The Christian Church

And in Antioch, the disciples were first called Christians.

— Acts 11:26

I never really liked being a Baptist. It’s our name. But by the time the Baptists arrived, about 400 years ago, all the cool names were already taken.

There was already a “Catholic Church” and an “Orthodox Church”, so we missed them. Then we sniffed two more. We could have tied ourselves directly to Jesus instead of the big bad John the Baptist and taken the name “Church of Christ” or “The Christian Church”. But, we didn’t and they got caught 200 years later by two guys named Campbell, who were more strict about baptism than the Baptists.

The name of my first church was First Baptist Church, very boring. Just down the road was a church with a much better name, the Cathedral of Preparation for the Rapture of the Temple of the Great Christ of the Apostolic Faith of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. I have a photo of their sign for 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 Christianity, we must ask ourselves this question: what makes a church, whatever its name, a true Christian church?

True churches preach the true Gospel. The church planters who went to Antioch did not preach a social gospel, though the evils of society surely prevailed. They told Jews and Gentiles that Jesus came, Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus rose again, Jesus is coming and Jesus saves! Indeed, as we learned earlier in Acts, “There is no salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. (ref. Acts 4:12).

True churches have true members who truly repent and believe. It is the only two-in-one requirement revealed in the New Testament as the proper and saving response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Many believed and turned to the Lord.” Both Baptists and Campbellites will be horrified that baptism is not mentioned here, although they surely did end up being baptized. But baptism and church membership do 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 faithful and “faithful to the Lord”. Faith without fidelity is falsehood and folly, it is not true Christianity. Like the House of Cornelius before them, the new Christians thirsted for the word of the Lord and required the best preachers available to stay with them and teach them. They were so faithful in their following of Jesus Christ that people began to call them little Christs, or “Christians”.

So here is. True Christians hear the gospel, repent and believe, and then become active in their church and community by 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 due to “the grace of God”, and not to human energy or ingenuity. True Christians are truly saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But they are never really alone. You still find them gathering in real churches.

It is inconceivable in the word of God, and therefore for God, to qualify as a true Christian unless you are an active member of a true church. Spiritual people are attracted to other spiritual people and spiritual things. They do not resent spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, reading, meditation and obedience to the word of God, and gathering with the church.

Churches abound today which are mere headquarters of the Democratic or Republican party. Churches are growing in the world today offering nothing but ear-tickling, false promises and overt entertainment. There are churches that will give you the shirts off your back, but offer no gospel for your soul. They call themselves Christian churches, but they are not.

The true Christian church preaches Christ, crucified and risen, as the remedy for sin and the 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 returns. Make sure you are in a genuine Christian church, whatever its name.

Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]

Martha J. Finley