In referring to God’s people, the New Testament uses several different terms which describe us from different standpoints. We are called saints (1 Cor. 1:2, 16:1) because we have been sanctified – that is, set apart unto the service of God. We are called disciples (Acts 11:26), for we have dedicated ourselves to learning and following the teaching of Christ. Inasmuch as our lives are devoted to God’s service, we are called servants (Rev. 1:1). In reference to the relationship that exists between us and God, we are called children (1 Jn 3:1); being children of the same spiritual Father, we are referred to as brethren (Gal. 6:1). Having submitted ourselves to King Jesus, we are described as citizens in His kingdom (Eph. 2:19). When God’s people are pictured as constituting a body comparable to the physical body, the New Testament refers to us as members of the body (Rom. 12:5). Since we are engaged in warfare against the forces of evil, we are appropriately described as soldiers (Phil 2). The name which most specifically identifies us as whose religion we practice, as to the Leader to Whom we are devoted, is the name “Christian” (Acts 11:26 cf; 26:28-29 f; 1 Pet. 4:16).
Some have questioned the divine origin of the name “Christian,” arguing that it was an epithet given to the followers of Christ in derision by their enemies. The scriptural evidence, however, leads to the conclusion that it was God who gave the disciples the name “Christian.” In presenting the earliest history of Christianity, Luke says that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). It is found eight other times in the New Testament (Matt. 2:12, 22 ff; Lk. 2:26; Acts 10:22; Rom. 7:3; Heb. 8:5, 11:7, 12:25) and is translated by the terms “warned,” “called,” “revealed,” and “spake.” The significant point is that, in each of these eight verses, the word has reference to a divine utterance. There were inspired men there (Paul and Barnabas) through whom God could have spoken in revealing this name for His people; the fact that they were called Christians is mentioned in connection with Paul and Barnabas’ work with them. Moreover, the fact of their being called Christians is simply stated as a significant point in the history of God’s people, without even the slightest hint that the name was without divine approval or not of divine origin. It should also be noted that when Agrippa spoke of being converted, he referred to it as becoming a Christian. Paul’s reply indicates that he found nothing objectionable to that terminology (Acts 26:28-29). Finally, Peter endorses the name “Christian,” and shows that it is a name we can wear without shame (1 Pet. 4:16).
We do not read in the New Testament about any of today’s denominations and denominational names. We do not read of one group of congregations being organized into one denomination and another group of congregations being organized into another denomination so that an individual had to call himself by a denominational name in order to identify his religious affiliation. The Christians we read about in the New Testament formed local churches (congregations) as saints in a particular locality would band together to worship and work as a unity. No local church was affiliated with any denominational system. Being united through their common loyalty to Christ and His teachings, all of God’s people were simply Christians. One man was not one brand of Christian, while another man was another brand of Christian.
Is it possible to be just a plain, simple Christian today, without being a part of a sect and therefore having to wear the name of that sect? It most assuredly is. In fact, not only is it possible, but it is the only scriptural thing to do. There are people today who have avoided all denominational structures and are simply Christians. They have become Christians by complying with the terms of Acts 2:38. Such people in various localities have banded together to form local churches, just as the Christians did in the New Testament. These local churches are independent, not affiliated with any denominational group – just like those we read about in the New Testament. The church of which I am a part is such a group. We are just a group of plain, simple Christians, such as the one at Ephesus, the one at Philippi, and the others we read about in God’s word. We have no ties with any denominational structure; hence, we wear no denominational name to identify us as such.
Hence, if I am in a conversation in which people begin giving their religious affiliations, and one person says he is a Presbyterian, another says he is a Methodist, and another says he is a Catholic, I will simply say that I am a Christian. Some might think I should say that I am a “Church of Christer.” It is true that the local congregation of which I am a part refers to itself in its advertising as a church of Christ. However, this is not because it is a member-congregation in a denomination by that name. We are not affiliated with a denominational organization by that name. We use that name simply because it describes what we are – that is, a local church belonging to Christ. The local churches in the New Testament were described in that way (Rom. 16:16). Therefore, in the conversation in which people are identifying themselves by sectarian names, it would be wrong for me to chime in with the announcement, “I’m Church of Christ,” thereby implying that I am a part of a denomination by that name and that the name “Church of Christ” is nothing more than a denominational name to distinguish my sect from other sects. Rather than thus using the phrase “church of Christ” in a denominational sense, I will simply say that I am a Christian. Their response may be to affirm that they are Christians, too, but they want to know which particular denomination I am in. To that, I will reply that I am in none of them, that I am a part of a local church which is independent, not connected with any denominational body, that I am simply a Christian, and that I have maintained my undenominational status because such was the practice of local churches in the New Testament.
I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a denominational name in existence. I hope they will soon be gone. I hope denominational names will soon perish from off the face of the earth, but let Christ’s name, His Word, and His church last forever!