true of doctrines. Naming ourselves after a doctrine exalts it as if it were more important than all others. Why pick out just one, instead of another? Instead, why not honor the One who revealed the doctrine? Which is more worthy of honor: the doctrine or the One who revealed it?

B. We Should Wear Names that Promote Unity, Not Division.

All Bible terms for the church emphasize the oneness of the church.

"Church" - Matthew 16:18 - Jesus said, "I will build my church" (singular), not churches (plural).

"Family" - The family of God is always singular (1 Timothy 3:15; Galatians 6:10). God allows each man to have only one family; so God has only one spiritual family, and all His children are in that family. The only other spiritual family is that of the Devil (John 8:38,41-44). [1 John 3:10]

"Kingdom" - The kingdom is always used in the singular - one King ruling one kingdom (Col. 1:13). The only other spiritual kingdom is that of the devil (Colossians 1:13; Matthew 12:24-29). [Luke 1:32; Matthew 16:19]

"Body" - Just as there is only one head, so there is only one body.

Ephesians 4:3-6 - There is one lord (Head) and one body.

1 Corinthians 12:20 - There are many members, but one body.

[Ephesians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 12:4,5]

The gospel teaches us to seek unity based on truth and not condone division.

John 17:20,21 - Jesus prayed for all believers to be one.

Ephesians 4:3 - Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 1:10-13 - Another reason the Corinthians were wrong to wear different names was that this contributed to division. Paul rebuked naming ourselves in such a way as to promote division.

Modern man-made denominational names often contribute to division.

People often invent a new church name to emphasize some man or doctrine. Others object to that name, because they want a different man or doctrine emphasized and honored. So the names emphasize the division, just like at Corinth.

Further, these names are deliberately chosen to distinguish denominations from another. They generally think people in the other groups are still saved, yet they want to be separate from them, so they choose names to designate themselves separately.

Illustration: A lady was soliciting businesses for money for a new building for her denomination. One man said, "I'll give $100 if you put up a sign saying, 'This is a church of Christ.'"

She replied, "No, that's not the name we wear."

"Then I'll still give $100 if you put a sign, 'This is not a church of Christ.'"

"Oh, no! It is a church of Christ. What I mean is that it is, but it isn't."

People know the church should belong to Jesus, yet they don't want to wear His name. Instead they want names to separate themselves from others. If all would wear Bible names, no one could object, and the name would not encourage division among God's people.

C. We Ought to Use Terms Authorized by God.

Why would people say "there is nothing in a name," if they could find the name of their church in the Bible? If they could find the name in the Bible, wouldn't they would just do so, instead of saying that it does not matter?

God has given terms He wants used to refer to the church and its members. What authority do men have to change those terms and use others of human invention?

1 Peter 4:11 - If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.

2 John 9 - Whoever does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, does not have God.

Galatians 1:8,9 - If any many preaches another gospel, he is accursed.

When God gives people religious names, they ought to use those names, especially when God has so honored a people as to allow them to wear His name as His people. If the church belongs to God, if Jesus established and built the church, if Jesus died to purchase the church and forgive our sins, then surely God has the right to decide what terms we should use to describe ourselves! We should wear the names God chooses and names that honor God, not other names of our own human invention.

[Colossians 3:17; Matthew 15:9; Revelation 22:18,19]


The name is just one of many aspects of Jesus' pattern for His church that we need to consider. Some people think the right name is all that matters. Not so. Many congregations are right in name, but wrong in doctrine or practice. Nevertheless, names are important. If a congregation wears an unscriptural name, you can immediately know it is not following the Bible.

In the first century, God's people used the terms found in God's word. They were not members of any man-made denomination, so they did not wear man-made names. They belonged to God, so they wore names that honored Deity. If we belong to God today, we should do the same.

This congregation wears the name of Jesus because we care about honoring Him. Because we care about you, we urge you to become a member of Jesus' church. It is not a denomination, but just he body of people that belong to God. Have you become a Christian, a member of Jesus' body? Are you living faithfully?

(C) Copyright 1986, 1993, 2009 David E. Pratte;

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Topics for further Bible study

The Importance of Jesus' Church
Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Origin of Jesus' Church & Denominations
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority in Religion
What Does God Think about Denominationalism?
How Many True Churches Are There?
Church Organization, Government, & Work
The Nature and Meaning of the Church - Return to the Gospel Way home page.

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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.

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