That immense significance attends the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” is made evident by the context in which the phrase often appears. In the inaugural address of the gospel, Peter quoted from the prophet Joel, “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21; cf. Joel 2:32). Many years later, the apostle Paul declared, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for ‘Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:12-13). These passages clearly associate “calling on the name of the Lord” with salvation. Is it important for sinful man to call upon the Lord? In light of the passages cited, eternal salvation depends upon it.
But what does it mean to “call upon Him” as mentioned by the apostle (Romans 10:12)? Unfortunately, many have concluded that one need only to call out, “Lord, save me,” or to pray some similar sentiment in order to be saved, i.e, “the sinner’s prayer.” However, the emphatic declaration of Jesus addressing those who simply cry out to Him forbids such an interpretation. Jesus affirmed, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Jesus also asked in stinging rebuke: “And why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46). Based upon the Lord’s own words, it is evident that to “call upon the name of the Lord” in order to be saved must denote far more than merely pronouncing the Lord’s name in a verbal request to be saved as generally taught among sectarian bodies today.
What is the meaning, then, of this particular phrase? Beginning in the late 20th century and continuing into the present day church of Christ, the most common assessment of “calling on the name of the Lord” is that the phrase equates with primary obedience. Commenting on Acts 22:16 in an article intended to explain the meaning of “calling on the name of the Lord,” Wayne Jackson (a prominent writer and speaker in the church of Christ), says, “…the New Testament makes it apparent that the person who submits to baptism, in order to receive pardon, is calling on the name of the Lord…All who wish to enjoy the remission of past sins will call on the name of the Lord by obeying the gospel plan of redemption” (N. D., Acts 2:21 – Calling on the Lord’s Name).
James Coffman expounds, “Can it be believed that calling upon the Lord without faith, repentance, confession, and baptism would avail anything? Oh, but one says this implies faith. Of course it does, and all the other things required in becoming a Christian are also implied…repentance, confession, and baptism are all necessary to any effective calling upon the Lord...calling upon the name of the Lord has reference to obeying the gospel (in its four primary steps)” (1973, Romans, pp. 356-357, italics in orig.). It is not being suggested that either of these brethren would refuse what will be proffered in the remainder of this article, but simply to point out that “calling on the Lord” is typically designated by current esteemed scholars in the church of Christ as associated only with primary obedience.
Those preaching that “calling on the name of the Lord” commences with primary obedience are absolutely correct. However, is primary obedience alone exhaustive of what God intends by the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord”? The unintended consequence of preachers explaining “calling on the name of the Lord” as an activity satisfied in primary obedience alone has been the abandonment of worship by many who perceive it is impossible to lose salvation once it has been attained through initial obedience to the four primary steps. If the church teaches the unlearned that “calling on the name of the Lord” for salvation is completed at primary obedience, what conclusion will these reach other than once saved always saved?
While it is true that Christians commence “calling on the name of the Lord” at the time of obedience to the gospel (Acts 22:16), the salvific action of “calling on His name” ceases not through the remainder of life. David Lipscomb and J. W. Shepherd labored under no such allusion or pretense that the “four primary steps” satisfied the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord,” recognizing instead, “the phrase expresses not so much an individual act of invocation, as an habitual state of mind and its appropriate expression ” (Lipscomb, 1935, p. 21). “Calling on the name of the Lord” cannot be limited to the occasion of conversion, but must be recognized as a continual process of devotion and faithfulness.
Paul instructed the young evangelist, Timothy, “Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). The Greek verb epikaleo is used here in the present tense, signifying “an action in process or a state of being with no assessment of the action’s completion” (Heiser, 2005, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology). Paul characterizes Christians as those who “call on the Lord from a pure heart” – not in relation to precedent acts of obedience for becoming Christians, but in present devotion for remaining Christians. Again, it is evident that the phrase has immense significance beyond primary obedience.
One of the best ways to understand any particular word or phrase in the New Testament is to examine its usage from the Old Testament. Since “calling on the name of the Lord” or a similar phrase is common in the Old Testament, an examination of the Hebrew usage should yield a proper connotation of the phrase as understood by the Jewish audience who were familiar with Peter’s recitation of the prophet Joel’s words, “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).
Old Testament Precedence
The procedure of “calling on the name of the Lord” dates to the times of Adam and Eve (cf. Genesis 4:26), but a clearer understanding of the phrase emits from the time of Abram. Following the call of Abram to leave his country and journey to the land God had promised to give him, Abram took his family and possessions and “set out for the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12:5). Upon arrival, Abram proceeded to a mountain east of Bethel, “and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8). Wherever Abram “pitched his tent,” an altar was also built upon which he could worship, “calling on the name of the Lord” (cf. Genesis 13:4; 13:18).
The obvious implication is that Abram honored God in worship, invoking God as his Creator, Protector, and Sustainer. Abram did not simply cry unto the name of God, but he invoked in the name of God, offering worship in compliance with the Lord’s precepts and commands. That Abram always worshipped according to divine directive is unquestionably demonstrated in the offering of Isaac (Genesis 22). However, when Abraham “called on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 21:33), he not only honored God through authorized acts of worship, but he did so with a disposition of reverence and sincerity – worshipping God as God.
The same was true with Abraham’s son, Isaac. When God appeared to Isaac at Beersheba, promising to bless him and multiply his descendents, Isaac “built an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 26:25). Like his father before him, Isaac worshipped in honor and reverence of God as God. He “called upon the name of the Lord,” not in obedience to a specific command or duty, but through determination to bestow upon God the admiration and homage due the Sovereign Creator of heaven and earth. Isaac worshipped God when he “called upon the name of the Lord.”
In the great confrontation on Mount Carmel, Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of Baal to “call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God” (1 Kings 18:24). The 450 prophets invoked the name of Baal from morning until evening, but no response was forthcoming. After inviting the people to approach where they could witness the entire proceedings, Elijah rebuilt the altar torn down by Jezebel using 12 stones. Having arranged the wood and the portions of the bullock on the altar as a burnt offering to God, Elijah ordered four pitchers of water to be poured out on the altar. He then ordered it to be repeated a second and a third time, making 12 pitchers of water emptied onto the altar of sacrifice.
At the appointed time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah called on the name of the Lord and immediately fire fell from the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and all that surrounded the altar. Elijah’s calling on the name of the Lord issued in the form of a prayer connected with the worship of God. The name of God was invoked publicly so that the people of Israel would recognize that Elijah claimed no power of his own, but he honored Jehovah God as the Supreme Being, “calling on the name of the Lord.”
The 116th Psalm, likely penned by Hezekiah following his deliverance from death as narrated in Isaiah 38, again portrays very vividly the meaning of “calling upon the name of the Lord.” The Psalter describes how, when very near death and in great distress, he “called upon the name of the Lord” (v. 4). Here the phrase denotes prayer; uttered from a devoted heart as recorded in the verses which followed (vv. 5ff).
Having received answer to his prayer in the form of restored health, the Psalter considers what he could possibly do to show proper appreciation to God (v. 12). He concluded, saying, “I shall lift up the cup of salvation, and call upon the Lord. I shall pay my vows to the Lord, Oh may it be in the presence of all his people” (vv. 13-14). Acknowledging himself as the servant of the Lord, he promises, “To Thee I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the Lord. I shall pay my vows to the Lord, Oh may it be in the presence of all His people” (vv. 17-18).
Twice we find the Psalter determining to “call upon the name of the Lord.” The phrase is bracketed by precisely similar language in both instances. That the intention is to offer public worship seems insuperable. With a gracious heart of thanksgiving, the Psalter longs to call upon the name of the Lord in public worship, demonstrating that he believes the Lord is worthy to be praised. And when it is recalled that the 116th Psalm constitutes a song, the act of calling on the name of the Lord embraces praying, singing, thanking, and praising in public worship. While private acts of devotion are commendable, true worshippers of God recognize the need to address the Creator publicly, in the midst of a congregation of believers (cf. Hebrews 2:12). A devilish grin would surely adorn the face of Satan if he could induce all acts of worship to be done in total secrecy.
In the Old Testament, the practice of “calling on the name of the Lord” is associated with invoking the name of God in worship. It is the means by which adoration, respect, honor, and reverence are shown to God. The act of “calling on the name of the Lord” includes not only the submissive acts of obedience, but is also inclusive of prayer and genuine heartfelt desire to openly honor God in worship, publicly acknowledging His greatness and supremacy. This is how Abraham, Isaac, Elijah, and the people of God in the Old Testament “called upon the name of the Lord.”
In contradistinction to the people of God, Jeremiah petitioned God against the wicked people of his day, saying, “Pour out Thy wrath on the nations that do not know Thee, and on the families that do not call on Thy name” (Jeremiah 10:25). The reference undoubtedly concerns the Gentiles, who at that time did not revere and honor God in worship. However, following the arrival of Messiah, it would be the Gentiles that would begin streaming into the “house of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:2). Jehovah spoke of those who would be refined as silver and gold, saying, “They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God’” (Zechariah 13:9; cf. 1 Peter 2:9-10). The prophet Amos also looked ahead and spoke for God concerning “all the nations upon whom My name is invoked” (Amos 9:12).
The verse from Amos was quoted by James at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:17) with reference to Gentile Christians who were being denied a place of equality in the church by Jewish antagonists. When Gentiles commenced “calling on the name of the Lord” the same as Abraham, Isaac, and Elijah had done, God allotted them a place of equality in the church alongside the Jew (cf. Romans 10:12). Precedence from the Old Testament indicates “calling on the name of the Lord” was associated with obedience, prayer, reverent public worship through song and praise, and faithful devotion throughout life.
The New Testament Correlative
In the initial proclamation of the gospel, Peter asserted to his Pentecostian auditors, “And it shall be that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). Is it possible for one to be saved under the New Covenant in the absence of devoted allegiance and reverent worship throughout life? If not, then it must be admitted that “calling on the name of the Lord” is not satisfied by merely complying with the terms of primary obedience, but must also include prayer, praise, and worship by which one maintains salvation as it did in the Old Testament. Faithful Christians never cease to “call on the name of the Lord.”
The practice of “calling on the name of the Lord” is the expressed determination to reverence, honor, and worship the Lord. How many have been baptized for the remission of sins while possessing no intention whatsoever of devoting themselves in worship and adoration of the Lord? And even more shameful, how many have been hastened to the baptismal pool who were never properly instructed that “calling on the name of the Lord” embraces a lifelong commitment of worship and adoration? In the rush to baptize, the Scriptural import of “calling on the name of the Lord” has disappeared from the dialogue of preachers and teachers in far too many instances.
Perhaps a quick overview of the original language will awaken a sense of urgency in teaching people the true significance of the phrase. In English translations of the New Testament, the words “call upon” are the most common translation of the Greek epikaleo. Ceslas Spicq defines epikaleo, to “invoke, call upon” (1994, p. 44). Epikaleo signifies an activity that must accompany all other acts of obedience. One cannot remain a faithful Christian who does not “call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
In his Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, Alfred Marshall translates Acts 22:16: “Rising up, be baptized and wash away the sins of thee, invoking the name of him” (1993, pp. 417-18). He further translates the word “invoking” or “invokes” into passages such as Acts 2:21, Acts 7:59, Acts 9:21, etc.). The invocation is commonly used as an appeal to a higher power or authority capable of providing help, aid, or assistance. It is an appeal made through the proper avenue or protocol established by the higher authority, as seen in the case of Saul being commanded to submit to baptism in order to wash away his sins, “calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).
Paul also used the term epikaleo in the manner of an appeal in those passages where he appealed his judicial hearings to Caesar (Acts 25:11, 12, 21, 25; 26:32; 28:19). It should be noted that Paul was legally bound by Roman protocol in every venue as he made his appeal. Those who “call upon the name of the Lord” in some instances may properly be described as those who “appeal” to the Lord when in great need. An example of such an appeal is the case of Steven in Acts 7:59.
W. E. Vine says epikaleo “is used of being declared to be dedicated to a person, as to the Lord, Acts 15:17 (from Amos 9:12); Jas. 2:7…‘to call upon, invoke’; in the middle voice, ‘to call upon for oneself’ (i.e., on one’s behalf), Acts 7:59…‘to call upon by way of adoration, making use of the Name of the Lord,’ Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:12-14; 2 Tim. 2:22” (1996, p. 86). This demonstrates the variety of ways in which the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” appears in Scripture.
Concerning its usage in passages such as Acts 2:21; 9:14, 21; 22:16; Romans 10:13f; 1 Corinthians 1:2, celebrated scholar J. H. Thayer defines epikaleo, “to invoke, adore, worship, the Lord,’ i.e., Christ” (1958, p. 239). Here we find continuity with the meaning evident in the Old Testament. To “call upon the name of the Lord” is to worship the Lord, to adore the Lord, and to invoke the Lord. Of course, acceptable worship demands obedience to the Lord’s commands as Abram demonstrated, but devoted worship and adoration from a pure heart extends well beyond the sinner’s primary obedience.
Calling on the Name of the Lord includes Worship of Christ
For many in the church today, the remainder of this article may very well bring about quite a shock, but it is for this reason that the article has principally been written. In Thayer’s definition cited above, he equates the Lord who is to be invoked, adored, and worshipped as a reference to Christ. His assessment is absolutely correct and the consequences far reaching, even into eternity. In the New Testament, it is the name of Jesus Christ that is invoked, adored, and worshipped.
Hodge conveys, “Unto all who call upon him, i.e. who invoke him or worship him, agreeably to the frequent use of the phrase in the Old and New Testament” (1872, p. 256). Jesus must be recognized as “Lord and God” (cf. John 20:28), and He must be afforded the suitable adoration and worship worthy of God. Initial obedience begins the Christians life, but “calling on the name of the Lord (Christ)” attends the Christian life.
Noted church historian and respected commentator, Phillip Schaff, sagely observed, “In the Old Testament the identical Hebrew phrase (as also in the LXX. Greek), ‘to call on the name of Jehovah,’ means, as every one knows, ‘to invoke’ or ‘worship Jehovah.’ When, then, we find a phrase already so familiar and so dear to devout Jewish ears transferred to Christians, defining them as ‘callers upon,’ ‘invokers,’ or ‘worshippers of’ Christ—and this incorporated among the household words of the churches—what can we conclude but that the first Christians were taught to regard their Master as the rightful Heir, in human flesh, of all the worship which the ancient Church had been trained jealously to render to Jehovah alone?” (1883, A Popular Commentary on the New Testament, Acts 2:21, italics in orig.).
Paul addresses the First Corinthian letter “to the church of God at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2). The verb “call upon” is written in present tense and in middle voice; Paul indicates that he is writing to those everywhere who invoke, adore, and worship Jesus Christ. The present tense verb implies an ongoing activity, and the middle voice highlights the strong individual interest of each Christian in reverencing Jesus as Lord.
When Paul cites, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13), the name under consideration is the name of Jesus Christ. No man can be saved who does not invoke, adore, and worship Jesus Christ. What, then, becomes of those currently in the church who refuse worship to Christ, claiming only the Father is to be worshipped? A misunderstanding of what it means to “call upon the name of the Lord” has resulted in many denying one of the most precious precepts of Christianity, i.e., the worship of Jesus Christ. I know this because I was numbered among those in that deplorable condition for too many years before coming to knowledge of the truth.
From the earliest days of Christianity, believers were designated as those who “call upon the name of the Lord.” Another historian of the practices observed by early Christians is Joseph Bingham, who authored the book, The Antiquities of the Christian Church. Of special interest is the evaluation he assigns to the phrase “call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” Bingham wrote in regards to the worship of Christ, “so common was this practice, that among other titles of the believers, at their first rise and appearance in the world, they were distinguished by the character of those that called on the name of Christ…they were called invokers, or worshippers of Christ, before the name Christian was known in the world” (1878, 1:576).
Bingham includes many quotes from the writings of early Christians. Concerning 1 Corinthians 1:2, he quotes Origen, who explained: “With all that call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,’ declares him to be God, whose name was called upon. And if to call upon the name of the Lord, and to adore God, be one and the self-same thing; then as Christ is called upon, so is he to be adored; and as we offer to God the Father first of all prayers, so we must also to the Lord Jesus Christ; and as we offer supplications to the Father, so do we also to the Son; and as we offer thanksgivings to God, so do we offer thanksgivings to our Savior. For the Holy Scriptures teach us, that the same honour is to be given to both, that is, to God the Father and the Son, when it says, ‘That they may honour the Son, as they honour the Father” (op. cit., p. 581).
When Christ summoned Ananias to go to Saul of Tarsus, Ananias offered the rebuttal that Saul “has authority from the chief priest to bind all who call upon Thy name” (Acts 9:14; emp. added). In the same way that ancient Patriarchs were characterized as worshippers of God when they “called upon the name of the Lord,” 1st Century Christians were recognized as worshippers of Jesus Christ when they “called upon His name.” After Saul’s conversion, he immediately “began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogue, saying ‘He is the Son of God.’ And all those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, ‘Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name…?” (Acts 9:20-21).
Saul was guilty of “ravaging the church” (Acts 8:3), persecuting the Lord Himself (Acts 9:4-5). However, he wasn’t laying hold of new converts fresh out of the baptismal pool to persecute, but “entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (Acts 8:3). Saul arrested those who called on the name of Christ, rendering allegiance to Him as Lord. Ceslas Spicq noted that the church “is the gathering of those who adore Christ, who celebrate his worship” (op. cit., p. 45).
It is unfortunate that so many in the modern day church of Christ exhibit great ignorance regarding the requirement of Christians to worship Christ. Leading voices in the church during the 19th and early 20th century heralded the worship of Christ. McGarvey and Pendleton wrote, “One must call upon Jesus as he directs, and must worshipfully accept him as the Son and Revelation from God” (1916, p. 429).
The Gospel Advocate Commentary from the early 20th century states, “To call upon is to invoke his aid. To call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord is to invoke his aid as Christ, the Messiah predicted by the prophets, and as our almighty and sovereign possessor and ruler. It is in that sense that Jesus is Lord…To call upon Jesus as Lord is therefore to worship him. It looks to him for that help which God only can give. All Christians, therefore, are the worshippers of Christ” (Lipscomb, 1935, p. 21, emp. added). These things were never heard in the church of my youth. For shame!
Calling on the Name of the Lord Includes Prayer to Christ
Discussing 1 Corinthians 1:2, Marvin Vincent explains how the phrase “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus” is “used of worship, and here implies prayer to Christ. The first christian (sic) prayer recorded as heard by Saul of Tarsus, was Steven’s prayer to Christ, Acts 7:59” (1887, 3:186). McGarvey regards the phrase as “an expression equivalent to prayer. It is, of course, acceptable prayer which is intended, and it therefore implies the existence of that disposition and conduct necessary to acceptable worship” (1863, p. 32).
Again, what will become of those in the modern church who not only refuse to pray to Christ themselves, but stand openly and vehemently opposed to anyone invoking the name of the Lord Jesus in prayer? To contend that “we do not pray to Jesus Christ” is an egregious doctrinal flaw; but this continues to be commonly espoused by elders and preachers in the church today. Based upon the inspired evidence, to even hint that Christians may not “call upon” Jesus in prayer and worship is wholly inconsistent with scriptural teaching. In fact, such is essentially disobedience to the divine precept under consideration.
Directing prayer to Jesus is a mark of faith in Him as the Messiah. When Steven realized death was inescapable, He bravely invoked the name of Christ. As stones were hurled mercilessly upon him, Steven “called upon the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). This direct appeal to Christ is characterized as “he called upon the Lord.” Steven was demonstrating his absolute faith in Jesus as Messiah by beseeching Him in prayer, asking Jesus to receive his spirit at death. Steven’s prayer indicates he believed Jesus to be true God, worthy to be “called upon,” even in the time of death.
James Coffman admitted, “The peculiar construction here has the effect of making ‘calling upon the Lord’ equivalent to praying to Jesus personally. This is one of the few prayers in the NT directed to the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than to the Father through him” (1977, p. 147). (Note: The NT contains no less than 12 prayers addressed to Christ and 24 benedictions – TLW; see article Is Jesus Worthy of Worship).
H. Leo Boles connected prayer with calling on the Lord, saying, “Steven’s prayer was made to Jesus to receive his spirit. The prayer to Jesus was equivalent to calling on the Lord (Acts 9:21; 22:16; 1 Cor. 1:2” (1989 reprint, p. 120). Vincent commented that Steven’s petition was “an unquestionable prayer to Christ” (1887, 1:486, italics in orig.).
Albert Barnes says Steven “was engaged in prayer to the Lord Jesus… This was, therefore, an act of worship; a solemn invocation of the Lord Jesus, in the most interesting circumstances in which a man can be placed – in his dying moments. And this shows that it is right to worship the Lord Jesus, and to pray to Him. For if Steven was inspired, it settles the question. The example of an inspired man, in such circumstances, is safe and correct example (1885, p. 135, italics in orig.).
Barnes qualified the phrase from 1 Corinthians 1:2 as indicating Christ is worthy of both prayer and worship: “To call upon the name of any person, in Scripture language, is to call on the person himself…The expression to ‘call upon the name’… implies worship, and prayer; and proves (1.) that the Lord Jesus was an object of worship; and (2.) that one characteristic of the early Christians, by which they were known and distinguished, was their calling on the name of the Lord Jesus, or their offering worship to him…and that the early Christians called on Christ in prayer” (op. cit., pp. 2, 3).
Joseph Bingham cited a letter from Novatian as proof that early Christians argued for the deity and worship of Christ. Novatian conveyed, “He is present in all places that call upon him; which belongs not to the nature of man, but God…which kind of prayers would be of no use if he were a mere man; and from our obligations to fix our hope on him, which would be a curse rather than a blessing, if he were not God, as well as man” (op. cit., p. 583). The early post-apostolic church knew of no heavenly sanction against directing prayers to Christ as God. In fact, it was their worship of Christ that precipitated the severe persecution they often encountered. The early church worshiped Christ, invoking His name in public prayer.
“Calling on the name of the Lord” includes praying to Jesus Christ as Lord and God; yet when was the last time you heard a prayer addressed to Christ? When was the last Bible lesson you heard indicating Christ is worthy of worship and prayer by the church? In contradistinction, for many, the time has probably been short since you have heard some preacher or elder say, “We don’t pray to Jesus Christ, or to the Holy Spirit; we pray to God.” Who do we think the term “God” embraces in the Bible?
Unfortunately, many in the church have lost sight that the term “God” is not a synonym for “the Father.” Paul spoke of the “church of God which He (God) purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). It wasn’t the Father who purchased the church, but Christ purchased the church; shedding the blood of His human body on the cross. Paul later instructed Christians to be “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us” (Titus 3:13).
Christ is God (John 1:1, 14), and although the Bible clearly presents Christ as an authorized recipient of prayer (Acts 7:59-60) and thanksgiving (1 Timothy 1:12), it is only the Father who is petitioned in large segments of the church of Christ in America. Even at the Lord’s Table, God the Father receives every word of thanks for the sacrificial suffering and death of Christ!?! In the church of my youth, not a solitary word of thanksgiving was ever uttered to Christ who condescended to become man, voluntarily bearing the brunt of sin on the cross for us (cf. Philippians 2:6ff; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The early church poured out their thanksgivings to Christ and to the fullness of the Godhead; petitioning the triune Persons of the Supreme Being revealed as God.
The author has written a song which includes the line, “When through the pearly gates I pass I’ll hit my knees, giving thanks to Him who died for me” (White, 2003, “That Glorious Day,” v. 2). In the case of many misguided souls, it may be the first word of thanks they have ever heard spoken to Christ. But Paul affirmed, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Timothy 1:12). With respect to blessings received, Paul “gives Christ the glory of them, and thanks him for them” (Gill, 1999). Kenneth Wuest comments, “The words ‘I thank’ are literally ‘I have constant gratitude to.’ It is not a mere statement of the fact of being grateful, but a revelation of Paul’s constant attitude of gratefulness” (1997).
Calling on the Name of the Lord Includes Speaking to Christ
It is very interesting to note the activities associated with the worship of Christ while He was in the natural flesh of humanity. For example, when Christ was born, Magi arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” Locating Christ with His mother, “they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). The association between worship and their giving of gifts is undeniable in this context.
When the mature Christ later traveled into the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon, He encountered a Canaanite woman whose daughter was demon possessed. Although a Gentile, the woman reflected real knowledge concerning Jesus, crying out repeatedly, “Have mercy on me, Lord, you Son of David” (Matthew 15:22). This title is Messianic; revealing an acute awareness of Jesus’ identity. When the disciples inquired about sending her away, the woman approached Jesus “and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’” (Matthew 15:25). Notice it is the woman’s words which constitute the act of worship emanating from her heart.
The woman was convinced that Jesus was more than any mere man, and that He was fully capable of releasing her daughter from the torment of the demon. Bowing before Him in worship, she pleaded, “Lord, help me!” This worshipful request was honored at once by the Lord, and her daughter was healed. Christ was worshiped on this occasion by the intent of the words directed to Him. The woman petitioned Him in worship, and her petition was heard and answered by Christ.
A similar case involves the worship Jesus received from His disciples after He came walking to them on the water. Upon rescuing Peter and returning to the boat, “the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’” (Matthew 14:32-33). The disciples, astonished by Jesus and recognizing Him as a Person of deity, “worshiped Him, saying…” It is the vocalized statement of truth concerning the nature of Christ that constitutes the act of worship in this narrative.
Grammatically, the present active participle (“saying”) indicates how the aorist verb (“worshiped”) is performed. The disciples “worshiped” Jesus by means of “saying” to Him, “You are certainly God’s Son!” These men were not speaking “about” Christ, but they were speaking directly “to” Christ. As Jackson observed, “This was no mere respectful tribute. It acknowledged deity” (2011, p. 34).
Jesus was worshiped by the intent of the words spoken to Him. In confessing His true nature as deity, the disciples worshiped Jesus by humbly speaking an admission of supremacy directly to Him. In that “calling on the name of the Lord” includes worship, and the act of speaking words to Christ is designated as “worship,” it must be understood that “calling on the name of the Lord” includes words of confession that acknowledge Christ as Lord and God; words that are spoken directly to Christ in worship.
Calling on the Name of the Lord Includes Singing to Christ
Those forbidding prayer or any form of speech to Christ in the modern church are nearly unanimous in also forbidding songs that address Christ. However, to “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” is to adore and praise Him as God. In issuing instructions to the church at Ephesus, Paul authorizes, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). The pertinent question is: Who is the “Lord” to whom the church directs psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? While many argue the reference is to God the Father, Paul’s ordinary use of the term “Lord” denies such.
The term “Lord” is most commonly applied to Jesus in the New Testament, appearing with reference to Christ more than 600 times. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul refers to the “Lord” approximately 25 times (dependent upon the particular Greek text), and in not one single instance does Paul use the term specifically in reference to the Father. In the same sentence where Paul instructs the church to sing to the “Lord,” he right away refers to the “Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20). The Lord’s apostle did not hesitate to command the church to offer songs of praise and adoration to Christ; a means by which Christians “call on His name.”
Everett Ferguson, a premier historian of ancient Christian history, conveys, “…hymns were often addressed to Christ (and the Old Testament Psalms were understood in the church as about Christ” (1971, p. 156). That the early post-apostolic church honored Christ in song according to divine precept is witnessed in a letter authored by Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Younger), Governor of Bithynia, written to the Roman Emperor, Trajan (c. 112 A.D.), regarding what should be done with Christians who were in the “habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god” (Epistle X, 96).
Ferguson commented on this particular letter, saying, “Hymns to Christ as divine were the most striking thing to Pliny about Christian gatherings. It does coincide with what we know of the early hymnic material… to see the deity of Christ as the central content, for the early hymns were principally confessions of faith” (op. cit., pp. 83-4). He further noted, “In these early hymns and poems one can sense the vibrancy and joy in the Christian faith with which ‘Christ is sung’” (op. cit., p. 162).
In too many modern-day assemblies, it is the Father alone who is honored as God. Every word of thanksgiving, every prayer, every song, and every other act of worship is intentionally directed exclusively to the Father. Some edit their song books, black-listing hymns that address or praise Christ in any form or fashion; others have labored to publish a church hymnal that excludes any song that addresses Christ. It seems the greatness of Christ may be joyously proclaimed to the world, but not a word of praise uttered to Him.
Despite the fact that Christ possesses “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), He has been deemed by some as unworthy of praise and petition. Not only do they fail to retain the standard of doctrine espoused by the New Testament church which Paul characterized as those who “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2), but these dissenters are also conspicuously unlike the historical church of the early second century who openly expressed their belief in Christ as God through song, prayer, and confessions of tribute.
It is regrettable that many in the church today refuse to worship Christ in the manner that He was worshiped while on earth (Matthew 14:33; 28:9, 17) and even by His disciples immediately following His ascension (Luke 24:51-52). To argue that Christ is presently unworthy of the same acts of worship He received while on earth is to ascribe Christ with having digressed in worthiness of honor following His ascension. But this assessment is untenable based upon the fact that it was in the ascension that Christ was to regain the “glory” that was His “before the world was” (John 17:5; cf. Philippians 2:9-11). Could it really be true that, following His return to former glory, He has now become less-worthy to receive worship than He was while on earth? God Forbid!
Contrary to this absurd reasoning, the New Testament evinces that Christ is God (John 1:1) and worthy of all honor (John 5:23); honor that is expressed through speaking (Matthew 14:33), through singing (Ephesians 5:19), through praying (Acts 7:59-60), and through thanksgiving (1 Timothy 1:12). Commenting on the exaltation of Christ discussed in Philippians 2:9-10, Lipscomb acknowledged: “God so highly exalted Jesus above every other being that all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth bow the knee to him. To bow the knee is to worship him and implore a divine being” (1939, pp. 183-85). Calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ involves every aspect of acceptable worship, including the songs directed to Him.
Extolling the greatness and supremacy of Jesus Christ is a consistent theme and vital doctrine of the church on the pages of the New Testament. In fact, even in those ancient times of the Old Testament when men like Abraham and Isaac “called on the name of the Lord,” they were literally addressing the God they personally knew through appearances of the divine nature presented before them; but the exhibited nature was not that of the Father, but of the pre-incarnate Christ. No man has seen the Father (John 6:46), but men saw God, and subsequently “called upon the name of the Lord” whom they had seen (Genesis 12:7-8).
These men of great faith honored and worshipped the God who communicated with them and who accompanied them, but this was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4, 9). They were set apart from the wicked world around them by their obedience to the divine standard and their willful determination to “call on the name of the Lord” whom they knew. In so doing, they trusted their lives into His hands and were not ashamed to worship Him publicly, devotedly “calling on His name” throughout the duration of life.
Based upon the context in which the phrase occurs in the New Testament, “calling on the name of the Lord” includes: (1) obedience to the gospel plan of salvation; (2) the worship of Jesus Christ; (3) prayer to Christ; (4) faithful service to Christ for the duration of life. A failure by the church to convey all of these pertinent facts in recent times has resulted in many obeying the gospel, but few who remain faithful to their commitment. We have persuaded many to be baptized in order to attain salvation, but we have not persuaded them to “call on the name of the Lord” continually as the means of maintaining salvation.
Concerning the Greek verb epikaleo, Spicq observes how it is used “to set apart a people, a city, or a sanctuary to worship and serve God, on account of which God protects them” (op. cit., p. 44). In the New Testament, the invocation of the name of Christ is always connected with salvation. The Lord will only save those from sin who obey His will, calling on His name from pure hearts (cf. Hebrews 5:9; 2 Timothy 2:22). Many may be found who have attempted to call on Christ apart from obedience, and many may also be found who have obeyed the prerequisite steps of salvation, but have refused to “invoke, adore, and worship” Christ as God. Neither of these groups are “calling on the name of the Lord” in accordance with the New Testament pattern.
When Peter quoted, “And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21), the reference is to all who obey from the heart every commandment of Christ spoken through His commissioned apostles, and who bow before Christ in worship, giving all honor, glory, and adoration to Him whose name is above every name. Acknowledging the worthiness of Christ, Warren commented, “Christ is worthy of man’s deepest adoration and worship and sufficient to supply man’s every need” (1962, p. 187).
The most important question for all today is a self-searching one: Have I obeyed the teachings of Christ, devoting myself to the worship and adoration of Christ as God? To fail in either of these particulars is to neglect the plan of salvation instituted by Christ. To “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” is a continual commitment to obey, praise, honor, and worship Christ as God.
Lipscomb and Shepherd explained that those calling on the name of the Lord are committing “themselves unto him as their Lord and Master…[From the moment we believe on him we are thence forward never to ignore his name. He is to be recognized in every act and guidance and blessing constantly invoked]” (1986 reprint, pp. 192-93; brackets in orig., denoting words of editor, J. W. Shepherd).
Let us all heed the clarion call, casting aside the misguided instructions and the vain teachings of uninspired men, taking “delight in the law of God” (Romans 7:22) and in “the word implanted, which is able to save [our] souls” (James 1:21). Lord Jesus, as Christians and devoted servants, we call on Your name as our Great God and Savior, beseeching forgiveness for past offenses, and offering thanksgivings for the cleansing power of Your precious blood. Accept the worship of Your people as we humbly prostrate ourselves before You, the incomparable I AM, the true God and eternal life. Amen.
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