Author: Ron Graham
Expressing his zeal for the glory and salvation of Zion, the prophet Isaiah said, "You shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord shall designate" (Isaiah 62:2).
Note —ZION: Isaiah mentions Zion 47 times. Zion is a mountain of Jerusalem. However Zion is used as a poetic term for all Jerusalem and its environs as shown in the parallelism of this verse: “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet” (Isaiah 62:1). Zion is also used to refer to the kingdom of Heaven, the church. It was this Zion for which the LORD would speak a new name.
How strange it is therefore, to find people professing to follow Christ, yet designating themselves by all kinds of names which the mouth of the Lord did not name.
When I first wrote this lesson, just out of curiosity I looked up the directory of religious organizations in the area where I lived. There were many more different names than I expected. Here is a random sample of some of the names I found:
Church of Christ Scientist
Zion Particular Baptist
Society of Friends
Free Serbian Orthodox Church
Christian Revival Crusade
Seventh Day Adventist
Roman Catholic Church
One might search the scriptures till one is wrinkled and grey, but not one of the above is a name which "the mouth of the Lord designates" for his people. The same may be said of dozens of other names by which people designate themselves as followers of Christ.
Let us have a brief look at how the New Testament writers designated and described the people of God.
There are proper scriptural names and descriptions for the church or "called out people" of Christ. In the New Testament, the church is called "The church of God" (Acts 20:28, 1Timothy 3:5,15, 1Corinthians 1:2). Paul also called these churches "the churches of Christ" (Romans 16:16).
Why does any church want to call itself anything more than the church of God or the church of Christ? This Biblical designation does not divide and distinguish as man-made names do.
There are many descriptions and metaphors used in the New Testament for the followers of Christ. Strictly speaking none of these is used as "a name", however it is proper (and not in any way divisive or denominational) to use these terms and descriptions when speaking of the church and those who belong to it.
Some examples are: "disciples" (Acts 11:26), "the flock" (Acts 20:28), "the called of Christ... beloved of God" (Romans 1:6-7), "brothers [and sisters]" (1Corinthians 15:6), "saints... Christ's kingdom... Christ's body" (Colossians 1:12,13,18), "God's household" (1Timothy 3:15).
There is one name that deserves our special attention. "the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26). This name "Christians" is sometimes said to be a nickname that the general public gave to the disciples, as if to say that the name was designated profanely and adopted arbitrarily, rather than coming from the mouth of the Lord. I have never been able to find any grounds for this assertion.
Note —ANTIOCH: This is the Antioch in Syria north of Jerusalem. It was where the second church of Christ was established.
Peter said of the name "Christian" that we "glorify God in this name" (1Peter 4:16). Why not be just to be simply Christians?
One important function and purpose of a name, is to distinguish people from one another. Our passage from Isaiah (Isaiah 62:1-5) pictures the church (the new Jerusalem) as a bride. She shines like a burning torch among the nations. She is a spiritual kingdom distinguished from the world. When we come into the church we are joined to Christ and become separated from the world. That is the only separation that there should be. The name we wear religiously should imply no other distinction.
Instead, those professing to be Christians commonly separate themselves and distinguish themselves from one another by forming or perpetuating "denominations". They invent names to mark those distinctions and divisions.
Note —DENOMINATIONS: This term is related to the word 'denominate' (from the Latin denominare) which means to name, especially so as to indicate a separate class within a whole. The idea of denominations in the church is foreign to the New Testament, and we Christians should glorify God in the name of Christ only. We should neither wear names invented by men nor belong to their schisms.
Paul condemned this practice and said, "there must be no divisions among you" (1Corinthians 1:10). Jesus prayed of his followers, "that they all may be one (John 17:21). Do we fulfill his prayer by making divisive names for ourselves?
One of the first steps to digression is to begin using names that distinguish one church from another. One of the first steps to unity is to rid ourselves of all distinctive and divisive names, and to use only the name that the mouth of the Lord has designated. That name will distinguish us from the world, but will not distinguish us from one another as followers of Christ.