It is quite interesting to listen to the feeble attempts of men to justify those things for which they have no authority. After more than 45 years of preaching, I have learned that once a person has decided to embark upon a certain course of action that is so blatantly opposed to the word of God, reason is thrown out the proverbial window.
Some years ago Johnnie Ann and I were making multiple trips to Ukraine to help establish and strengthen the Lord’s church in Poltava. We were only allowed to remain in the country for 90 days, so we would do what we could during that time, return home, and reapply for a visa and get back to Poltava as quickly as possible. That was a period of great interest regarding matters pertaining to religion in that country, and it provided a unique opportunity to preach and teach the truth with the full expectation that our labor would yield visible fruit for the Lord. But you don’t have to go to Ukraine to hear this oft-stated and ill-advised excuse for failing to abide by God’s divine authority when it comes to the name we are to wear as God’s children, or the terms that we are to use to refer to the church. It just so happens that an incident on one of our mission trips provided an opportunity to demonstrate the foolishness of those who might attempt to claim, “There is nothing in a name.” It was a great occasion to “answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:5).
His name was Sergei. He had been converted to the Lord prior to our having met him on our first trip to Poltava. He served as our contact/sponsor/interpreter on each of those mission trips. On occasion, he would meet us at the airport in Kiev and escort us to Poltava. He was diligent, good at what he did, and he was wise beyond his years. I cannot remember the details as to how the meeting came about, but Sergei introduced us to two missionaries from Australia who were members of the Church of The Brethren. They showed some interest in our work and wanted to discuss some matters in private. I agreed to meet with them. “George” and “John” were their names. Both spoke good English with the typical Australian accent, which made for pleasant conversation. It also eliminated the need for Sergei to interpret, breaking him lose to work on the Ukrainian preacher that had come with these men. Upon our meeting, “John” suggested that we combine our efforts in order to make a greater impact for the cause of Christ. I simply told him that we could not extend fellowship to those who demonstrated a disrespect for the authority of Christ. I told him there were too many doctrinal issues that separated us and any attempt at cooperation between the two of us could only produce difficulty, not to mention that fellowship with error would render us partaker in their false doctrines (2 John 10-11). “Such as?” came his reply. I immediately focused on the names they wore. “How can we even begin to discuss unity when we can’t even agree on the names and terms that we use? Where, for example, is the term ‘Church of the Brethren’ mentioned in the Bible?” His response was so typical of those who cannot see beyond their proverbial noses when it comes to such matters: “There is nothing in a name!” This is where the conversation became somewhat humorous. I responded to John, “George, there IS something in a name!” He quickly responded, “I’m John; he’s George.” I continued, “Ok George, whatever; let’s continue.” Again, he responded, “No, I’m John, he’s George!” I continued, “George, turn with me to Colossians 3:17.” I was abruptly interrupted, “Look, I’m John, NOT George!” I could hear the frustration in his voice; he must of thought by now he was talking to some dunce, unable to remember even the simplest of matters such as the name of person. I then made my point: “John, I thought you said there was nothing in a name! If you are so intent on my calling you by your proper name, how do you think Christ feels about you calling the church by the wrong name?” The point was made, the conversation concluded, the study ended, and we went our separate way. I don’t think he ever got the point I was trying to make.
Names ARE important, and there IS something in a name. If you doubt that for a minute, why not try cashing a check made out to someone other than yourself. How much success do you suppose you would have borrowing money from a bank if you refused to sign with your legal name? Why, then, do we assume that when it comes to religion, we can attach any name we select to identify the church? It is His church (Matthew 16:16-18), He paid the price (Acts 20:28), and it is His followers, and only His followers, that will be saved (Eph. 5:23). We are told that there is “none other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all truth (John 16:13), and the only terms used to designate the church all include a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ in one fashion or the other. “The church of God” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the church of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:23), “the churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16); these are terms the Holy Spirit used to designate the church for which Jesus shed His blood. Where in God’s word do we read of the “Church of the Brethren,” the “Baptist Church,” “Pentecostal Church,” “Seventh Day Adventist Church,” “Harvest Tabernacle Church,” or “Cowboy Church,” to name just a few.
The God-given name for His people, as well as that soul-saving institution, the church, is extremely important. The Bible tells us that the disciples were called “Christians” first in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Why can we not be satisfied with the name provided by the Holy Spirit, and glorify God in THAT name (1 Pet. 4:16)? Would to God that names devised by human beings forever cease, and His name be glorified.
Let us wear the name of Christ only. If you have heard that there is nothing in a name, don’t you believe it for a second. Hold fast to God’s word, and make sure you have divine authority for all that you do in matters pertaining to religion (Col. 3:17). Look again at 1 Peter 4:16 and tell me, “There’s Nothing In A Name”!