What Shall We Call the Church?

By Royce Frederick

It is very good to be careful about the terms we use in reference to the church. The New Testament refers to it with several different terms. For example, the church is referred to as the “kingdom of God” (Mark 9: 1), “church of God” (1 Corinthians 1:2), “flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2), “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16), “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), “household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), and “kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13). We should remember that all of these terms refer to the people, not the place where they assemble for worship. We certainly do not sin when we use any of those terms in the same manner as they are used in the New Testament.

On the other hand, it is sinful to call the church by any name which the New Testament does not use in reference to the church. In his very last letter, Paul told Timothy, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words, which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). God chose the words in the Bible (1 Corinthians 2:13). No person on earth has the authority to use a non-Biblical term as a name for the church of Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Corinthians 1:10). When men originate names of their own choosing and apply them to the church, they cause divisions. This fact is evident throughout the world.

It is good and right to use the term church of God, because that term is used in 1 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:13, and several other places. The church belongs to Christ (Matthew 16:18). But Christ belongs to God (1 Corinthians 3:23). Therefore, the church belongs to God.

It is also good and right to use the term church of Christ. Near the close of his letter to Rome, Paul wrote, “The churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16). This shows that each local church is a church of Christ — if it carefully follows the teachings given by Christ in the New Testament. Christ is the builder and owner of His church. He said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). Christ died for the church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). Christ is the head of the church: “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence [supremacy] (Colossians 1:18). Because He is its head, “the church is subject to Christ” (Ephesians 5:24).

We can use the terms church of God and church of Christ in reference to the church which Christ established, because both terms are used in that manner in the Bible. But we also need to be aware of the fact that some churches call themselves church of God, church of Christ, or one of the other Biblical terms, but they teach the doctrines of men rather than the doctrines of Christ. If a church in any city teaches doctrines of men, then the men can name that church whatever name they choose — it is their church; it does not belong to Christ. “Whosoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).

If a church in any city calls itself church of God or church of Christ, that church needs to also teach the rest of the doctrine of Christ in its purity as it is revealed in the New Testament.