A friend recently recounted a sad but true story from his childhood. It took place in the late 1960s, when he was about eight years old. A hippie family came to their church one Sunday night. The husband had a scruffy beard, they were wearing beads, and they obviously stood out in the congregation. The pastor got up, looked across the auditorium, and said, "It is so nice to see everyone clean shaven and well bathed this evening." By the time my friend turned around to see the family's response, he saw only the back door swinging back and forth. They got the message, and left.
Perhaps that church should have been called the "Clean-Shaven and Well-Bathed Only Baptist Church," because the hippie family was not welcome there. The story raises a point — how does the testimony of a church compare to its name?
In the Bible a name often described the character or something unique about the person — Abraham means "Father of Nations," Amos means "Burden," and Jesus means "God is Salvation." Just think for a moment — what if we named churches based on how they acted? What if we gave churches names consistent with their real convictions?
There is no certain guideline for naming churches. Some churches born out of splits call themselves Harmony Baptist Church or Unity Baptist Church. Others have common names, like First Baptist or Calvary Baptist. Some are geographical, named for roads or rivers. Biblical names abound as well — Shiloh, Bethel, Ebenezer, and Canaan for instance.
But if church names reflected true character today, you might encounter these:
The "You Ain't Our Kind" Baptist Church — the church that refuses to allow African-Americans to attend.
The "If You Aren't Kin To Me Get Out" Baptist Church — the church where everyone is related.
The "We May Be in the North But We'll Do Church Like Rural-South" Baptist Church — the church that refuses to adjust the "non-essentials" in order to reach their community.
The "I Don't Care What the Bible Says" Baptist Church — the church with the convictions of a wet noodle.
The "Dinner On the Grounds" Baptist Church — the church that considers Homecoming Sunday the most spiritual event of the year.
The "I Don't Have That Gift" Baptist Church — made of members who do only what they want to do, which is mainly nothing, and use spiritual gifts as their excuse to ignore the Great Commission.
The "We've Never Done It That Way" Baptist Church — the church that will probably not be in existence in twenty years.
The "Best Dressed" Baptist Church — the church whose members like GQ magazine more than the New Testament.
The "First Baptist Church of the Walking Dead" — the Holy Spirit left the church long ago and the members still don't know it.
The "Anti-Praise and Worship Chorus" Baptist Church — the church that sings only songs written before 1700.
The "Only Praise and Worship" Baptist Church — the church that loves its music more than its Master.
Well, you probably can think of others. Of course, there are many churches whose character reflects Christ in a wonderful way. But we must not forget that the most important word in the name is church — and we ought to resemble the Body of Christ we are.
We should examine the ministries, the convictions, and the practice of our church regularly to see if we can honestly be called a church. The one word that should be removed from some church names is church, because they no longer function as such. A church is a group of saved, baptized believers who honor Christ in their beliefs and their practice. Some think the church is the building (that is the edifice complex). Across the nation there are 350,000 churches, but how many qualify as a New Testament Church?
After all, the name Christian was given to the early believers in Antioch (Acts 11:26) because they reflected the Christ they followed. Can it be said that the church where God has placed you, regardless of its particular name, is a reflection of the Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus? It will only be so as we, the leaders and members of the local body, reflect Christ in our lives.