The Devine Designations Of the Church, 1
By Eddie Cloer

      "He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; ..."  (Colossians 1:18).

The first day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ was a long-awaited day. Important days come, and really important days come! This Pentecost was a day of supreme and lasting importance. It was the day toward which all the Old Testament and the earthly ministry of Christ had looked. Prophecies which had been uttered through the Holy Spirit long before were fulfilled on this day with the coming of God's kingdom. The earthly ministry of Christ was God's unique preparation for this special day.

Shortly before Christ ascended back to His Father in heaven, He commanded His apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father (Luke 24:46-49). As He spoke to them on their last day together about the coming of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, He  said, "Which you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:4, 5). The time was drawing near, and Christ could say that the Spirit's coming was only days away. Ten days later, the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 1 4). Following this outpouring of the Spirit upon the apostles, the first gospel sermon was preached by the apostle Peter to thousands of Jews who had gathered to see what was happening. Three thousand Jews received God's Word and were baptized into Christ (Acts 2:41). In fulfillment of God's eternal plan, the church was born. Jesus had completed His promise to establish it (Matthew 16:18). The Christian Age, the final age of human history, had started with this establishing of the Lord's church.

The church that Jesus built becomes almost the center of focus throughout the remaining part of the New Testament. Congregations of the Lord's church appear in city after city throughout the Roman Empire. Christianity spreads throughout the world like a raging fire as men and women are added to the kingdom of God through obedience to the Word of the Lord.

This beginning of the church raises the questions "How will this church which Jesus established be designated in the New Testament?" and "How will this church be known?"

A thoughtful reading of the New Testament reveals that the church was created to be a special organism and is, therefore, referred to in a special way by the inspired writers. These designations can be divided into three groups. They are used with marked meaning, expressing function, ownership, and relationship. They were given by divine direction and fulfill a divine purpose. 

Consider carefully the divine designations of the church.


Three designations given to the church in the New Testament relate to the function of the church as a body or an organism. These designations highlight what the Lord's church is in purpose, design, and action.

First, what Christ established is referred to simply as "the church" This phrase means "an assembly of people who have become followers of the Lord." These people are referred to in an assembled sense (1 Corinthians 11: 18 ), a local sense (1 Corinthians 1:2), a regional sense (1 Corinthians 16: 1), and a universal sense (Ephesians 5:23 ). This designation declares the basic meaning of what Christ established--a group of people redeemed by His blood who live for Him, worship Him, and do His work.

Second, the church is referred to as "the body of Christ" (Ephesians 1:22 ,23). This designation is some­times used as an illustration of what the church is like in function (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) and sometimes as a term to indicate what the church actually is, as a term of identification. When used as a designation, this phrase stresses the function as well as the relationship of the church: The church is the spiritual body of Christ on earth, and it is related to Christ as a body is to its head. In this spiritual body of Christ, individual Christians are said to function as "members" of the body, each Christian being a member of it and working as part of the body. Paul writes of the church at Corinth , "Now you are Christ's body, and individually mem­bers of it"' (1 Corinthians 12:27 ).

Third, the church is referred to as "the kingdom" (Acts 8:12). Sometimes the designation is "the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:18,19), and sometimes it is "the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Both phrases reflect the spiritual nature of the dominion and rule of the church/kingdom (John 18:36). The church is a body of followers of Christ who have submitted to the rule of God upon earth. Christ is King and is now reigning over His kingdom, the church (1 Corinthians 15:24,25). Consequently, the church has a divine head or king, and it is governed by divine authority. Members of the church have bowed to the authority of King Jesus and are living as "citizens" of His spiritual kingdom (Philippians 3:20), though they dwell on earth. 

These designations used by the Holy Spirit should not be thought of as mere illustrations. An illustration is an analogy, while a specific designation is a term of identification. The New Testament church is often illustrated in the New Testament: It is like a sheepfold
(John 10:1), a vineyard (Matthew 20:1), or a precious pearl (Matthew 13:45,46). Illustrations illuminate and clarify a thought; they throw light on the subject. These illustrations of the church help us to understand the church better, but they are only illustrations, not designations.


Two designations found in the New Testament emphasize the possession-type of relationship that the church sustains to God and Christ. These designations suggest ownership and leadership.

First, the church is referred to as "the church of Christ." In Paul's conclusion to his letter to the Romans, he sent greetings from the churches of Achaia by saying, "All the churches of Christ greet you" (Romans16:16 ). This designation emphasizes the church's ownership, the church's identity. The church is the church of Christ because Christ founded it, purchased it, owns it, and serves as its head. When we are converted to Christ, we belong to Christ (I Corinthians 6:20 ). We become so completely identified with Christ that we are called Christians, followers of Christ (Acts 11:26 ; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16 ). This special assembly of followers of Christ, then, is called the church of Christ to indicate possession, identity, and fellowship.

Second, the church is referred to as "the church of God " (1 Corinthians 1:2). If the church is designated in the New Testament as the church of Christ, we would also expect it to be referred to as the church of God, for Jesus said that He and His Father are one (John 10:30). God planned the church before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 3:10 , 11). He sent Christ into the world to prepare for the church (Matthew 16:18 ) and to purchase it with His blood (Acts 20:28 ). Just as God was in Christ at the cross reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19 ), even so God was with Christ in the founding and purchasing of the church.

One of the important purposes of designations is to indicate identity. The worst experience I had in grade school came in the sixth grade. I had attended grades one through five in a country two-room school building. During the sixth grade, I was moved to a big city grade school, a school with many rooms and many teachers. It was a big change for me. My teacher was a very good teacher, but she accidentally got my name wrong when I first came. For what seemed to me to be the next six months, she called me by the wrong name. I was frustrated and confused. I felt as though I were another person. At times I felt like saying, "Let me be me! Call me by my real name. I am Eddie, not Charles!" The New Testament church has proper designations, and they should be used. We confuse the identity of the church by using nonbiblical designations for the church.  If a group of people seek to be the New Testament church and want to be known as the New Testament church, they should use the designations in the New Testament for the church. A church can call itself the New Testament church and not be the New Testament church; but if it truly is the New Testament church, it should refer to itself with the proper New Testament language.


Two designations in the New Testament stress the idea of relationship. This is expected, since being a member of the Lord's church involves various relationships.

First, the New Testament describes the church as "the family of God." Paul said we are "of God's household" (Ephesians 2:19 ). He told Timothy that he was writing to him so that he might know how to conduct himself in "the household of God, which is the church of the living God" 0 Timothy 3:15 ). At our conversion to Christ, God adopted us as His children, giving us family privileges and making us heirs with Christ of eternal life (Romans 8:15-17; Ephesians 1:5). So then, as Christians, we have a heavenly Father to pray to and a loving Savior, our elder brother, Jesus, to pray through. We have brothers and sisters to love and look to for encouragement and support (Acts 2:44 ). The early church, therefore, looked at each other as brethren and friends (2 Peter 3:15 ; 3 John 14).

Second, the first-century church was referred to as
"the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). The word "disciple" means learner or follower. Christ had commanded His apostles to go and make disciples in His Great Commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,. . ." (Matthew 28:19). Christians are disciples of Christ. Sometimes the church is simply referred to as "the disciples" (Acts 9:26; 11:26).


If a group of people seek to be
the New Testament church
and want to be known as
the New Testament church,
they s
hould use the designations
in the New Testament
for the church.


The word "disciple" suggests the continual relationship which exists between the Christian and his Lord. The disciple is ever learning from his Lord by imitation and instruction. His Lord is his Master (John 13:13), and he is his Lord's servant (Philippians 1:1).

Third, the New Testament church is called "the temple of God." Paul said to the Christians at Corinth, "Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). The church as an assembly of Christians forms a dwelling place for God. God's sanctuary today is a living body, the church. Individual Christians are thus called "saints" because they are set apart by the gospel to do sacred work and to provide a dwelling place for God (1 Corinthians 1:2).

Fourth, the New Testament in one passage refers to the church as "the church of the first-born" (Hebrews 12:23 ). The church sustains a unique relationship with the future because each member of the church is "enrolled in heaven." The future for the Christian does not hold fear and forebodings because of the eternal hope Christ gives Him. These relationship-type designations give insight into what the church is and how the church should live. They tell us about our life here and our future.

God changed Abram's name to Abraham because the name Abram no longer fit him. Abram was told that he would be the father of a multitude (Genesis 17:5). The name Abram means "exalted father." Abram was a meaningful name, but it would not represent the future Abram would have. The name Abraham means "father of a multitude," a name that would be appropriate for a man who would father a nation of people. The designation God gave Abraham meant something to God and to Abraham. Even so, these designations God gave the church mean something to God, and they should mean much to us.


"Why would God care about how the church is designated?" someone may ask. Is not the answer obvious? These designations identify, characterize, and describe the church. God's planning from eternity past, the earthly ministry of Jesus, and Jesus' sacrificial gift on Calvary are all fulfilled in the establishment of the church. How precious the church must be to God! Do we dare designate His church in other ways than the ways He chose? Assuredly, then, our commitment to being God's church today must be reflected even in the way we designate and describe ourselves. Calling ourselves what God called His church will be at least a beginning place" Of bringing into reality, into living and practice, God's design and function for the church. When we call ourselves what God called the church, we set ourselves on the right track of what we are trying to be and become.


 1.  Recount the events which led to the establishment of the church.
 2.  List the designations of function for the church.
 3.  What is the basic meaning of the word "church"?
 4 .  Briefly discuss the meaning of the word "body" as
a designation of the
 5.  How is the word "kingdom" used in the New Testament in connection with
       the church?
 6.  List the designations of ownership for the Lord's
 7.  Why does Paul refer to the church as "the church of Christ"?
 8.  Why is the church also referred to in the New Testament as "the church of
 9.  Why should we use the designations for the church that are given in the New
10.  List the designations of the church which stress its relationships.
11. Why is the church called "the family of God"?
12. What is the basic meaning of the word "disciple"?
13. In what way is the church "the
temple of God "?
14. Is there really significance in designations?
15. What is accomplished when we refer to the church the way the Bible does?