number of years ago, the grace of God made it possible for me to labor in Red Cloud, Nebraska, a lovely little city where some of my best friends reside. I did a great deal of "personal work," as it was called, visiting from house to house and inviting the residents to attend the nightly meetings at which I was speaking. It seemed apparent that I needed printed material to leave with them which would clearly distinguish between our little group as the true church, and the sects to which they gave allegiance, which were outside the pale.
It appeared obvious that the quickest and best way to do this was to point out the difference in the religious titles which we wore. Anyone who was not too blind to read a signboard could see that we were the Church of Christ, and could as readily determine that no one else was. It was all very simple. Those who met behind our signboard were in Christ. They belonged to him! Those who met behind other signboards were not in Christ, but had been captured by Satan.
So I wrote and had printed a tract under the heading, "Whose Name Shall the Bride Wear?" It became very popular indeed with those who thought they were the bride. Eventually more than fifty-thousand copies of the folder were distributed. Several years later I came to realize that what I was doing was actually more sectarian than those whom I was seeking to reach. Like a flash out of the blue it dawned upon me that the called out ones had no official title, no party name. To promote and defend such a title was simply to make a denomination out of the group of believers who appropriated it and trusted in it.
The very word denominate, from the Latin de and nominare, to call by a name, means, "to give a name to; designate by a name or title; to call by a distinctive name or designation." Any group which selects and appropriates to itself a specific name, title or brand, is a denomination, whether the title it selects is from words found in the Bible, or composed of words found in the Bible, or composed of words not even mentioned in the sacred volume. The source of the title has nothing to do with the act of denominating, and any group which denominates itself is a denomination. Since it thus segments itself it is also a sect.
The ekklesia of God had no specific name in its inception. The saints were corporately designated only by simple nouns. All of these describe a relationship. Not a one was used as an exclusive title. This is obvious, or there would have been only one. As to functional unity they were the body of Christ, as to divine origin the churches of God, as to present authority the churches of Christ. In relationship to government they constituted the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of God's dear Son. In relation to heritage they were the church of the firstborn ones whose names were enrolled in heaven.
To select any one of these terms such as church of God, church of the firstborn, or church of Christ, and make it the means of identification for a specific group in the realm of believers in the Messiah is to create a denomination, by the act of denominating that group. And to do it in order to define boundaries and to separate those Christians under the title from others who are not under it is the very essence of sectarianism.
Some very canny and contriving politicians among us have come up with the idea that by writing "church of Christ" instead of "Church of Christ" we will avoid sectarianism. But sectarianism is an attitude of the heart and not an accident of spelling. A group can be as narrow and exclusive under a little "c" as they can under a big one. Making criminals wear short pants will not reform them.
It bugs some of my fellow-editors because I refer to "The Church of Christ" in my articles just as I do to "The Church of God" or "The Baptist Church." They want me to try and fool the two latter groups by using a little "c" on our church. But if the Church of God started writing their title "church of God," these editors would still blast away at them as sectarians. Our problem is not with the alphabet. It is with the Alpha and Omega. We want to stake out an exclusive claim on him and get him in our corral.
At the same time we are in a real quandary because of our own divisions. Not only must we make sure that no one confuses us with other groups of believers but we must also be certain that people do not get us mixed up with others of our own brethren. So we erect signs reading: Church of Christ (Vocal Music), or Church of Christ (Christian). This means we are denominational out of parenthesis and sectarian within it. It is bad enough to be singularly denominational as Methodists and Presbyterians. But we double the dose and go them one better.
At the very outset we have to face up to the fact that the term "church of Christ" is not even found in the scriptures. It is just not there. The nearest we can come to it is "The churches of Christ salute you" (Romans 16:16). But in the very same chapter the writer mentions "the churches of the Gentiles." He apparently refers to the same people. But I have yet to see a sign in front of one of our edifices reading. "The churches of the Gentiles" (Romans 16:4).
Our sophists have no trouble getting around the fact that the official title is nowhere found in the Bible. Such trivial omissions as "the name of the church" do not bother debaters who speak where the Bible speaks, and frequently where it doesn't. So there is a stock argument that is triumphantly hauled off the shelf and exhibited on the pages of orthodox journals. "Where there is a plural, there must be a singular." If there are churches of Christ there must be a church of Christ! This settles it!
Unfortunately, this argument is as leaky as a cracked gourd dipper. I mean it will not hold water. You cannot reason from a plural which represents all to a singular component of that plural which also represents all. A plural represents the total of those units involved in it, and any single unit cannot possibly embrace them all. When Paul wrote "The congregations of Christians salute you" he knew there were individual congregations in a lot of places.
I am not saying that there is no such thing as the church of God, the church of Christ, the body of Christ, the kingdom of heaven, or the temple of God. I say there is! All I am saying is that the Holy Spirit did not apply to it the term church of Christ which we have argued (at least since 1906) is the scriptural title. We've lambasted others for having an unscriptural name and now our own denominational chickens are coming home to roost. I intend to help them find where the roost is located.
But did not Jesus say, "Upon this rock I will build my church?" Indeed, he said it and he did it. It is his church. But this statement only shows possession. It says not one thing about the name of that church. It tells us to whom the church belongs but provides no name for it except the simple noun "church." If I say, "Upon this lot I will park my car," you know to whom the car belongs but you do not know its name. You could not tell whether it was a Ford, Chevrolet or Plymouth.
And that is just the point. There is only one church. There never was but one. There never will be another. The church is divine creation and not a human organization. A man can no more make another church than he can make another Holy Spirit. "There is one body. and one Spirit." The church does not need to engage in the identification race with sects. It does not belong in that category. When it gets hooked on the signboard hang-up it gets on the sectarian level. The church on the rock is not "The Church of Christ" down the street from "The Baptist Church" or up the street from "The Presbyterian Church." It is the whole body of called-out believers in the community.
The body of Christ, the kingdom of God's dear Son, is not the church in town which does not have an instrument, or does not have classes, or does not have individual cups, or does not contribute to Herald of Truth. The body of Christians in any locality is made up of every saved person in that area. It is not the church of Cod because of what it does not have, but because of what it does have.
Perhaps I'd better get on with listing some of the mistakes I made in my tract about the name of the bride. The whole argument falls as flat as a Swedish pancake when one realizes that the idea of a wife being called by the name of her husband is a product of western culture. And it is of relatively modern origin. Even now it is not the custom in many parts of the world.
Certainly such an idea is foreign to the Bible. In both the old and new covenant scriptures wives were called by their own names. Thus we read of Sarai, Abraham's wife; Rachel, Jacob's wife; Joanna, the wife of Chuza; Felix, and his wife Drusilla. No one ever reads of Mrs. Zechariah, or of Mrs. Acquila.
Even if the bride wore the name of her husband, the term "church of Christ" would not be that name. Christ is not the name of our Lord. It is his office or prophetic function. He is Jesus the Christ. He is the Christ because he was christed, or anointed, just as John the Baptist was so designated because he baptized. When you read of Simon the tanner, you do not think of tanner as being his last name. You certainly would not call his wife "Mrs. Tanner." Nor would you have addressed the wife of Simon the leper as "Mrs. Leper."
Our Lord's name is Jesus. The angel said, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus" (Matthew 1:21 ). When he was born Joseph "called his name Jesus" Matt. 1:25). Paul declared that God gave him a name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Philippians 2:10). If the church is to wear the name of the bridegroom, she should be called "Mrs. Jesus." The term church of Christ is no more the name of the bride than body of Christ, kingdom of Christ, or flock of Christ. Body, kingdom, flock, and church are all just common nouns.
If a congregation decided, in its ignorance, to try and be "scriptural" and put up a sign reading "Church of Jesus" the tourists from Texas and Tennessee, looking for "a faithful church with which to worship" before going to the zoo, would not even slow down. Is it not peculiar that the very same people who argue that church of Christ is the name of the bride also argue for spelling church with a lower case "c"? If that is the name of a bride or wife, it is a proper name. No one writes "nell ketcherside" when addressing my wife. Of course, our brethren are not especially noted for consistency, because they generally take a position first and then try to cook up arguments to fit it. They also bend a lot of scriptures around in some funny shapes for the same reason.
Actually, of course, if you want to be really technical, the church is not yet married to the Lamb. And when the wedding feast occurs she will not be called Mrs. Lamb. John places the wedding at the close of events as we now know them. "For the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready" (Rev. 19:7). When the ceremony begins the bride will be attired in white linen made up of the righteousness of the saints. I am helping work on the trousseau now, although I am not too good at it, and God's grace will have to unravel a lot of my errors. But I am looking forward to the event for, "Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb." That is one banquet I do not want to miss.
Christ wants to present the church to himself "a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." If the wedding gown is to be woven of the righteousness of the saints, it is obvious to me that I will need a lot of spot remover, and a considerable amount of ironing out. I have had a lot of spots and wrinkles in my life. And I have never even thought of being without blemish. This once worried me a lot, because deep down inside, I knew I did not have what it took. I was trusting to legal rectitude to save me. But every time I tried to smooth out a wrinkle I generally made a couple of bigger ones.
Occasionally, there have arisen men who have seen the true nature of our own sectarian spirit. One of these men was G.C. Brewer, and he evidenced his knowledge in an address during the Abilene Christian College Lectureship. We take this quotation from that speech.
"It is never wrong to speak of the church as the church of Christ or the church of God, or the church of the firstborn, but to repeat what has been said before, to exalt any one of these into the patented name of the church is to sectarianize that expression. If we have not done that very thing with the expression church of Christ then why do we not vary our terms in speaking of the church? Why is every deed made to the Church of Christ? Why is "Church of Christ" put upon every cornerstone or front of every meeting house? Why does the "Church of Christ" have a literature series? So fixed and uniform is this designation that if we would insert the name Jesus in the expression if would cause confusion. If a disciple were in a strange city and while looking for the meeting place of the saints he should come upon a house with this inscription, 'The Church of Jesus Christ,' if he did not pass it up he would hesitate and make further inquiry before he entered that house. He is looking for a church of the Lord but he is not looking for this particular one. He is looking for the one that wears the stabilized, invariable name, 'Church of Christ.' A name which therefore, distinguishes it from the church of Jesus Christ, or the church of God, or the church of the saints and all other of the Lord's churches, implying, of course, that he has several. To use the term church of Christ to include any limited number of saints or to make it the name of the church is to sectarianize the expression.
"Brethren, I do not expect you to get this point without some suffering but if you will endure the necessary pain caused by forcing the needle through the skin by which you get this anti-sectarian serum your suffering will then be over and your spiritual condition will soon be much better. So mote it be."
Apparently, the brethren were not willing to endure the pain and the shot did not take. They are still as sectarian as before our brother spoke. We must expect no sudden recovery. There will be no miraculous healing. The sectarian spirit dies slowly and lingeringly. The ghost will not be given up but with agony and suffering. We cling to it longingly. It pampers our pride. It speaks of safety and security, the protection provided by a prison. We love our parties. We are grateful for our walls and sequestered monastic paradises. So long have we basked in our own righteousness that we are frightened by freedom. We have trusted in our signboards rather than in a Savior. And we have sought to sanctify them by scripture.
W. Carl Ketcherside, Mission Messenger, August 1970