December 14, 2019

What’s In A Name?

cbc.jpegHere in Kentucky, most of the Baptist Churches of a certain age have a particular approach to their names. Most choose to go the geographic route, so we have Three Forks of the Elkhorn, Muddy Gap, First Baptist Every-town-you-can-think-of, a couple of thousand “creeks” of various kinds and so on.

After that, Bible names come in second. Bethel. Emmanuel. Grace. Cana. Bethlehem. And finally, evangelical, emerging and missional names run last: The Journey. Friendship. Sojourners. Victory.

I’ve never put much stock in any theory that a church name has any actual influence on a church’s character. I’ve preached at Little Hope Baptist and everything seemed to be hopeful. We have a lot of “Memorial” churches- like my wife’s former church, which after a fire, renamed themselves Walnut Memorial- and everyone seems cheerfully engaged in the present rather than mourning over the past.

Occasionally, however, a name truly puzzles me. Why, I ask, would someone choose this name if they know anything about the actual meaning of the name? If it’s a Biblical name, I’m sometimes forced to conclude that someone hadn’t read very carefully.

For example, an extremely common name among Baptist churches in my area- and around the south apparently- is Corinth. I could drive you to several Corinth Baptist Churches within three hours. Wonderful churches all, but oh….that name! What were they thinking?

I’ve never seen a Philippi Baptist Church or a Thessalonica Baptist Church, but Corinth Baptist is remarkably popular. Inexplicably popular.

For those of you in the dark, there are two letters to the church at Corinth in the New Testament. It is true that one of these letters contains the famous “love” chapter, I Corinthians 13. But it is also true that the church at Corinth could best be described as a zoo of problems no church would want to be associated with.

Like what? Divisions galore. No visible functioning leadership. Sexual sin in the congregation is approved of to the point that Paul has to throw a bit of a fit to get them to deal with it. Once the offenders are excommunicated from the fellowship, Paul has to plead with them again to allow him to repent and return.

Paul himself is an issue, as the Corinthians have come to despise their founder in favor of something Paul calls “super-apostles.” Then there are divisions over food offered to idols. Lawsuits. Immaturity to the point that Paul calls the Corinthians infants and threatens to come after them “with a stick.” He thanks God that he baptized so few of them.

He has to haul out his entire spiritual experience resume to get their attention. They are enamored with philosophy and rhetoric. They’ve fallen under the influence of female spiritualists and their insistence that everyone speak in ecstatic tongues. He forbids women to speak, tells them to quit dressing like- and frequenting- prostitutes. They want less preaching and more “spiritual gifts.” They’ve turned the Lord’s Supper into a drunken embarrassment.

It’s a zoo, Why would anyone name their church after this bunch?

I have no good answer for that one, but I do know this.

Must of us are candidates for the Corinthian Church at one time or another. We’re immature, disobedient, shallow and rebellious. We would drive an apostle to make threats. We love our sin. We love our fan clubs. We love our personalities. We love our inconsistencies.

As churches, we are guilty of devaluing preaching, are fascinated by our own ideas of spirituality and see no big problem with hauling the world into our lives, homes and churches. We fight with one another and convince ourselves we’re quite spiritual. Church discipline is an alien word for most of us and the Lord’s Supper is actually vanishing for lack of entertainment value.

No word anywhere is more appropriate for us than the announcement that without love we’re just making noise. No one needs to hear the gospel more than those of us who act as if we’re far beyond it. In fact, our version of the Christian life would probably make us quite popular at Corinth.

Paul, amazingly, tells the Corinthians that Jesus died for their sins. He says you have the Holy Spirit. He says the righteousness of Christ is given to you even though you live such disappointing lives. The day of judgement will show that we had a good foundation and were given the riches of the gospel, but what we’ve done with that is another story.

We are still the people of God, like the rebellious and disobedient nation in the old covenant story. Like the Corinthians.

I Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. It’s still true, then and now.

Maybe Corinth Baptist Church is a very good name after all. There’s hope for the body of Christ. Jesus loves his people, and will present all the Corinths as a blameless, beautiful bride at the wedding banquet that’s coming.

NOTE: No offense to any Corinth Baptist Churches out there is intended in this post.

Comments

  1. The thing I’ve noticed about church names is the longer and more involved they are, and the more doctrine that makes its way into their names, the smaller and more splinter/schism-induced is the congregation. “First Baptist” churches tend to be big. “Four Square Apostolic Gospel Temple of Yahweh Father of Resurrected Christ the Redeemer” not so much.

    And watch for code words that give evidence of prior splits – “Free” or “United” or “True” come to mind.

  2. Now, how come there aren’t any “Rome Baptists”? ha. Oh, you need to take a look at my blog today Michael – you’ll be entertained, I assure you. 🙂 Peace.

  3. There are a lot of “Beulah” churches around here. Best name I’ve ever heard, however, is the Damascus Road Free Will Baptist Church.

  4. +Alan,

    There are at least two St. Mary’s Baptist Churches. One that I used to pass while driving to work in central New Jersey, and the other in Washington D.C.

    P.S. I liked your posting about Harlan.

  5. In the fellowship of churches I am in, we have an Egypt Baptist Church. Down the road from them is Promise Land Baptist Church.

    The longer I am in ministry, the more I think Corinth ought to be the name of most churches. Either that, or Laodicea.

  6. I attend Mt. Olivet Baptist Church of Hartwell, GA. One thing that sets us apart is that at the beginning of each church (this morning) we take a vote. Then, as a result we post on our marquee: “Voted best church in northeast Georgia 5 years in a row.”

  7. A church could cause a real stir if it named itself “Laodicean Baptist Church.” But it would have a missional statement somewhat built into the name: sinners, unrighteous, backsliders. All are welcome.

  8. Tom Jackson says

    Somewhere in the back woods near Hagerstown, Md., there’s a church called “Hades Church of the Brethren.”

    I had always assumed that the name was an unfortunate reference to the local Hade family, one of whom I knew in high school, but a Google search just now turned up several churches of the same name, in several wide-spread places.

    Could they have been referring to “He descended into Hades”?

  9. My favorite – over in western NC is Bat Cave Baptist Church. Who knew?

    http://www.batcavebaptist.org/

    🙂 Zoomie

  10. Maybe it’s because Corinth was a Roman colony, and they are crypto Roman Catholics. 🙂

  11. My town features a St. Mary Baptist Church. I attend St. Mary Catholic, & when I run into a congregant from the Baptist St. Mary’s, we always find it mutually amusing.

  12. Nicholas Anton says

    What’s in a name?

    What gives a church the right to claim to be The/part of The Catholic/Universal Church? The name? The doctrine? The human leadership? or The Founder, Jesus Christ?
    I know of no church/denomination that conforms to the teachings of Jesus Christ as found in the Gospels.
    Is it possibly the individual who truly believes in Jesus Christ in spite of the church?

  13. Last year I lived down the street from the Dallas suburb named Corinth.

    Strangely, there was no First Corinthian Christian (/Baptist/Presbyterian/etc.) Church

  14. Mort Chien says

    I guess my favorite has been “Bucksnort Baptist Church” in Bucksnort Tennessee. 🙂

    Another in Ft Wayne, IN used to advertise themselves as:
    “Not your father’s church” until someone pointed out that people might not think of the Oldsmobile commercial and would capitalize the F in Father.

    Mort

  15. I work at a 1st Presbyterian. But for community with others my age, I attend an SBC church-plant called Matthew’s House. As in the Matthew whose roof was torn up my some people bringing their gimp friend to Jesus. It’s kinda like University Baptist in Waco, TX. Distinctively Baptist church done in a way appealing to young whippersnappers. Anyway, I guess the name fits in the 2nd-place missional category, but I really like it and just wanted to share it.

  16. Why Corinth? Why no Thessalonica or Phillippi?

    Phonics.

    Corinth sounds just like it looks. The other two…not so much.

    To the gentleman farmer/preachers who planted many of these churches, I’m sure it had to be a subconscious consideration…

  17. My favourite church name?
    St. James Bond United Church.

    No kidding. Really.