|The names of the church:
universally, locally & individually
J. W. McGarvey, in his Original Commentary on Acts, states:
"If the New Testament furnishes any names for the people of God, its authority in reference to
their use is not less imperative than in reference to any other use of language. We can have no
more right, in this case, to substitute other names for them, or to add others to them, than to do
the same in reference to the names of the apostles, of the Holy Spirit, or of Christ.
"Religious names are significant. They not only distinguish the bodies to which they belong, as
do modern names of individuals, but they distinguish them by a condensed description of their
peculiarities. All the peculiarities of a religious denomination are expressed by the
denominational name in its current import. Hence, to call a Baptist by the name Methodist
would be worse than to call Smith by the name of Jones; for, besides miscalling him, it would
be misrepresenting his religious principles. It is true, that, in thus miscalling the Baptist, you
have not changed him into a Methodist, for he remains the same by whatever name you call
him. Still, you have miscalled him and done him injustice. Truth and justice, therefore, require
us to use religious names with reference to their significance.
"If denominational names are significant, those originally applied to the body of Christ are not
less so. They distinguish the people of God by designating some of their peculiarities. These
peculiarities were found either in the religions which they sustained, or in the character which
they exhibited to the world."
The body of Christ is referred to as only "the church" in ninety-two (92) verses of scripture.
It is called "the church of God" in eleven (11) verses (Acts 20:28; I Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:
16,22; II Corinthians 1:1; Gala-tians 1:13; I Thessalonians 2:14; II Thessalonians 1:4; I Timothy
It is called "the church in God and in Jesus Christ" in two verses (I Thessalonians 1:1; II
It is called "church of the saints" in one verse (I Corinthians 13:33).
It is called "the church of the firstborn [ones—rlr]" once (Hebrews 12:23).
It is called "the church of the living God" once (I Timothy 3:15).
It is called "my church" by Jesus once (Matthew 16:18).
It is called "the churches of Christ" once (Romans 16:16).
The individual members of the church are known as "disciples" (Acts 1:15; 6:1,2,7; 9:
1,10,19,25,26,36,38; 11:26,29; 13:52; 14:20,22,28; 15:10; 16:1; 18:23,27; 19:1,9,30; 20:1,7,30;
They are called saints (Acts 9:13,32,41; 26:10; Romans 1:7; 8:27; 12:13; 15:25,26,31; 16:2,15; I
Corinthians 1:2; 6:1,2; 14:33; 16:1,15; II Corinthians 1:1; 8:4; 9:1,12; 13:13; Ephesians 1:
1,15,18; 2:19; 3:8,18; 4:12; 5:3; 6:18; Philippians 1:1; 4:21,22; Colossians 1:2,4,12,26; I
Thessalonians 3:13; II Thessalonians 1:10; I Timothy 5:10; Philemon 5,7; Hebrews 6:10; 13:24;
Jude 3; Revelation 5:8; 8:3,4; 11:18; 13:7,10; 14:12; 15:3; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:8; 20:9).
They are called brethren most often (Acts 9:30; 10:23; 11:1,12, 29; 12:17; etc.).
They are called Christians (Acts 11:26; 26:28; I Peter 4:16).
Each and every one of these appellations are used in the scriptures and are appropriate and
proper to be used in reference to the church.
The universal body of Christ, composed of all the saved is referred to as: the church, the church
of God, churches of the saints, the church of the firstborn, the church of the living God, my
church (by Jesus), and the churches of Christ.
The church is referred to as "the church" most often in scripture, because when the New
Testament was written there was no need to distinguish it from any other church: there was
only one church in existence. Unfortunately, there are several thousand churches in existence
today. Yet, although there are multiplied hundreds of churches is existence, there remains one
church, one body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4).
It is called "the church of God" because whatever belongs to Christ belongs to God (John 16:
15; 17:10), or possibly as a reference to Christ as God (John 1:1). The church is comprised of
children of God, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ. The church belongs unto God and unto
It is called "churches of the saints" because the individual congregations are composed of
saints. Saints are those who are sanctified, or made holy by God. This is a description of all
The Hebrew writer refers to the church as "the church of the firstborn [ones]." This is a
reference, not to Jesus, but to those who "were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor
of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). These are they who have been "born of the water and
of the Spirit" (John 3:5). None others comprise the church.
The church is called "the church of the living God" to distinguish its object of affection from the
vain images of the Gentiles which they worshipped in their ignorance. The God of the church is
not a god who cannot hear, speak or act. He is not made of "gold, or silver, or stone, graven by
art and man's device." The God of the church is the "God that made the word and all things
therein...he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things..." (Acts 17:22-31).
The scriptures refer to the church as "the churches of Christ," with Jesus calling it "my church."
Christ purchased it with his blood (Acts 20:28). He built it (Matthew 16:18). He is the head of the
church (Ephesians 1:22-23). He is the savior of the church (Ephesians 5:23). The church
belongs to Christ.
Does the name of the church which you belong to appear in this list of scriptural names? Does
the name of the church to which you belong, appear anywhere in the scriptures?
The local congregations of the universal church are referred to, in scripture, as: the church (at a
particular location), the church of God (at a particular location), the church in God and in Jesus
Christ (at a particular location), churches of the saints, and the churches of Christ.
Notice, the only thing that distinguishes a local congregation from the church universal is its
location. The only distinguishing name used of the local church in addition to the names used
for the universal church is its location. The church is not named after some man, or some
principle, or some biblical location (other than where that congregation was actually at).
Does the name of the church which you belong to appear in this list of scriptural names? Does
the name of the church to which you belong appear anywhere in the scriptures? Does the
church to which you belong add the names of persons, or principles, or places other than
where it is at?
The individual members of the church in scripture are called: disciples, saints, brethren and
The members of the church are called disciples of Christ because they learn of and follow him.
A disciple is a learner who follows what he learns, imitating his teacher. Jesus defined the
essence of a disciple in these terms: 1) one who's love for Christ is greater than his love for
his/her family or even their own life (Luke 14:26); 2) one who is willing to bear his/her cross
(Luke 14:27); 3) one who is willing to put Christ before all else (Luke 14:27-33); 4) one who
continues in his word (John 8:31-32); 5) one who loves (in word and deed) the brethren, or
other disciples (John 13:35); and, 6) one who bears the fruits of the Spirit (John 15:8; Gala-
They are called saints because they are a holy people. A saint is one who is sanctified, set
apart for God, or holy. Members of the church are commanded: "But as he which hath called
you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am
holy" (I Peter 1:15-16). Jesus gave himself for the church "that he might sanctify and cleanse it
with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not
having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish"
The members of the church are called brethren. "For ye are all the children of God by faith in
Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ...And if
ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise...And because
ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through
Christ" (Galatians 3:26-4:7). "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of
God" (Romans 8:14-17).
The members of the church are called Christians, because they are followers of Christ. The
word "Christians" is used three (3) times in the New Testament: 1) the name given to disciples
in Antioch (Acts 11:26); 2) the name used by King Agrippa for those who followed the teaching
of Paul (Acts 26:28); and, 3) the name which followers of Christ suffered as under the
persecution of Rome (I Peter 4:16). The name Christian is equated with the name of Christ (I
Peter 4:14), with being in the house of God (I Peter 4:17), with obeying the Gospel (I Peter 4:18),
and with being righteous (I Peter 4:19). Christian is used in opposition to being a "murderer, or
a thief, or an evil doer, or a busybody in other men's matters;" showing that it represents a
certain type of character and behavior. It is a name to glorify God (I Peter 4:16). It is a name that
denotes a relationship with Christ. This relationship is dependent upon the character of the
individual. Therefore, the name Christian demands that the individual who wears it follow the
example of Christ, obeying his teachings in all things; then, and only then, are they truly
Christians: his disciples.
Does the name of the individual members of the church you belong to appear in the list of
scriptural names above? Does the name of the individual members of the church you belong to
appear anywhere in the scriptures?
If we are to be the church described upon the pages of Holy Writ, then we must find ourselves
described upon the pages of the Bible. If names are used which are not to be found in
scripture, then we do not find ourselves spoken of in the Bible. We are required to use the
name of scripture for the church and its members. Are you?