Church Name Controversy

Edited from Bob Ross’ book “Campbellism- It’s History and Heresies”
Used by permission.

One brother put it rightly when he wrote: “They (the Campbellites) have been quarreling over a name for their baby ever since it was born.”

They have called themselves “Reformers,” “Restorationalists,” Disciples of Christ,” “Christians,” “Christian Church,” “Church of Christ,” and even a few other titles. Barton W. Stone contended for the name “Christian,” while Alexander Campbell thought “Disciples” was better.

Apparently there was quite a bit of “heat” between Campbell and Stone on this point.

The matter of having the correct name is still an important issue in the Churches of Christ and many do not believe that one can be saved unless he wears the right name. Some will even go so far as to say that “The” must not even be attached to “Church of Christ” while others will not even allow any additional items to be added which would identify its locality.

For example, ”Main Street Church of Christ” would be considered wrong.

Of course, not all Campbellites believe alike on these foregoing restrictions, but all of them are concerned about the name they wear. And often they will cite some verses in the Bible which they believe teach the wearing of a “correct” name.

Here, we will take a look at of some of those passages that are often used.

Matthew 16:18: “… and on this rock I will build My church.”

Campbellites reason from this verse that since Christ said “My church,” it must have been named after Jesus Christ.

However, you will notice that there is no name given in the verse and there is no command to wear a name in the verse. When we read “My church” it simply tells us whose church it is.

One may say “I will build by fence,” but does these mean he will place a name on the fence which reads, “The Fence of Mr. Jones”?

Certainly not.

Someone may build and own a fence, but it does not mean that the person will provide a name for his fence.

Acts 4:12: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Question: Does this verse command us to hang out a name over the church building?

If so, what is that name?

Isn’t it amazing how the Campbellites grab on to this verse to justify their “name,” yet miss the great doctrine of salvation by Jesus Christ alone which is the emphasis of the apostle?

There is not one word about wearing a name in the verse, yet the great doctrine of salvation through the person of Jesus Christ is lost.

Romans 16:16 “… The churches of Christ greet you.”

This is the only verse that even comes close to the Campbellite “name,” yet it does not teach their notion. Here “the churches of Christ” is in the possessive sense indicating ownership and the verse simply says that ‘the churches owned by Christ greets those of you in Rome.’

Even if this verse were giving a name to wear, the Campbellite name would be wrong, for the word “church” is not a proper translation, much like the word “baptize” is not a proper translation.

Even Alexander Campbell recognized this fact and in his translation of the New Testament, he rendered Romans 16:16 as follows: “The congregations of Christ salute you.”

Of the word “church,” Campbell said: “Church, or kirk, is an abbreviation of the words kuriou oikos, ‘the house of the Lord’ and does not translate the term ekklesia.” (Living Oracles, page 55).

All Greek authorities tell us that it is the word “ekkesia” means assembly or congregation. The word “church” like the word “baptize” is in the King James translation because King James’ rules to the translators demanded that it be used.

In view of these facts, the title “Church of Christ” is incorrect, unless Campbellites can prove that “the tradition of men” is acceptable, and then they would still have to produce a command that this particular title should be worn.

Ephesians 3:15: “…from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.”

Campbellites teach that this verse means the church is to wear a name. Yet no such thing is taught here. The Greek of this verse is “each” or “every” family, not the whole family. So it is not referring to the idea of a universal church, but to every family of creation.

Furthermore, it is not Christ of whom each family is “named,” but God the Father (vrs. 14). The word “is named” simply refers to the fact hat God is the source of all existing families; He is their creator and sustainer.

There is no title for the church, nor a command to wear a title, stated in the verse.

Acts 11:26: “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

This happened about eleven years or so after the day of Pentecost, the day on which Campbellites contend the church was born, and one was called “Christian,” nor were churches named “Church of Christ,” during those eleven years.

The Bible says “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” Yet we will agree there were Christians (followers of Christ) before they were ever called “Christians.”

This ought to be enough to prove that one can be saved without wearing a certain brand name.

“We are the church you read about in the Bible.”

Over and over again you hear this one. “Investigate and be a member of no church but the one you can read about in the Bible,” they say. Well, that’s good advice, but the Campbellite church is not mentioned in the Bible!

Someone might say, “Haven’t you read about the churches of Christ in the Bible?” Yes we have. But tacking that expression on a sign or building does not make a group of heretics who follow the interpretations and doctrines of Alexander Campbell & Company a church of Christ.

Understand then, we are not objecting to the use of terms in order to designate certain items for identification’s sake. But we are objecting to the false claim made by Campbellites when they say they “call Bible things by Bible names.”

The truth is, they are just like the rest of the religious world, using “non scriptural” terms to designate certain items. For example, their “gospel meeting,” for instance is no more a Bible name than “revival meeting,” or ”Bible school” or “Bible Study” is no more a “Bible name” than “Sunday School” or “VBS.”

Their claim is foolish and ridiculous and an insult to human intelligence.

Are Campbellites a Denomination?

Another favorite hobby horse of the Campbellites is their harping about “not being a denomination.” They condemn “denominationalism” and claim they are not a denomination, but simply the “Church of Christ.”

Well, even if they were the church of Christ, they would be a denomination.

What does “denomination” mean?

Webster gives these definitions: 1. Act of denominating or naming. 2. A name, designation, or title. 3. A class or society of individuals, called by the same name; a sect.

On every one of these points the Campbellites are a denomination. They are denominated by a name: “Church of Christ,” “Disciples of Christ,” Christian Church.” They are also distinguished as a denomination by their doctrines.

Furthermore, they have definite bounds to their religious associations, recognizing only groups of like faith, thus they are a particular “class” or “society.”

It is just another appeal to ignorance for Campbellites to try and pan off the notion they are not a distinct religious denomination. Actually, they are one of the most rigidly sectarian denomination in existence, often teaching that outside their religious movement, there is no salvation!

To illustrate their sectarian character, if you believe exactly as they believe, but used a piano instead of a tuning fork, it is often taught that you would go to hell, or if you wore “Christian” on the church building instead of “Church of Christ,” you would likewise perish!