Let us make a name for ourselves…otherwise we will become scattered. [Genesis 11:1-4]
The majority of Christians are familiar with the story of Babel in the above chapter. It reflects a people who after abandoning God were preoccupied with making a name for themselves. God in His mercy and judgment against them intervened and prevented them from accomplishing their goal. This resulted in these very individuals being scattered about, the very thing they were intent upon preventing.
I personally know of no Christians who would ever identify themselves with those intent upon purposefully building the tower of Babel. This despite the fact that we also long to make a name for ourselves and practice the very same principles they did and promote those very things to others. Does God really view our desire for a name any different than others making a name for themselves?
The significance of a name
One doesn’t have to look far to recognize the importance of a name. Whether one is deciding upon a name for a sports team, a business or a soon to be newborn, each and every name has significance and there are always reasons behind “why” we choose the name(s) that we do.
Think about the last time you chose a name? Why did you choose that particular name? Did you not decide upon that name because of what that name meant or implied? Maybe you had other reasons in mind. Despite this, most of us follow the example of our heavenly Father when choosing a name. We choose what specifically characterizes, or what we hope will characterize the actions of the entity or individual we are naming. God Himself places an enormous value upon specific names. Would one claim any of these are coincidence in the Bible:
- GENESIS (which is the first book of the Bible means beginning.)
- EXODUS (the second book of the Bible means exit or departure)
- ABRAHAM (was changed from ABRAM to ABRAHAM which means father of many)
- JACOB (means supplanter which is exactly what his life was characteristic of) His name was also changed by God to ISRAEL, meaning God contended exemplified in His experience in wrestling with an angel.
- DAVID (means beloved. He was the greatest king of Israel and was known as a man after God’s own heart)
- JESUS (Aramaic name Yeshu’a means Yaweh is salvation).
- Yeshua ben Yoseph, better known as Jesus Christ
These are only a handful of the many hundreds of examples that could be given. It kind of brings new light to the verse below;
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name…..” (Ephesians 3:14, 15)
God Himself places emphasis upon names and we should follow that example. In doing this we should be careful to name only that which He beckons us to name. In Genesis 2:19 we find Adam busy naming names;
“Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.”
It is of course possible that Adam was trusted thus because He was yet to fall from his original state of creation, prior to his fall into sin. Notice what Adam was allowed to name:
- What the Lord Himself formed (created)
- What originated from the ground (animals, birds and subsequently people)
- That which was a living creature (only that which God has breathed life into)
Names denote ownership/stewardship
Have you ever wondered why God allowed Adam to name these animals, birds etc?
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
When man was created God intended for him to be a steward of all that He had given him dominion over, the very things Adam had himself given names to. He was given responsibility to care for his immediate needs (cultivate the garden of Eden God had previously prepared for him) and also subdue the entire earth and rule over it. (Genesis 1:26-31) He was given both local and worldwide responsibilities over every living thing. This included his wife Eve who he also named.
There was of course the one prohibition in which Adams delegated stewardship and ability to rule hinged upon. Tragically, in that very place Adam failed to obey God and today we’re all suffering the consequences of that one choice. Just as Eve had become “bone of his bones” when God had created her through him, we also have now become “bone of his bones” albeit through his sinful choice. In Adam, all die. (1 Corinthians 15:22) What God had originally intended for good (seed bearing fruit after its own kind) now is exemplified in Adam becoming the head of an entire race of sinful human beings.
Man’s response to his own failures [hide, cover and invent]
Immediately after disobeying the one command they were given by their Creator, they immediately hid themselves in shame from God. Instead of what was natural to them (walking with God and being dependent upon Him) they now hid from Him among His creation (the trees). Finding that provision insufficient, they attempted to solve their own problem by sewing fig leaves together to cover their nakedness. They utilized their best fallen efforts to solve what they reasoned was their problem. Little did they realize the extent and consequences of their sin.
Man’s solutions insufficient
I wonder how Adam and Eve ever dealt with the tragic consequences of their initial decision to sin against God. We know their own solution in covering themselves was inadequate for we read in Genesis 3:21; “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them”
In addition to the shame of their sin they also lost:
- The special gift of cultivating the garden of Eden God created for them, where the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil grew.
- The ability to rule and have righteous dominion over the earth.
- The ability of walking with God unhindered by all of the consequences of sin.
They gained through sin:
- An awareness of good and evil. (3:6)
- Shame resulting from sin (3:10)
- Fear of God not previously necessary (3:8)
- The ability to make excuses for one’s choices (3:12)
- Multiplied pain for the woman in childbirth (3:16)
- Cultivating will become “hard work”
- Wife will desire to usurp her husband’s headship (3:16)
- Husband will desire to abuse his headship (3:16)
- They will die (2:16, 17)
- The temptation and tendency to act independently of God and utilize our own resources verses His.
Names signify identity
It doesn’t take long to realize just how prevalent the use of names has become in the world about us. A local sports team likely has more than a few titles describing the individuals on the team and what they do. On a single CD we might find 10-20 music titles not counting the title of the CD itself, the subtitle and the musicians themselves. A quick look through the local Yellow Pages will reveal thousands of business titles for varying types of enterprises. One of those categories will be for “churches” of which many varying names and types will be listed. Regardless of which of the above might affect us personally, we all agree that the names “help” us understand how these entities function and how we might interact with them. A name allows us to quickly discover the who’s who and what’s what of an organization.
Identified with who or what?
As a believer in Jesus Christ, just who and what am I called to be identified with? Should I identify with Catholicism because my parents and grandparents were? Because I attended a Catholic church when I was younger? Should I identify with the Protestant Reformation because I believe those doctrines line up closer to the truth? Should I identify with some religious organization because they stand for and against the same things I do? Should I identify with the para-church Navigator organization through which I heard the gospel and received it? Or should I just identify with the place I now frequent for fellowship? How do I know where and with whom to place my allegiance?
Identified with an organization
I find it extremely sad that while many people claim to hold to the authority of the Scriptures for direction and guidance in their lives, most are found to be in the least hypocritical and in some cases outright liars. Nowhere is this more evident than through the use of named churches or so-called Christian organizations. Considering the fact that there are literally millions of these organizations worldwide in almost every country, one would think there would have to be some Biblical support or precedent for them. Nope, nada, none. Think about this for a moment. Is there really any such thing as:
- A Christian hospital
- A Christian college
- A Christian rest home
- A Christian music band/association
- A Christian ministry
- A Christian Church
- A Christian country
To the average religious masses, the answer is almost always in the affirmative. Of course there is, they’re all around us! Really? Maybe I should rephrase the question. Is there really any such thing to God as a Christian Church? Simply said, the answer is no. Not to God, not according to the Bible or anyone willing to get honest and face reality. None of the above exist in God’s economy. There may be Christians who work at hospitals, colleges, rest homes and ones who write and sing music. Christians can and do serve in these capacities. On the other hand, they cannot create a Christian entity of any kind for they do not exist. Christians are not “its” or “businesses” or “organizations” but people. When I fully realized this I stopped trying to create my own “ministry” as an entity and simply got busy ministering to others. Ministry is not an “it” but the service believers render one to another. Needless to say, going to “church” has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity either, nor has any country ever been Christian before God. Such talk proves the neglect of following what God actually says for a counterfeit replacement. It matters more than you realize.
Identifying with a cause
For many people their allegiance to Christ becomes subverted by their devotion to a cause. It doesn’t matter whether that cause is fighting abortion, reforming the government, promoting social justice or moralizing the society we live in. This is not to say that Christians should be idle and never stand for righteousness and justice etc. We can and do exercise our gifts when given those opportunities for service. But when that spirit led service becomes supporting an entity outside of the Ekklesia of God it becomes sin. That is when and where we attempt to form any society of individuals outside of the local assembly and call it by any formal name. In doing so I am rejecting God’s means of reaching out to others and dividing the body by starting up separate entities. It doesn’t matter whether that entity is called Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators, Koinonia House, CRI, Grace to You, In Touch, Renewing your Mind, Turning Point, Insight for Living, American Bible Society, Promise Keepers, Focus on the Family, InterVarsity, Teen Challenge, Youth with a Mission, Family Research Council, Wall Builders, Compassion International, Habitat for Humanity, New Tribes Mission, Salvation Army, World Vision or any other so-called Christian organization. Not one person who has founded any of the above, participates within them or supports them can justify doing so. EVERY ONE OF THEM DIVIDES THE ONE BODY PRINCIPLE BY USING NAMES TO DESIGNATE THEMSELVES- TO MAKE A NAME FOR THEMSELVES.
Identifying with Christ alone
What does it mean to be identified with Christ? The following verses should help with that answer.
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me”
Identified with Christ, I have no right to myself. That means no right to act independently of what God’s Word specifically states. I live by faith in Christ’s accomplishments and abilities verses my own ingenuity and divisive tactics through other means outside the local assembly.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
God’s people are being led astray into participating in and funding institutions that men have created according to their own worldly traditions. These organizations utilize top down hierarchies, religious positions and spiritual titles God forbids and condemns.
“But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”
The apostle Paul said it best here, although we little understand his point. He is not boasting of being a believer but rather in the cross which has separated him positionally from all that the world would tempt him to utilize in service to Christ. Being crucified to the world allows him to rest upon Christ and Him alone and not anything or anyone that would detract his focus from Christ- the very thing identifying with a cause, organization or church name will do.
In the name of…
Why is it so hard for Christians to see that using any name is synonymous with having a divided affection. Earlier I mentioned that I’m unaware of any people purposefully building the tower of Babel yet many of our practices are synonymous with that very thing. Do we practice worldly principles? Yes we do. We justify all manner of these organizations because they help people in need. We copy the authority structures of this world, we supposedly do ministry in the name of the organization as well as the fund raising. On many occasions the very words of the founders become synonymous with the gospel truth. Few seem to realize that the very organizations that they began are the very things that prop up these people and their teachings. The larger they get the less others in the body are likely to scrutinize what they say and teach. Even when outside criticism is levied against a particular individual or their organization they still continue unabated. God’s disciplinary process is structured for the local ekklesia and not some mans so-called ministry. Another obvious reason such “ministries” are self made and man centered. Disagree all you want, these gurus are only accountable to the defenders that surround and defend them regardless of their words or actions. In most cases these very people are the ones encouraging us to “enter the ministry,” “start a ministry or church” or follow their example- none of which is a good idea. It will only lead to in the name of someone or something else.
There is only one Name
“Now I exhort you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you may all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
If you doubt this is possible it is due to your emphasizing and promoting some other name other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
“For I have been informed by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I am of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
“I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-8)
It is sectarian religion that breeds jealousy and strife among God’s people. It is those emphasizing and defending their particular brand of religion that are acting out a sectarian spirit among those belonging to Christ. Although we far too often do emphasize our allegiance to men (John Calvin, Martin Luther or the Pope etc)(all equally wrong)we also are quick to defend the remnants of what they left behind. For when one says, “I am a Calvanist,” and “I am an Arminian,” and “I am a Baptist,” and “I am Penecostal,” and “I am Reformed,” and “I am full gospel” etc are we not acting like mere fleshly men? Yes we are. Those who do so are the reason that divisions exist within the Ekklesia of God. Jesus says to you today;
He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.’
A Name written
A written name signifies power to act and authority to exercise decision making. Behind the name of any organization is the name of a man or a combination of men. It is those men who have power to act on behalf of the organization and ultimately decide how things will be done. Like any business venture, these men are responsible for the success and growth of the enterprise. Tread adversely upon another man’s territory and one will soon discover who’s really in charge. Any proper name that serves as a title for any group of believers as above is sectarian in nature and serves to divide the one body. God says to all who practice such, “Has Christ been divided?” Only the name of Christ can carry God’s power and authority, whereas an organization can only exercise the authority of the organization itself. The two are not interchangeable.
And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:16)
No amount of stationary, letterhead, church logos or signs denoting ones personal accomplishments, degrees or names can possibly replace the above. The difference between God’s authority and the authority of an organization are night and day, a gulf as far as heaven is from hell, the world’s system from all that must originate in heaven. Can we honestly say the titles we choose originate there?
The Justification of a Name
In all honesty, despite the reasons behind our choice to choose a name in identifying ourselves, we have no authority nor right from heaven in doing so. If this be true, and our actions out of harmony with Christ and His cross, then all such names, whether they characterize our actions, intents or desires are in the least sinful and more likely, rebellious.
- We want to differentiate ourselves from others who name the name of Christ but don’t follow (obey) Him like we do. Jesus was willing to be identified with sinful men- we’re not even willing to suffer the ridicule of being falsely labeled as hypocrites due to the lies of false brethren.
- A name helps us to identify who we are and what we believe. Names are identifiers and give others information about who we are. This very name betrays our identity with Christ as it directs the focus of others upon us and what we believe and practice. God’s judgment is seen when we reap what we’re sowing as others label us with these very distinctions. Our own sectarianism is used as a weapon dividing us from other believers.
- We want others to be able to locate us easily. If fellow believers cannot locate where we meet they aren’t very close family members are they? We are called to relationships with people not to fellowships or meeting places. Sinful men have no need to find us, that is unless the ekklesia of God is now called to include the unbelieving. Again, where friendships and relationships are the priority, no one will ever wonder where the saints presently meet.
- How can we promote our functions without a name? If any group of believers has an agenda without the slightest concern for other local believers that agenda cannot honor God. The Bible does not talk of multiple ekklesias in a local area but rather one ekklesia. Every decision any individual Christian or a group of Christians make must have this truth in mind- our actions affect all believers in this area. To talk about “our functions” rejects the above truth and promotes our group as being different from other believers in our area. Even if this is true, we have no right in promoting that which is exactly what advertising ourselves does.
- A name is necessary to have a “business” bank account. Each of us must weigh the requirements of a local or national governments policies with God’s ultimate requirements. Our government in the US views churches as businesses and we agree with that assessment when we follow their rules. That simple agreement below, signed by the authority of one or more human beings on a legal document binds the entire “church” to specific government regulations. This issue is the requirement to establish a 5013c corporation in order to open a church bank account which enables the church to conduct “business.”
- We want to offer members non-taxable deductions when they give money. This can ONLY be done when the above compromises are made.
- We want to make a name for ourselves. We may try to deny it, but this is the very fruit of our decision to choose a name for ourselves. Think about it:
A name identifies us (the people who meet with us)
We schedule meetings and functions that identify who will be speaking and teaching in advance (promotes and proves reliance upon men verses God)
A name identifies us (what we believe)
With some names like “Charismatic” this is immediately apparent. Others like _____ and _____ become “known” over time.
A name identifies where (directs people to us)
The emphasis once again is on us and the meetings. Where do “you” “meet.”
A name identifies cause (what, who and how we believe)
We believe in “_____ and “_____”
We believe in Jesus who is _____ and _____
We believe by _____ and in obedience to the _____.
We become “known” by these things through our name.
A name carries the authority of someone behind the scenes.
Who owns the name _____ and _____?
Who signed the IRS and bank documents?
Challenge this person or persons “decisions” and you discover who is really in charge despite what they say. Jesus is solely the HEAD of a local ekklesia wherein men are the head of a local “church.” You don’t dare challenge men’s authority without reprucussion. Note: The absence of a formal title (name) would automatically prevent the abuses that derive from men being in control behind the scenes. Names breed abuse and set men with authority over and above their brethren. One only has to challenge such false worldly authority to incite the wrath of those in control.
Many more reasons could be discussed although the point has been made. Regardless of which of the above someone might say is necessary, none of them are mandated nor necessary to carry out God’s intentions through His Ekklesia. Many of the above create problems such as anger, strife and various contentions. If this is so, how is it that we are practicing something of a very questionable nature and to some downright disobedient?
There is one last reason I’d like to propose that I believe trumps all the rest.
In the beginning, we found our only refuge in resting upon what Jesus Christ had done on our behalf. As lost sinful humans, we became aware of our total inability to save ourselves. Furthermore, we came to realize that all of our efforts were filthy rags, that no contribution originating in our flesh or in this world could possibly contribute to Jesus’ perfect one time sacrifice. At God’s mercy, we simply placed our faith (trust) in Him and His accomplishments on our behalf. We derived the benefit as we merely rested in that we could have never accomplished on our own. Herein we have the grace of God being manifested on behalf of sinful men.
Grace is unmerited favor, freely given by God. We would all agree that we started out this way. But I must ask, “Are we still trusting God in this manner or have we taken things into our own hands?”
I spent some time recently looking over “_______” history, the roots of which many of you came from. On an internet site called __________ there is a section titled, “Who are the _______?” Here is a list of many prominent men who were associated with this term term, many who were missionaries. I find their comments regarding out topic quite enlightening. Here were men who understood the importance of not becoming sectarian by using any name to distinguish themselves.
“The people called _______ are often so described because they prefer to be known by a designation comprehensive enough to embrace all their fellow Christians along with themselves”
“They had no idea they were starting a movement; still less had they any thought of founding a new denomination, for that would have defeated the very purpose for which they came together”
“Throughout the centuries of church history, there have been groups of believers who have sought in a special way to be faithful to the Lord and His Word, in spite of persecution and the attractions of larger ecclesiastical associations.”
“It was a Bible-prompted protest against the sectarianism of the Protestant denominations that the movement originally arose”
“They owned allegiance to no denomination, took no sectarian name, recognized no human head or earthly headquarters, and sought only to return to the New Testament pattern for the Church”
“ Any intelligent observer looking at the mainline churches in Christiandom today, cannot fail to notice a wide divergence between the teaching and practices of the early church and that being taught and practiced today.”
“The local church is composed of born-again believers meeting in the name of the Lord Jesus, refusing any denominational title, as that would put it on sectarian ground and would deny the truth of the one body.”
“The fact is, by a very marked movement of the Spirit of God, Christians in several places, without knowing what was simultaneously taking place elsewhere, came to see the absolute necessity of becoming obedient to what the Scriptures teach, in contrast to the denominational systems, which were simply an aftermath of the breakaway, in medieval times from Popery, and which stopped short of discerning and following the whole counsel of God as revealed in His Word”
Here are a few of those who recognized firsthand the rejection of all sectarian names. This of course means little if the Scriptures themselves do not bear out the sectarian nature of names. Little or large is irrelevant, the word name means denomination. If anyone person or any one group of persons utilize a formal name, that name is sectarian, therefore sinful according to God. All names divide the one body principle and must be rejected at the outset.
The progression of error
Error is subtle and often originates in the sincerest of motives and through well meaning individuals. Despite this, sin is never acceptable to God and will bring judgment in one form or another. From the very moment a name was adopted for the current local assembly to which I write, the following additional problems have been promoted and/or pursued:
- An organization called _____ and _____ was formed.
- The above organization is promoted through the secular government, a local bank account and through various forms of advertising.
- Those who unite under this banner have become known as members of a secular organization known as _____ and _____.
- The government has some jurisdiction over what those affiliated with _____ and _____ can and cannot do. This will only increase in intensity as more regulations are added in the future.
- A secular designation for God’s people has been adopted, one He does not nor could sanction. Outsiders view this as normal practice when indeed it is compromise.
- All ministry is done in the name of _____ and _____. One obvious example is when a check is written to “it.” _____ and _____ (or any organization cannot be a ministry) for ministry is an action not an “it.”
- A sad and unscriptural example is being set for everyone coming into contact with this sectarian organization called _____ and _____. This includes all of those we desire to reach as well as our own children.
Although some restraint appears to be exercised among us, the following problems exist among other groups having made this same mistake:
_The church decides upon who the leader (s) will be, who will be in charge.
_This one individual or few people are given spiritual titles and religious positions that carry certain amounts of authority. They rule “over” the laity.
_These leaders cast the “vision” for the church.
_The laity is pressured to volunteer in the vision where they may be needed. This has little or nothing to do with spiritual giftedness.
_A building fund will be started and a search for property will ensue. The possibility of borrowing is even discussed despite that being in opposition to God’s decrees.
_All manner of programs, gimmicks and worldly wisdom is used to reach our target audience. Most if not all of these dabble in worldliness and man’s wisdom and methodologies.
_What men “do” overshadows what Jesus “has done” thus obscuring the truth of the gospel.
_In very subtle ways men transfer their trust in God (grace) for their own works (law) in reaching out to others = having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.
There is one last reason I’d like to propose that I believe trumps all the rest (of our excuses for having a name): We prefer to trust in what we can control verses having to:
1) Trust God entirely for daily and momentary direction.
2) Trust the other believers among us.
It is much easier to plan out days, months and years ahead what we believe is our Father’s leading for our lives. This is exactly what those who participate among us prefer to do. It is much more difficult, much more inconvenient and much more Biblical to be led by the Spirit moment by moment. To have to seek God daily, not just for our individual need but for the entire corporate expression of the body amongst us. Few if any of us even consider such a responsibility. We are far too caught up in our own doings.