Saturday, April 05, 2008

What's In A Church Name?

We usually drive when we go to my parent's home in Florida. They live in the Florida panhandle, so it's about a 14-15 hour drive when the whole family goes. I made it in approx 13 hours once when I went by myself--not nearly as many potty stops. Anyhooo, along the route we go (Tulsa-Arkansas-corner of Louisiana-Mississippi-panhandle of Alabama-Florida), we pass through some pretty small towns; some of them REALLY small. What's interesting is to see some of the names of the churches in those small towns. Like any good small town, there are always at least two churches--one for each corner.

There is the usual First [Second, and even Third] Baptist, First [United] Medodist, First Assembly of God. There are quite a few A.M.E. churches along the way, especially in the lower parts of Arkansas. Some of the church names are a little more creative or out of the ordinary than others. Mt. Zion Baptist Church seems to be pretty popular. Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church is another good one. There's Morning Star Baptist, St. Peter and St. Paul AME churches (I hope one is not robbing one to pay the other). I even heard of one church in Arkansas called Lily of the Valley Church of God in Christ--that pretty much covers it! One of my favorite church names is King Solomon Baptist Church. I don't know, but I just have an aversion to naming a church after a known womanizer.

So what does the name of a church say about its congregants? What does it say about the church's doctrine or beliefs. The Baptist, Methodist, AG, or AME churches should be pretty easy. But what about the more obscure names. The trend lately seems to be finding a name that still sorta says "church," but doesn't really commit to any one system of theology/doctrine. I'm talking about churches named "Woodlake-A Christian Community" or "Compass Pointe Fellowship." There's one church named "Oak Leaf Church" (they went ahead and used the "C" word); I heard they refer to the church as "The Leaf." Hmmm. I wonder if I can find a church named "The Bark" or "The Stone" or...I digress.

I'm thinking about all this church name stuff because I recently encountered a church--whose privacy I will respect because they obviously WANT to remain anonymous (you'll see in a minute)--that exercises an interesting "method" regarding their name. It all started when I stumbled upon this church's website. They were planning a big Easter service, complete with easter egg hunt for the kiddos AND a motorcycle to be given away to one lucky adult attendee! The church name, [-----] Christian Church, implied the congregation was part of what is known as the Restoration Movement (Christian Church/Churches of Christ) churches. I recognized that several of the staff had attend CC colleges. When I checked out their "what we believe" page, I noticed a couple of things that appeared to be missing.

If you know anything about CC's, you know that they refer to themselves as New Testament churches or sometimes Bible Churches. They have no national governing body and no national convention where they "vote" on resolutions, etc. A couple of things they do believe is that baptism is not only an integral part of salvation, it is THE point and time in which one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. In fact, you rarely hear of someone being "saved" in a CC; they are "baptized." The words are used interchangably because they believe baptism is the point and time one IS saved. They also believe that an individual can lose their salvation. I've heard some refer to it as "divorcing" God--simply deciding one does not want to be saved any longer. Neither of these things were mentioned on the website. (Just for the record, I attended a CC for 16 years; even served as an Elder before leaving four years ago. I never believed either of these doctrines. I just attended the church because it was the one my wife was raised in. I eventually grew weary of their infatuation with Rick Warren and Bill Hybels.)

So I contacted the church and asked if they were indeed affiliated with the Restoration Churches and if so, was the omission of the two "doctrines" I mentioned above intentional. Their response? "Yes, are a Restoration Movement church and yes, those doctrines were purposely omitted from the website." Why? "Several of our staff lean more toward 'Baptist' doctrines/beliefs.'"

My question is: How can you say you're part of a church/organization, but are not willing to publicly align yourself with their historically accepted doctrines? The answer: contextualization. It's all about making yourself as appealing as possible so that you don't offend or scare anybody off. It obviously works.


same said...

‘Believe and be baptized’ and the danger of falling away? The bible says all I have to say about this matter.
I was going to say who’s Rick Warren and what’s a Bill Hybels, so I did a search and I found this link about consumer Christianity (McMahon, T.A.
February 1, 2005)

I was glad to see that I had not imagined it. I believe this article explains a serious problem.

Tony said...

Renaming churches that have kept the same name for the last 100 years is like turning an oil tanker around. I personally think that making the denomination a tag line under the main name is far more user-friendly to outsiders. Eg

Springfield Center
an Assemblies of God Church.

How outsiders perceive us is a whole raft of things of which a church name is only a small part. The book unChristian is very helpful here.

Another key I believe is a church website that is actually designed for outsiders. We've written about this at our church website design self-assessment tool, on which we are very grateful for feedback and ideas for improvement.



same said...

I also found this

Keith said...

Same: If you have the good fortune to NOT know about Rick Warren or Bill Hybels, consider yourself blessed. As I mentioned in the post, our former churh's obsession with these men and their methods is one of the main reasons I began to question my involvement with that that congregation.

Everything has to be a gimmick these days, it seems.

Keith said...

Tony: I like the "denomination tag line" idea. Sadly, as my post pointed out, that may not be of much help either. In my experience, lots of folks looking for a church these days are not that intereted in a "denomination." They are typically more interested in the "programs"/style:
-Do they have a good Youth group?
-What's the music like?
-Is it too "preachy"?
-I want something casual, something that doesn't feel like church, etc.
You get my point.

In the church we left, many of the people attending--some for YEARS--had little or no idea of the history of the Restoration Movement, their own "denomination!" Why? It was rarely spoken of from the pulpit or taught. We had many people come with comments like: "This is a lot like a Baptist church, isn't it?" to which I would gently tell them, "No" and then explain the differences. They would almost always respond with: "I've never heard that here" and "Well, I don't believe that way." They just assumed it was a "Bible" church (whatever that's supposed to mean).

Jumping topic: I am our church's website Admin. I looked at your website self-assessment tool; looks pretty interesting. I'll have to re-visit when I have a little more time.

same said...

Truth is I had watched the video of and even scanned through the book (purpose driven life) a coworker who is involved with them lent them to me a few years ago and invited me to join the group, I returned both the book and the dvd to my coworker with a “that was . . .um. . . interesting”. I did not connect the name right away but I remember how watching the video made me feel. . . kind of uncomfortable with the. . . how do I describe it. . . a kind of overbearing, claiming an authoritative stance and a high energy level that he constantly projects. Something just did't 'feel' right about it. 'gimmick' I think. . . discribes it pretty well

Rick Frueh said...

The First Orthodox, Hell Believing, Orderly Worship, Limited Atonement, Small Staff, No Gimmick, Blood Washed, Trintarian, Symbolic Baptism, Warren Rejecting, Bell Despising, Church of the Spugeonesque MacArthurinian Disciples of the Christ of the Original Manuscripts.

"Visitors Welcome!"

Keith said...

Rick: Been there. Their worship band was "off the hook!!!"

Rick Frueh said...

Yea, it is quite an experience! The pastor was awsome, her word pictures made the Scriptures come alive!

Keith said...

Rick: Not to mention the fact that her husband said she was HOT!!!! I mean SMOKIN' HOT!!!

Rick Frueh said...

Any ceremony or act of obedience that is represented as a conduit of grace is at odds with faith and is a despicable attempt to add something to "grace through faith".

I do believe, however, that Hebrews 6 and 10 cannot be honestly interpreted without even a tacit acceptance that apostacy appears possible.