The Early Church - Chapter 3 - The Name

Chapter 3 - The Name

In a day when there is loyalty to a host of organizations and names, it is refreshing to review the simplicity of the New Testament Christianity.
A name, Webster states, is "the title by which any person or thing is known or designated."  Hence, when a name is mentioned one thinks of the person so designated.

To the early believers there was only one name of vital importance, This was the Name of Jesus. His Name is priceless because of the unique Person it designates. His Name was given before His birth as setting forth His character and work. "Thou shalt call His Name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). It has precious significance to the believer.

Since there was only the one Name which the believers prized above all others, the Lord Jesus was sometimes even referred to as the "Name" (Acts 5:41). They deeply loved Him and esteemed His Name.

The message of salvation is connected uniquely with His Name.

And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Christ Himself had said, "I am the Way... no one cometh unto the Father but by me" (John 14:6). Christianity is a message about a Person and His work. Pardon is offered only through Him.

The herald of the Gospel does well to keep the issue before the unsaved as did the early apostles. There was no talk of church membership or anything else which might confuse the matter. The message was all about the Name.

There are a number of prepositions used in connection with the "Name" which are very interesting.

One of these is the preposition els. It is often translated "into" or "in" when used with "the name" of someone and carries the thought of ownership. It was a common commercial expression and may be translated "into the possession of." Deissman in His Bible Studies gives interesting examples of this usage as found in the secular Greek writings of that day.

When one is converted, he believes into His Name (John 1:12); he transfers his soul into the ownership of God. He becomes Christ's possession. This is a fundamental concept of New Testament Christianity (I Cor. 6:19, 20), but one which is little stressed today.

The Lord also commanded to be baptized "into (eis)the Name" (Matt. 28:19). The act of believing is the actual transfer of ownership, but the act of baptism is the public proclamation of this great transaction. Christ commanded this because a secret, hidden Christianity is like savorless salt. One's change of ownership is to be publicly acknowledged to the glory of God.

The gatherings of believers are to be "into (els) His Name" (Matt. 18:20). The common translation of "in" is perhaps as good as the English will give. The thought of ownership is again strong. Here it is not the transfer of ownership as in believing, or the proclamation of ownership as in baptism, but the continual recognition of the ownership of Christ in assembly meetings. May one suggest that this is primarily an attitude of heart, rather than a form of gathering. However, one hastens to add that where there is a deep sense of one's belonging to Christ, there will be great concern to please Him and obey His Word in every aspect of life.

An early assembly of believers which manifested truly being "gathered into His Name" is seen in Acts 4:23-31. The believers reveal a profound realization of the absolute authority of God. They address Him as "Absolute Master" (Despotes), and describe themselves as "slaves" (douloi). They ask no selfish request, but only seek the glory of God through the bold proclamation of the Gospell Their-prayer was answered immediately with a great manifestation of God's Presence.

There is one other example which is quite interesting. In Hebrews 6:10 we read "your work and the love which ye showed unto (eis) His Name." The believer is to help other saints in various ways, recognizing that they belong to Christ, that they are His property. Any action toward His saints also touches Him. Christ said to Paul, "Why persecutest thou me?"

If every child of God were keenly aware of Christ's ownership of all believers, he would be very careful not to hurt or hinder such, but to encourage and help them. One's actions towards the Lord's property will not be forgotten — "God is not unrighteous to forget."

One believes "into His Name," transferring ownership. He is baptized "into the Name," boldly announcing his new Master. The believer is then to gather with other saints "into" His Name, as a company recognizing that Christ is the Absolute Master, His Word the only authority. Besides all this, he can show kindness "unto" His Name as he treats other Christians with love and kindness, realizing they are Christ's.

May believers delight and glory more in being the possession of the Risen Christ.

Another preposition used very often with the "Name" is the Greek preposition en, which is generally translated "in." The thought of possession is not primarily in view, but that of invoking the authority, sanction, or might of some greater power. The humblest serf who speaks in the name of the king has the royal authority arrayed in back of each word.

This concept is not new. Moses, as he confronted Pharoah with God's demands, spoke in the Name of Jehovah (Ex. 5'22). He represented the Living God.

The religious rulers asked, "By what power or in what name have ye done this?" Peter replied boldly," ... in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth . . . "(Acts 4:10). The Name of Christ was sufficient authority for those early of the cross.

The Believers invoked Christ's authority and power for preaching (Acts 9:27) and miracles (Acts 3:6). Evil spirits were rebuked in His Name (Acts 16:18). Eternal life came in virtue of His power (Jn 20:31). Baptism was performed in Christ's authority (Acts 10:48).

Requests were to be made of the Father in His Name 16:23, 24, 26). Thanksgiving was to be given "in the Name" (Eph. 5:20).

Collective Christian activity is to be characterized by Christ's authority. The Word of God is taught invoking Christ's Name (II Thess. 3:6). Church discipline is enforced "in the Name of our Lord Jesus" (I Cor. 5:4). The elders of a church are to offer prayer for the sick and anoint with oil "in the Name of the Lord" (James 5:14).

Persecution and trial are to be endured patiently and with joy, if they come because the believer claims Christ's sanction and authority (James 5:10; I Peter 4:14).

Is any sphere of Christian life overlooked? Paul's exhortation echoes throughout the centuries:

And whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:17).

One day the authority and power of Christ's Name will be universally recognized. As His Name is trumpeted the knees of all creation will bend and the universe will prostrate itself before Him.

Wherefore also God highly exalted him and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).

No other authority is needed today for the believer than the authority of "His Name." It is sufficient for heralding the message or living the life. It is a tragic commentary on the age that many believers regard the authority of Christ as insufficient. Man's sanction and authority are esteemed as vital.
Let us do all "in His Name."

Another preposition used with the "Name" is epi. It has a root meaning of "upon." Hence, the thought is that of resting upon the "Name," the "Name" being the basis for the action taken. The Person and Work of Christ are the basis, the foundation, of Christianity.

For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (I Cor. 3:11).

In the commission given by the Lord to His disciples, He stated that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in (epi) his name unto all the nations beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). His Name, speaking of His Person and atoning work, was to form the foundation for all Gospel preaching. It alone can give a basis, a solid foundation, to a message of hope for a despairing world. All other messages, whether built upon profound philosophy, zealous morality, or the politics of a turbulent world, are built upon "sinking sand."

The religious leaders of that day realized that the whole structure of this new "religion" was reared upon the "Name" of Christ. They sternly commanded the apostles "not to speak at all nor teach in (epi) the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18). If only they would not use as the basis of their teaching the Name!

The apostles continued their teaching, resting it upon the Name. Once again they are hailed before the authorities and the solemn warning is repeated "not to speak in (epi) the name of Jesus" (Acts 5:40). Man's religion can not tolerate such a basis for preaching.

The amazing thing is that the Lord warned believers that some would come in the last days resting their claims upon His Name. 

For many shall come in (epi) my name, saying, I am the Christ; and shall lead many astray (Matt. 24:5). 

Satan is so bold that he even inspires his false prophets to claim Christ's Name as the basis for their teaching. Although they deny His Deity and death for sin, they mask their true character by using His Precious Name. These Satanic wiles are seen today in the cults and modernistic prophets of apostate Christendom.

The Lord Jesus also encourages acts of love toward believers based upon His Name.

Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in (epi) my name, receiveth me (Mark 9:37).

The little child held in the Lord's arms pictures the believer as he should be with simple faith and few aspirations for himself. Every believer is to be received with Christian love, not because of his culture, his education, his wealth, or his race, but because he is Christ's. The act of receiving, with all that it conveys of love and helpfulness, is done because the person received belongs to Christ. Christ Himself is touched by such kindness.

The great edifice of Christian charity, an "unearthly" love which delights to sacrifice and share with those in need and welcomes to its heart the unattractive and unlovely because they are Christ's, has its foundation upon the Name of the One Whose Name is LOVE.

The believer of today should still base his teaching and life upon the Name of Jesus Christ.

The preposition dia is also used with the "Name" a number of times. It often means "through," giving the channel or agent which accomplishes something.

In Acts 4:30, the believers recognize that miracles are being worked "through the Name." Christ is the channel of power for them; He is the Divine Agent working in their midst.

The believers also proclaim that He is the channel of spiritual blessing for the world. "Through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43).  His Name brings peace and quiet to the sin troubled soul.

The Name is also used by the Holy Spirit as the channel for exhortation to the believer. "Now I beseech you brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . ." (I Cor. 1:10). Can any believer refuse to listen to a request which comes through His Name?

At times dia is used to give the reason for an action an may be translated "for," "because of," or "on account of."

Believers know their sins forgiven "on account of His Name" (I Jn. 2:12). The work of Christ is the only reason God can forgive sins.

The Name of Christ brings persecution to those who delight in Him. It is the reason for the hatred of the world.  There is a peculiar stigma to bearing His Name. Christ warned His disciples, "Ye shall be hated of all men for name's sake" (Matt. 10:22). Later He said again,

Then shall they deliver you up unto tribulation and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all the nations for (dia) my name's sake (Matt. 24:9).

Later, at the last supper which He enjoyed with His disciples before the cross, He said, referring to persecution,

But all these things will they do unto you for (dia) my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me (Jn. 15:21).

Some fifty years later the Lord commends a company His people because they did "bear for my nams sake" (Rev. 2:3).

There is little reproach in bearing other names. Man can understand organizations; he has created great numbers of them. However, the Name of Christ brings before man his sinfulness and God's love. This he hates.

Another preposition used with the Name is hyper. Its root idea is "over." A usage which came from this was "in behalf of." Perhaps the thought of protection or defense came from a soldier standing over a fallen comrade to defend him, or a bird hovering over its young.

Dia answers the question "Why?", giving the reason. Hyper answers the question "For whom?", giving the person who receives the benefit.

Christian service, the proclamation of the Gospel, is in behalf of His Name (Rom. 1:5). Christ receives the benefit; He gets glory through the faithfulness of His messengers.

True servants of Christ are to be helped on in the work by other believers, "because that for the sake of (hyper) the Name they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles" (III Jn. 7). It is not for selfish reasons that they are serving; it is for the personal benefit of the Lord Jesus.

However, this preposition is used generally with the Name in connection with persecution. Persecution is not endured because of a cold doctrinal belief. Men do not face death with joy because they can recite the Apostle's Creed. But when they realize they suffer in behalf of a Living Person in heaven Whose Body bears the fierce scars of Calvary they can sing as the headsman's ax descends. Believers suffer as they stand over Christ's Name, defending Him in a world which seethes with hatred for Him.

The early disciples went out from threatening and flogging, "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for (hyper) the Name" (Acts 5:41). Christ warns Paul that "he must suffer for (hyper) my name's sake" (Acts 9:16). Barnabas and Paul are later described as "men that have hazarded their lives for (hyper) the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:26). Some years later Paul states that he is ready "to die at Jerusalem for (hyper) the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:13).

Reproach and shame become a joy when one realizes. it is in behalf of the Man in heaven. It is for Him; He receives the benefit, the One Who has done so much for us.

As one turns the pages of Sacred Writ he is delighted with the stress placed upon the Name of the Lord Jesus. From the first proclamation of the Gospel to the martyr's death, early believers delighted in that Name and in it alone. They carried no other name; they gloried in no other name. There was a reproach to this path, but they bore it cheerfully in Hi, behalf. These were thrilling days for the church. She was in her pristine glory.

Does the reader of these lines find the same joy in being associated with the Name of Christ and no other religious name? He is worthy.
Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist...

"The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch (Acts 11:26). In Antioch the name "Christian" was coined to mark these disciples as followers of Jesus the Christ, (Messiah). They were thus distinguished from Jewish and heathen religions.

They were called "disciples" because they were followers of Jesus, "believers" because they believed fervently in Jesus' claims, "brethren" because they rejoiced in the bonds of brotherly love. As "saints" they recognized they were set apart from the world to serve God. These and other terms are common to all who acknowledge Jesus as Lord.

But today the religious scene is very complex. One is no longer just a Christian; he is a certain kind of Christian; Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist or member of one of the other denominations. But the moment one takes a particular label he isolates himself from other believers. A barrier is raised dividing the family of God.

Some Christians today refuse to accept such labels, insisting they are simply Christians. If one only claims Scriptural names he erects no artificial barriers. Some may say this is quibbling but the terms we use reflect our thinking and attitudes. If we stress the use of Scriptural labels, we proclaim the unity of God's family (John 17:21).

What should the local fellowship be called? Scriptural terms such as the "Church of God," Assembly of God" or "Church of Christ" either say too much or too little, if used of a local church. If the group believes all churches are churches of God, then to use such a name is no means of identification. If one believes his is the only "church of God" in a city where other Christian groups gather he is guilty of gross spiritual arrogance.

Again the wise approach is to use terms that apply to all Christian groups indiscriminately. Every church where the Gospel is preached and true believers gather is a church or assembly of God and of Christ. There are various degrees of obedience and holiness among churches. The Lord still walks in the midst of His assemblies, evaluating, commending and warning (Rev. 2, 3). Our goal should be to be as obedient as possible to His Word.

How then can a group be identified? By its geographical location, as in the New Testament. Paul wrote to the saints at Philippi or Colossae (Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2). He might greet the church in Philemon's house (Philemon 2) or in Thessalonica (I Thess. 1:1). This is the Scriptural way to distinguish churches. It does not divide God's family spiritually, only geographically. An assembly may meet in the Bible Chapel on Main Street or the Gospel Hall on 17th Avenue. The geographical location identifies the meeting place of the church and this is a Scriptural designation.

The sloppy use of terms reveals careless thinking. An assembly or church, to use a common term, is a congregation of people, not a building. Name your building what you will but do not call it a church. The church gathers in the building.

A minister (diakonos) is a servant, not a clergyman. The term denotes service, not official glory (I Cor. 3:5-9). Titles such as Reverend or Doctor hardly befit one who comes to serve God's people. Whether he be learned and well educated or be a tradesman, in the church there should be no social difference. As the child of God enters the meeting place, all secular distinctions are left behind. In the circle of God's family all are simply brothers and sisters. Did not Jesus Himself warn against the use of titles among His disciples (Matt. 23:8-12)? Shame on Christian churches for catering to
human pride and ostentation!

The proper use of Scriptural terms reveals careful thinking. Whether they be theological terms such as justification and sanctification or ecclesiastical terms for the churches, clear thinking results in accurate speaking. And truth needs to be guarded in every age.