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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15


Why Are We Called Baptists?

Norman H. Wells

From The Church That Jesus Loved, 1973 (Chapter 17)

Our church is identified by the name "Baptist." In order to understand why we are called Baptist it will be necessary to go back to the very beginning of the church.



THE WORD "CHURCH"


The word "church" is used for the first time in the Bible in Matt. 16:18. "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."


This was the announcement that there was to be an organized assembly that was to carry on the work of the Lord. Christ called this assembly a "church."


The English word "church" has an interesting history.


The early Greek name for a powerful man's house was "kuriakon." This word came from a slang expression meaning "power." This term passed into Latin and was picked up by pioneer Christians, who applied it to the house of God. This Greek word "kuriakon" meant a "powerful Man's house." Various forms of this word entered into most of the languages of Europe. In English it became "church."


The English word "church" originally meant "a powerful man's house" or "the Lord's house." In this word the emphasis was always upon the house itself.


The English word "church" was used to translate the Greek word "ekklesia" in our Bibles. To understand what the word "church" is intended to mean in our Bibles it is necessary to know the meaning of the Greek word "ekklesia."


The Greek word "ekklesia" comes from two Greek words, "ek" meaning "from" and "kaleo" meaning "to call out." The word "ekklesia" literally means, "to call out from."


The "called out assembly" of Jesus Christ is called a "church" in our English Bibles. The name used in the New Testament to identify Christ's called out assembly was simply "church."


THE NAMES OF CHURCHES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT


In the beginning it was not necessary to identify individual, particular churches by a name because there were not that many of them. They were all alike and they all believed the same thing. The called out assembly of Jesus Christ is simply called "church" 75 times in the New Testament.


IDENTIFYING THE CHURCHES BY LOCATION


As the number of churches increased it became necessary to identify them by location. This kind of identification is made 24 times in the New Testament.


There was the "church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1, 11:22), the "church that was at Antioch" (Acts 13:1), the "church which is at Cenchrea" (Romans 16:1) etc.


THERE WERE OTHER NAMES USED FOR THE CALLED OUT ASSEMBLY OF CHRIST


Eleven times the expression "the church of God" is used in the New Testament. This identifies an assembly as being "of God" and was used as a name for all the churches ... not to identify a particular church. There was no need for any particular identifying name as all churches were "churches of God" ... in the beginning there was no other kind.


The expression "churches of Christ" is used one time in the Bible. This was a general title and did not identify one particular church but was applied to all churches. The expression "churches of the Gentiles" is used once and served to identify the churches of the Gentiles from the churches of the Jewish believers. One time the title "church of the living God" is used. Thus we see that the word "church" and the expressions "church of God," "churches of Christ," and "church of the living God" were all used to identify Christ's Assembly.


In the early beginning, with just a few churches, it was not necessary to identify particular churches. It was understood what group these names designated. As the number of churches increased it became necessary to identify them by location and in at least one instance by nationality.


THE BEGINNING OF ERROR


Error had already gotten into the churches in New Testament times. It is revealed in the New Testament that there were those already in the churches that were teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Others were teaching that salvation was by works. Some churches had already perverted the Lord's Supper and some even denied the bodily resurrection.


Error continued to grow after New Testament times. After the close of the New Testament account it is an established fact that error continued to grow in the churches. The churches soon found that they no longer all believed the same thing.


The New Testament word "church" no longer necessarily identified a true called out assembly of Jesus Christ. It was now applied to a great number of contradicting groups. The same can be said of the expressions "church of God" and "churches of Christ." These names no longer identified the people of the Lord.

They were being used by those who had drifted far away from the truth.

 

IT BECAME NECESSARY FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD TO IDENTIFY THEIR CHURCHES BY NAMES


Around the third century those who clung to the truth of God's Word and insisted upon proper baptism were called "Anabaptists" which meant "rebaptizers." They were given this name because they insisted that those who came to them from other so-called churches must be baptized even if they had been baptized before into false churches.


Through the ages the name "Anabaptist" identified those churches that clung to the revealed truth and did not drift totally into error. Around the fifteenth century the "ana" was dropped from the name. From then on the name Baptist has identified these people of God.


TODAY THERE ARE MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF CHURCHES


It is readily apparent to all that there are many different kinds of churches. The word "church" is used by hundreds of conflicting groups.


THE NAME "BAPTIST" IDENTIFIES THAT CHURCH THAT STILL CAN BE IDENTIFIED WITH THE CHURCH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.


It identifies the church that still teaches all of the New Testament truth as it was taught in New Testament times. Over the years there have been differences arise among Baptists and some have found it necessary to add to the name in order to identify their difference, however, the name "Baptist" still identifies those churches with the New Testament truth.