We evangelize, but we are not “Evangelical”. Nowhere in scripture is the church referred to as “Evangelical”, but its members are constantly shown to have been evangelizing. The word “evangelize” is the Anglicization of the Greek word “euaggelizo”, meaning “to announce good news (‘evangelize’) especially the gospel” (Strong), or “to bring good news, to announce glad tidings” (Thayer). The term appears fifty-five times in the New Testament, including the following examples: “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42); “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4); “So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans” (Acts 8:25).
We serve Jesus of Nazareth, but we are not “Nazarenes”. Jesus was a Nazarene because He was brought up in the city of Nazareth (Matthew 2:23). The Word of God certainly concerns itself with “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19; cf. Acts 2:22; 10:38), but His disciples are never properly referred to as “Nazarenes”. Only once in scripture are the people of Christ so called, and that was with derision. In the court of Governor Felix, a Jewish orator named Tertullus accused Paul of being “a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). Christ never called His followers Nazarenes, and Christians never called themselves Nazarenes. Only their enemies called them that.
We are universal, but we are not “Catholic”. The word “catholic” means “universal” and so we are. The gospel is worldwide in its scope (Mark 16:15). Since all who obey the gospel are the church, the church is universal; the church is catholic. Yet, scripture does not identify us as the “Catholic Church”, much less the “Roman Catholic Church”. We are simply “the body of Christ” (1st Corinthians 12:27), which body is the “church” (Colossians 1:18). The church is known by its head, Christ, not its spread, the world, or universe.
We protest Catholicism, but we are not “Protestant”. The errors of Catholic doctrine are many, from deifying the Pope, to deifying Mary, to tampering with God’s plan for church government, to teaching inherited sin, and an endless list of beliefs and practices founded on human tradition rather than God’s word. We protest all these errors, but that does not make for our identity. The church of Christ is centered on Christ, not on protesting the falsehoods of one particular denomination.
The churches borne of the Protestant Reformation are less than five hundred years old, as it was 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Saxony, Germany. That makes Protestant Churches almost one and a half millennia too young to be Christ’s church. Jesus promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18) and baptized believers were being added to it on the day of Pentecost following His ascension (Acts 2). That was almost twenty centuries ago; anything established since isn’t Christ’s church.
We are latter day saints, but we are not “Mormon”. “The latter days” were foretold by Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 2:2-3; Micah 4:1-2) as that time when God’s house would be established, His word would go forth from Jerusalem, and all nations would come in. God’s house has, indeed, been established; it is the church (1st Timothy 3:15). The word has, in fact, gone forth from Jerusalem (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, 8). And, all nations have heard the gospel (Mark 16:15; Romans 1:16; Colossians 1:6, 23). “These last days” are marked as those in which God communicates to man through His Son (Hebrews 1:2). According to the apostle Peter, “the last days” began on Pentecost following Jesus’ return to heaven (Acts 2:16-17).
Christians are repeatedly referred to as “saints” throughout the
pages of the New Testament, including Paul’s address to the Corinthians,
wherein he wrote, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those
who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every
place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours”
(1st Corinthians 1:2). A saint is one sanctified, that is one who is holy, or
set apart for God.
Christians are most definitely saints of the latter days, but we dare not endorse the so-called “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” who use the Book of Mormon as their guide. That would only invite doom (Galatians 1:6-9).
We baptize, but we are not “Baptist”. We believe in immersion – for so the word “baptism” is defined – in water (Acts 8:36-39; 10:47-48; 1st Peter 3:20-21), in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38), for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), to obtain salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 16:30-33; 1st Peter 3:21), to gain access to Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27), and entrance into His body (1st Corinthians 12:13). Those calling themselves “Baptists” do not believe all these things concerning baptism; in particular, they believe salvation occurs before and without baptism.
The Baptist Church is named for John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, but the church of Christ is named for Christ Himself. John came to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Matthew 3:3), but Jesus is the Lord (Acts 2:36).
We are just Christians (Acts 11:26), members of the body of Christ (1st Corinthians 12:27). We are not specific kinds of Christians, for the scriptures make no reference to denominations. Wearing other names, besides Christ’s, is sinfully divisive (1st Corinthians 1:10-17). Emphasis, instead, should be on the oneness that is in Christ’s body (Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 4:4).
WE ARE, BUT WE AREN’T
We are Christians, but we are not “Christian”. The word “Christian” is a noun in its scriptural usage, not an adjective. Whereas a noun is “A word that is used to name a person, place, thing, quality, or action” an adjective “is used to modify a noun” (American Heritage Dictionary). Common use of the word “Christian” includes references to “a Christian home”, “Christian principles”, or “the Christian church”, but such does not comport with how the word is used in scripture. According to the divine record, “Christians” are what “disciples” are “called” (Acts 11:26), not what homes or principles are called, but what disciples are called. One must be “persuade[d]… to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). If it cannot be so persuaded, it cannot be a Christian. A Christian is a person. The word does not lend itself to any other use than as a name for a disciple of Christ.
We were established on Pentecost, but we are not “Pentecostal”. It was “when the Day of Pentecost had fully come” (Acts 2:1) that the apostles “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4), fulfilling what Jesus had promised concerning the beginning of their preaching (Acts 1:8). The gospel was preached that day (Acts 2:14-36), people obeyed (Acts 2:37-47), and thus the church was established on Pentecost.
Those identified as Pentecostals, “believe that through the Holy Spirit, what happened during Pentecost can happen now. In fact, seeking and receiving the gift of tongues is regarded as a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, itself requisite to full discipleship” (Handbook of Denominations in the United States). Theirs is an erroneous expectation. Concerning spiritual gifts, Paul wrote, “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1st Corinthians 13:8-10). The end of the partial, that is spiritual gifts, including tongue speaking, would occur with the arrival of the “perfect”, meaning the “complete”. When God’s word in the New Testament was written down, it replaced those gifts. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2nd Timothy 3:16-17). Since Scripture can make a person complete, the perfect has come; therefore spiritual gifts have been done away.
We seek to be led by elders, but we are not “Presbyterian”. Presbyterianism is a specific denomination characterized by the rule of presbyters. The word “presbyter” is transliterated from the Greek “presbuteros” which means “elder” as it appears throughout the New Testament. Elders are to be appointed in every church (Acts 14:23). They are to meet certain criteria to qualify for the office (Titus 1:5-9). Their work is to rule (1st Timothy 5:17), shepherding the flock (1st Peter 5:1-4), correcting error (Titus 1:9), managing the treasury (Acts 11:30), and tending to the sick among the members (James 5:14). Certainly, churches ought to have elders (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5), but that should not make for the identity of the churches. We are “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16), not churches of elders.
We seek to be led by overseers, but we are not “Episcopalian”. The Episcopal Church takes its name from the Greek “episkopos” meaning “overseer”, sometimes translated as “bishop”. In God’s Word, overseers/bishops are identical to elders. Paul was addressing “the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17) when he said, “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28). Likewise, Peter was addressing “the elders who are among you” (1st Peter 5:1) when he wrote, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (1st Peter 5:2). “Episkopos” are overseers/bishops, overseers/bishops are elders, and elders should be appointed in every church (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5), yet, again, that does not make for the identity of the churches. We are “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16), not churches of overseers.
We abide by basic principles, but we are not “Fundamentalist”. Fundamentalism is a religious movement characterized by strict adherence to basic principles. While Christians must accept and practice the fundamentals of the gospel, we must not limit our obedience to certain core concepts. Such is weakness. “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (Hebrews 5:12-6:2).
We submit to God, but we are not “Muslim”. Muslims are adherents of Islam, which, in Arabic, means “submission”. We certainly believe in submission. It is written, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Ironically, the religion of “submission” does not submit to Christ Jesus. Islam regards our Lord as merely a prophet, not the prophet, not the Son of God. However, by inspiration we know “the church is subject to Christ” (Ephesians 5:24).
We are just Christians (Acts 11:26), members of the body of Christ (1st Corinthians 12:27). Wearing other names, besides Christ’s, is sinfully divisive (1st Corinthians 1:10-17).
By Bryan Matthew Dockens
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