It was William Shakespeare who opined, “A rose by any other name is still a rose.” Can the same be said about churches? There are lots of strange church names in America. For example, I grew up in a community that boasted “The Naked Truth” Church. Makes one wonder what the “clothed” truth might be!
A survey of the Internet produced these gems: “The Church of God-Zilla, WA” and “Scum of Sinners Bible Chapel, Denver, CO.” Then there is the church for those who want embrace both sides of major theological debates, “Calvin Freewill Baptist Church of Calvin, OK,” and “Waterproof Baptist Church of Waterproof, LA.” And my personal favorite, “Hell for Certain Church” in Kentucky. I wonder what their advertising might sound like? Perhaps “Go to Hell For Certain, services Sundays at 10 am; guests are welcome, members are expected?” It’s unlikely that this is a very large congregation. All this goes to show that the American culture has produced a model of gathering that we call “the Church.” This model may unintentionally communicate the wrong messages, and not just because of the name that hangs out front.
But this is not a new issue for the Church. After the Apostle Paul established a church in Corinth, he had to give instruction to that church correcting their chaotic gatherings. In 1 Corinthians 14 he writes, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.”
The key phrase in Paul’s remarks to this church is this: “Let all things be done for building up.” Much of what is done in churches across America today does not measure up to the Apostle’s challenge. So much of what we do in church is based upon latent desires to recapture our childhood; in too many instances we substitute nostalgia for true devotion to the Lord.
The normative pattern in the New Testament was a church that came together to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, give itself to the public reading of Scripture, and to encourage and build one another up in the faith. The method of doing church in the New Testament matched the message the church proclaimed—which was simply Jesus! It is amazing how far we can stray from that fundamental message. In fact, Paul opened his letter to the Corinth Church with this statement found in 1 Corinthians 2:2: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” How would our weekly gathering look different if this became our single purpose? How would our personal evangelism improve if this became our central thought and proclamation? It is very easy to get distracted with secondary issues and divisive doctrines. May are single proclamation be Jesus and His glory!
I recently heard about a church that felt compelled to change its name from “Calvary” to “Pentecostal.” Although I completely understand the practical concerns of modern church marketing, this caused me to reflect on the challenges of the culture in which we live. Have we strayed so far from the intention of the gospel that we would rather define ourselves by our denominational delineations than by the power of the cross of Christ? I ask the question not to malign or criticize the decisions local assemblies make in choosing a name, but to remind all of us that the Church is about so much more than just our personal preferences and unique doctrines. The Church is all about Jesus! May our lives and gatherings echo the words of the one who established His Church: “Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”