What’s in a name?
In the months leading up to my birth, I imagine my parents spent a great deal of time flipping through baby name books and brainstorming pretty words by which to call me. Within hours of being born, I was dubbed Kaitlyn.
Kaitlyn means “Pure of heart.” I know this because our culture seems to place a degree of value on names and as I grew up I collected a variety of trinkets which defined my name, supposedly giving some insight as to my nature and personality.
As a child, I found it very offensive to be called by any other name than my own. This is not an unusual concept; there are several cultures in which an individual may be reprimanded for his actions by having his name stripped from him, or altered. You may have even heard of this happening in our society today in instances of disownment.
I know of at least one person who has legally changed her name in attempt to disassociate herself from the rumors, hard feelings, and preconceived notions that accompanied her original title.
From Bible times to modern American culture, often there is much symbolism and meaning behind a name. That name can bring pride or shame. It can influence others in one way or another. Often times, whether you like it or not, your name says something about you.
Brandon and I got married in October and I became a Crowe. Kaitlyn Jo Crowe to be exact. I love my new name. Do I love it because it sounds sort of like a super hero name? Partly. Do I love it because it’s more unique than my former surname? A little.
The reason I have embraced my new last name to this wild, obsessive extreme is due largely to the fact that I absolutely LOVE being identified with my husband. I love being Brandon Crowe’s “Mrs.” I love belonging to my husband. I love introducing myself to strangers and being able to say that I am a new member of the Crowe family. This is the new me. This is who I am. I am Brandon’s bride. I am a Crowe.
My excitement of receiving a new surname only escalated when, at a family gathering, Brandon’s grandfather leaned over and whispered in his ear, “You’re my namesake, you know,” reminding us that we were carrying on the family name.
With all of this historical, traditional, cultural emphasis placed on the art of naming, I find it shocking that our society so recklessly labels a foundational building block: The Church.
I grew up in a Lutheran Church with an almost entirely Lutheran family. I learned how to be a “perfect” little Lutheran, not even having to look at the hymnal to recite the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds. By the age of eight I had memorized most of the commonly used Sunday services. I answered questions from non-Lutherans with the standard answers I had learned in Sunday school and VBS. When people asked me to identify myself spiritually, my automatic response was, “I’m a Lutheran.”
If I had a dime for every time I told someone I was a Lutheran…
I was proud of the title, as if there was some prestige associated with LCMS membership. I guess there was quite a bit of family tradition in the Lutheran Church which contributed to my pride. As I mentioned earlier, most of my family attended the Lutheran Church and had for generations.
It wasn’t until I stepped outside of my German, Lutheran bubble and into a University setting that I realized the damage I had done. I began to encounter people who had never been part of a church. I began to have religious discussions with classmates who had no denominational affiliation and some who claimed to have no faith at all. What was the common complaint among many of them? Confusion.
“Christianity is all so confusing! There are Presbyterians and Lutherans and Baptists and Methodists. Even if I were to give Christianity a try, where would I begin?”
“You Lutherans think you have all the answers and interpret the Bible perfectly, but you can’t even agree with the Baptists! And you believe in the same Christ! You read the same Bible!”
“The Christian Church is becoming more and more divided and is making less and less sense. Why would anyone want to be a part of organized religion… Or should I say unorganized religion?”
At some point, I realized the fault of wearing the name of Luther like a seal on my heart. Luther is not who I worship, John the Baptist is not who Baptists worship, and the list goes on for as many Christian denominations you can think of that carry any name other than THE name. CHRIST.
Before we can really analyze church names, we need to first define what (or more accurately, WHO) the Church is.
The word “church” comes from the Greek word Ekklesia which means assembly or congregation. It is not necessarily inaccurate to use the word “church” in Biblical translation; however, we must understand that from a religious standpoint, when the word “church” is used in the New Testament, it is referring to the body of believers, not a building.
Christ’s Church began on the day of Pentecost, shortly after the ascension of Jesus.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterances. – Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)
When this bizarre occurrence bewildered onlookers, Peter (one of Jesus’ 12 disciples) clarified what was happening by referring to an Old Testament prophecy from Joel:
“’And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of my spirit on all mankind…’” – Acts 2:17 (NASB)
The book of Acts reveals the formation, or assemblage, of a body of believers who regularly met together for teaching, edification, and communion.
In Acts 2, after Peter explained that God had gifted the Holy Spirit to provide wisdom and understanding, and assist in the numerical expansion of Christ’s Church, the Bible says that all who heard and believed that Jesus had truly been the Son of God and was their savior, were immediately baptized. Upon being baptized, they were added to the Church (Acts 2:41).
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day, the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. –Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 (NASB)
Now that we have established that the Church is a body of believers, as opposed to a specific building or meeting place, we can move on to the particulars of what name the Church, composed of Christ’s followers, should wear.
In the New Testament, we see that Paul regularly refers to “The Church of God” in his letters to developing churches, such as those in Corinth. This seems to imply that God has ownership of the church, which, certainly, all Christians should agree on.
Why then, do we slap the names of mere, fallible men on, not only the buildings where we congregate, but more importantly, our spiritual lives?
Besides seeing the body of believers being referred to as the Church of God, we also see them called the Church of Christ (Romans 16:16). This is because, as we know, the Bible clearly states there is only one God: A triune God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct parts of one deity (In the future, I may write on the triune nature of God, but I’ll stick to the name topic for now). In John 10:30, Jesus states clearly, “I and the Father are one.”
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus declares that the Church is His, in conversation with Peter.
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (NASB)
In multiple passages, the New Testament compares the Church to a body, of which Christ is the head (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 5:23, Ephesians 1:22)
I find it very irresponsible for anyone who is truly a follower of Christ and has read the New Testament to even consider calling a church by anything other than the name of God or Christ. While there is no specific, designated title that the apostles were instructed to assign the developing New Testament church, there are no examples in scripture of a church wearing any other name.
So, what’s the big deal if a group of believers chooses to wear another name and identify with a man over God? As we’ve seen in our society, this results in confusion and discord among believers. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he makes an appeal to unity, rebuking some believers for their divisive nature.
“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name.” -1 Corinthians 1:10-15 (NASB)
I find it hard to believe that Luther, being a Bible scholar, would have overlooked this warning from Paul. In fact, there is documentation of Luther specifically asking that the reformed church NOT be named after him (Walther, 1994).
“Who is Luther? The doctrine is not mine. I have been crucified for no one . . . How should I, a poor stinking bag of worms, become so that the children of Christ are named with my unholy name?”
Think of the analogy of my new last name: Crowe. To call the Christian Church by anything other than Christ’s (or God’s) Church is as senseless as it would be for me to call myself by another man’s name.
I’m not a Bible expert by any means, but I do attempt to open my heart and mind to the best of my ability before each dive into scripture. I pray for clarity and understanding while I read, as I’m sure all other Christians do. I’m not naïve… As much as I would like to see the universal body of Christ become completely unified under the holy and precious name of our Lord and Savior, I realize that one measly blog on wordpress will not start a worldwide revolution.
My request for Christians is this: Please…. PLEASE do not identify yourself as anything other than “Christian.”
At work, on mission trips, in school… I don’t care who you are dealing with. If someone asks you what you believe or what religion you are DO NOT reply with, “I’m a Lutheran” or “I’m a Baptist” or “I’m Presbyterian.” If all Christians actually chose to identify themselves as Christians, it would be a good first step to breaking down the divisive walls our denominational names have constructed.
Here’s step one: Go to your Facebook profile. Check to see what religious affiliation you have posted. If yours isn’t already Biblically correct, update it to “Christian” or “Follower of Christ.”
Thanks for reading! I hope you have been blessed by these Biblical observations and that this post has at least given you some food for thought.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.” – 1 Corinthians 16:23-24 (NASB)
Walther, C.F.W. (1994). Concerning the Name “Lutheran” .Retrieved from http://www.lutherquest.org/walther/articles/nameLuth.htm
Greek translation from http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/ekklesia.html
For more information, check out this great article on the topic: “What Should We Call the Church?” by Eric Lyons http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=3763