And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
-- Acts 11:26
I've never really liked being a Baptist. It's our name. But by the time Baptists came along, about 400 years ago, all the cool names were already taken.
There was already a "Catholic Church" and an "Orthodox Church," so we missed out on those. Then, we whiffed on two more. We could have tied ourselves directly to Jesus instead of big, bad, John the Baptist, and taken the name "Church of Christ," or "The Christian Church." But, we didn't and they got snagged 200 years later by a couple of guys named Campbell, who were more strict about baptism than Baptists.
My first church's name was First Baptist Church, very boring. Right down the road was a church with a much better name, The Greater Christ Temple Rapture Preparation Cathedral of the Apostolic Faith of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. I've got a picture of their sign to prove it!
We really don't know how the early churches used names. But in Antioch, "the disciples were first called Christians." With a nod to the left wing of the Campbellites, I suppose that would have made them "The Christian Church." Based on their testimony, and given the confusion in modern-day Christianity, we must ask ourselves this question: What makes a church, by any name, a true Christian church?
True churches preach the true Gospel. The church planters who went to Antioch did not preach a social Gospel, although societal ills surely prevailed. They told Jew and Gentile alike that Jesus came, Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus rose again, Jesus is coming back, and Jesus saves! Indeed, as we learned previously in Acts, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (ref. Acts 4:12).
True churches have true members who truly repent and believe. This is the only two-in-one requirement revealed in the New Testament as the proper, saving response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "A good number believed and turned to the Lord." Baptists and Campbellites will both be horrified that baptism is not mentioned here, although they surely would have eventually been baptized. But baptism and church membership does not save, saved people get baptized and join churches, and the only way to be saved is to truly repent and believe the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
True churches and Christians remain true and "faithful to the Lord." Faith without faithfulness is phoniness and foolishness, it is not true Christianity. Like the house of Cornelius before them, the new Christians hungered for the word of the Lord, and impressed upon the finest preachers available to stay with them and teach them. They were so faithful in their following of Jesus Christ that people started calling them little Christs, or "Christians."
So, there you have it. True Christians hear the Gospel, repent and believe, then get busy in their church and community being holy, faithful, and true to God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But there is one more thing to consider. All of this is owed to "the grace of God," not the energy or ingenuity of man. True Christians are truly saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But they are never truly alone. You always find them congregating in true churches.
It is inconceivable in the word of God, and therefore to God, to qualify as a true Christian unless you are an active member of a true church. Spiritual people are drawn to other spiritual people and spiritual things. They don't chafe at spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, reading and meditating and obeying the word of God, and assembling together with the church.
Churches abound today that are no more than mere headquarters for the Democrat or Republican party. Churches are growing in the world today by offering nothing but ear tickling, false promises, and overt entertainment. Churches exist that will give you the shirts off their backs, but offer no Gospel for your soul. They call themselves Christian churches, but they are not.
The true, Christian church preaches Christ, crucified and resurrected, as the cure for sin and cause of salvation. The true, Christian church is not ashamed of the Gospel and the word of God. The true, Christian church defines membership and leadership according to Scripture. The true, Christian church will stand until Christ comes again. Make sure you are standing in a true, Christian church, whatever the name.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]