Jesus built His church on a Rock
(Matthew 16:18)

What are Biblical names for the church of Christ?

A. In the New Testament believers are called by many different names. Each Biblical name has an important meaning. Some names refer to believers as a group, as a church; others refer to them as individuals.

B. There is no one 'official' name for Christians, either as individuals or as a group. Since there is but one church in the New Testament, in most cases it is simply referred to as 'the church.'

C. In our time, however, there are many unscriptural denominations, which wish to distinguish themselves from each other.

1. This has resulted in the invention of many unscriptural names.

2. In most cases these names focus attention on worldly matters, such as a certain city or country, a certain man, or some organization or doctrine.

3. Scriptural names give God the glory by focusing attention on God and Christ.

4. It is significant that religious bodies of human origin usaully wear unscriptural names.

5. The Scriptures contain 40 or 50 names for believers, which are of devine origin. Christ's church wears them all.

6. Most denominations, however, wear names of human origin. This makes clear to all that they are not the church which Christ built.

D. We can only briefly mention a few examples of designations for individuals. They are called:

1. Disciples of Christ, because they are His followers and students. A disciple lives according to the example and teaching of his Master (John 8:30-32).

2. Believers, because of their trust in God and their faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, as their Saviour (1 Tim. 4:10).

3. Christians, because they belong to Christ (Acts 11:26; 1 Peter 4:14-16).

4. Saints, because they have been sanctified (made holy) by the blood of Christ, and are dedicated to God (Phil. 4:21,22; Heb. 10:10).

5. Children of God, because He is their Father and they are His heirs (Gal. 3:26,27; 4:6,7).

6. Brethren, because they are children of the same Father with Christ as their older brother (Heb. 2:10- 12).

7. Friends, because of the love they have for one another (3 John 15).

E. What is the significance of various Biblical names for believers as a group?

1. Most commonly they are called 'the church.'

a. 'Church' is a translation of the Greek word 'ekklesia' which means 'assembly' or 'congregation.' This word indicates that they form a group, an association, a fellowship. 'Church' refers to the people, not to a building or a religious government.

i. The word sometimes refers to the entire church, composed of all true followers of Christ of all nations and of all times, as when Jesus said: "On this rock I will build My church.'

ii. 'Church' in the singular can also refer to a local congregation. For example, "the church which was at Jerusalem' (Acts 8:1). When several congregations in a certain area are meant, the plural form is always used: for example, 'the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria' (Acts 9:31). The phrase 'the church at Rome,' for example, is not found in the New Testament because there were several congregations in Rome (Romans 16:5,14,15). The letter is addressed to 'all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints' (Rom. 1:7).

iii. In Scripture 'church' is never used in a denominational sense, as though there were different kinds of Christian churches.

b. Often there is a descriptive phrase with the word 'church.'

c. The next most common term, except for simply 'the church,' is 'the church of God' (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:13; 1 Tim. 3:5,15). The plural is also used (1 Cor. 11:16; 1 Thes. 2:14; 2 Thes. 1:4).

d. The expression 'churches of Christ' is found once (Rom. 16:16). Although plural, it is used in a universal, or at least indefinite, sense: "All the churches of Christ greet you." The singular 'church of Christ' is not found in the New Testament. Of course Jesus said: 'I will build My church, so it certainly is the church of Christ. We find 'the churches of Judea which are in Christ' (Gal. 1:22), 'the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus' (1 Thes. 2:14) and 'the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Thes. 1:1; 2 Thes. 1:1).

e. In a few passages, those who are in the church serve as the designation: "all the churches of the Gentiles" (Rom. 16:4), "all the churches of the saints" (1 Cor. 14:33) and "church of the firstborn" (Heb. 12:22).

f. The location is often indicated prepositionally, for example: 'the church in Cenchrea' (Rom. 16:1), 'the churches of Galatia' (Gal. 1:2) 'the churches of Judea' (Gal. 2:22) and 'the church that is in their house' (Rom. 16:5).

2. The church is the body of Christ.

a. "For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Rom. 12:4,5).

b. "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" (Col. 1:18).

c. "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling" (Eph. 4:4).

d. "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free -- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many" (1 Cor. 12:12-14).

e. "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread" (1 Cor. 10:16b,17).

f. "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful" (Col. 3.15).

3. The church is the flock of God.

a. Jesus told His followers: "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:12).

b. Each local congregation is a flock with elders as shepherds. Paul admonished the elders at Ephesus: "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:28,29).

c. Christ is the Chief Shepherd. Peter told elders: "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by constraint but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away" (1 Peter 5:1- 4).

4. The church is the household of God.

a. To believing Gentiles Paul wrote: "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19).

b. To the Galations Paul wrote: "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those of the household of faith" (Galations 6:10).

c. And Peter warns: "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17).

5. The church is a spiritual building, a holy temple, a habitation of God.

a. "Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit" (Eph. 2:20-22).

b. As living stones we are being built up a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5). We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, the people of God (1 Peter 2:9,10).

6. The church is the commonwealth of Israel.

a. When Gentiles are in Christ Jesus they are no longer "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise" (Eph. 2:12).

b. "For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3).

c. As the angel Gabriel said to Mary about Christ: "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:33).

d. In Christ, God made a completely new covenant with the house of Israel (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:8,10).

e. Only in Christ are the prophecies fulfilled that "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26).

f. One must be a new creation in Christ to receive the blessings of peace and mercy pronounced on the Israel of God (Gal. 6:15,16).

7. The church is Christ's betrothed bride.

a. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2).

b. God used this figure when He spoke through Hosea of the restoration of Israel: "I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD" (Hosea 2:19,20).

c. After the fall of Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots, in Revelation chapter 18, John hears the voice of a great multitude saying: "'Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.' And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, 'Write: "Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!"'" (Rev. 19:6-9).

d. Then we have the glorious words in Revelation 21, after the first heaven and the first earth have passed away: "Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (vs. 2). [Compare this passage with Hosea 2:19-23 and Romans 9:24- 26.] After John hears a loud voice from heaven proclaiming that God is making all things new, he continues in verse 9: "Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, "Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife." And in the Spirit John sees the city of God where "those who do His commandments" may enter through the gates (22:14), where the Lord God gives them light, "And they shall reign forever and ever" (22:4). "And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!'" (Rev. 22:17a).

8. Members of the body of Christ are citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

a. In Daniel 2:44 it was foretold that God would set up an eternal kingdom during the days of the Roman Empire.

b. John the Baptist, Jesus and His disciples during His ministry, all preached that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Mat. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7).

c. Jesus said to His disciples: "there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" (Mat. 16:28); "till they see the kingdom of God having come with power" (Mark 9:1).

d. After His resurrection Jesus said: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Mat. 28:18).

e. On Pentecost Peter said that Christ was raised up to sit on David's throne and that He was exalted to the right hand of God as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:30- 36).

f. To the Colossians Paul wrote: "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (1:13).

g. We are in the kingdom in the sense that we are citizens of the kingdom. Jesus told Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). As Paul wrote "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50). At the last trumpet we shall be changed (vers 52). This is why Paul says in Philippians 3:20,21: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself."

h. This is why Peter admonishes us: "Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:10,11).

i. In this confidence Paul wrote: "And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen!" (2 Tim. 4:18).

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive