What’s in a Name?

The Jackson Heights Church of Christ?

The Jackson Heights church of Christ?

The Church of Christ at Jackson Heights?

The Church of Christ That Meets at Jackson Heights?

The Building in Front of the Jackson Heights Subdivision Where a Congregation of the Lord’s People Assembles?

Depending on how persnickety the elders feel like being, the name that a church puts on the sign out front can reflect a nearly infinite degree of concern for using the correct nomenclature.  I don’t know this for certain, but I fear that sometime, somewhere, a church has split because of dissension about what verbiage to use (though hopefully not over the capital versus lower-case C!).

Even lesser disagreements on the subject still strike me as textbook examples of 2 Timothy 2:14.  If quarreling about the words on a sign isn’t “quarreling about words”, then what is?  Even beyond that, I’m generally suspicious of magic-word approaches to serving God.  Changing the name of a congregation doesn’t change its nature, and either that nature is pleasing to God or it isn’t, regardless of the name.  Why get all fussed about the part that doesn’t matter?

Is the Name Scriptural?

Instead, we ought to settle down and use common sense to work our way through the issue.  First, we should ask whether a particular name or description for a church is Biblical.  Is there a Scriptural basis for us choosing some designation?

I think the logic here goes well beyond, “We like the Bible, so we want a name out of the Bible.”  It’s no secret to anybody that division exists among those who call themselves Christians.  However, in every case, the cause of that division has been a departure by some from the teaching of the New Testament.  Because they have departed, a name from the Bible is no longer sufficient to describe them.  The Lutheran Church is the Lutheran Church because it follows the teachings of Martin Luther.  Methodists are Methodists because they follow the “method” of John Wesley.

However, if we are nothing more than simple Christians, a name in use among the early Christians (like “the churches of Christ”) will accurately describe us.  If that shoe doesn’t fit, we’ve got a problem!

Is the Name Useful? 

Second, we have to recognize that the name on the sign isn’t really for the members of the congregation at all.  In everyday conversation, I next to never say, “The Jackson Heights Church of Christ”.  Instead, I say “the Jackson Heights church”, “Jackson Heights”, or even (when I’m writing) “JH”.  I know what that building on Nashville Highway is for, I know what goes on inside it, and so do most of the people I talk to.

Instead, the sign is for people who don’t belong to the Jackson Heights church and don’t know what goes on inside the church-building walls.  It’s for those who are looking for a congregation of believers who were baptized for the forgiveness of sins, worship God unaccompanied by instruments, partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, give according to what they have determined in their hearts, and generally do all things in the name of the Lord.

In our society, “Church of Christ” conveys those things where “Church of God” and “Church of the Firstborn”, for instance, wouldn’t.  We have a right to those names too, but because of their disuse or misuse, they wouldn’t send the same message to Christians who want to find somewhere to worship according to their conscience.

“Aha!” some might exclaim at this, “You’re using ‘Church of Christ’ as a denominational name!”  Frankly, this too is quarreling about words.  If the Jackson Heights church were to join some unscriptural association of local churches, we would no longer be following Christ.  That would matter.  It would be a big deal.

However, it’s insignificant whether somebody wants to call us a denomination because of what the sign out front says.  If we’re worshiping in spirit and in truth, God is pleased with us, and some label that a third party tries to slap on us doesn’t alter His pleasure in the slightest.  To be honest, if God is happy with the Jackson Heights church (and I believe He is), I don’t give two hoots what anybody else thinks!

Also, in my experience, the folks who shrilly cry “Denomination!” generally have an ulterior motive.  They’re looking for an excuse to reject the first-century pattern, as though the fact that they’ve chosen to call “the Church of Christ” a denomination proves anything.  I’ve found that people like that typically have no trouble justifying themselves to themselves, so I don’t waste a lot of time arguing with them.  As Jesus said, it’s best to let them alone.

Just as “Church of Christ” is a useful designation, so too is “Jackson Heights”, this time as a way of distinguishing us from other congregations of the Lord’s people.  I believe there are something like 38 churches of Christ in Maury County; “Jackson Heights” lets people know they’ve got us instead of one of the other 37.  It has no more spiritual weight than the fact that the street outside my house is called “Prominence Road”.


In short, the name on the sign is a matter of convenience and doesn’t really amount to much.  People who think it’s some kind of important issue are best advised to devote themselves instead to visiting shut-ins, teaching the lost, or really anything else of genuine spiritual significance.

If we called ourselves by some un-Biblical name because only the un-Biblical name fit, that would indicate a problem.  However, a Scriptural designation doesn’t prove that we’re free from problems, either.  Only our actions can show whether our claim to belong to Christ is a valid one.  That, not the precise language we use to describe ourselves, is what matters.

2 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. How many churches are there in the towns in the scriptures? Only one church per town/Village in most cases. The one church in a town would take care of the problem, would it not?


  2. Skip, I would definitely be in favor of such unity among brethren that we _could_ all be part of the same congregation! Sadly, however, others have chosen to go in directions that make it impossible for me, at least, to worship with them in good conscience.


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