For this week’s writing I thought we’d take a break from demonology and talk about some of the other subjects I’m interested in and in these last few years there is nothing that I’ve been more fired up by or criticized for than my doctrine of the church. I’ve become somewhat of a self-proclaimed heretic because I believe the reformation is ongoing, rather than settled, finished and done. I think there are still many layers of tradition that have built up around this thing we call “church” and if we ever want to get to the biblical core of this system we need crack open the mouth of our sacred (cash) cow and really critically think about every tooth, nook and cranny of that stinky, wet and dark orpheus.
Look… is it really that crazy to say that maybe, just maybe there is still some Catholicism in us and we need to open our eyes and the Word to see things as they are. After all the greatest heresy of all time, Arianism (google it but it just means the belief that Jesus was created by the Father instead of being one with the Father eternally) crept into the church and became the accepted status quo for a long time. St. Jerome famously said, “the world woke up with a groan and found it had become Arian.” It was only by careful examination of the word and the fervent argument of brothers like Athanasius that the biblical teaching on Jesus was reestablished.
Besides the word heretic was used by the religious status quo to label those who were challenging the authority with which they held a thigh grip on their people. Many true believers have gone to the stake and been burned alive under the charge of heresy and who were the ones burning them, why “the church” of course. So if my call to reexamine the religions/corporate system of 21st century American Protestantism in light of God’s eternal word makes me a heretic, then that is a title I gladly wear, because I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. As you can see a lot of my sore feelings are leaking through in this introduction and Lord willing there will be much more on this topic posted to WC but for now let’s get into today’s topic. /Rant
Are you planting a new congregation and you’re looking for name ideas? Or maybe you’re changing the name of an old assembly and looking to find the biggest trends in church naming to help you make a decision. Everyone knows that it is nearly impossible to choose an original church name.
I’ve been looking online at different articles that give advice for how to name or rename assemblies and the thing that has me worried is the titles are always something like “Best practices for naming a church” or “How to pick a trendy/relevant church name.” My earnest hope is that with this article I can show you that the Bible gives us a clear and logical formula for picking the name of your local meeting of the saints.
Before we take a look at that Biblical pattern for church names let’s first take a very quickly run down the “trends” in church naming and compare them to scripture.
(1) Naming a Church after a figure.
This is the congregation that decides to name itself after a person, this could be a founder, a historical figure or maybe a Biblical figure. Some examples would be Church of the Apostle Paul or Pastor Billy E. Edwards Church under God.
What does the Bible have to say?
Let’s take a look at 1 Cor 1:10-17
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius.
In this passage, the Apostle Paul is pleading with the Church of Corinth to stop the infighting and to act in unity in their worship. Does Paul not clearly say that saying “I follow Paul” or “I follow Peter” and so forth is all wrong. In fact he says “am I the one who died on a cross for you? Were you baptized into my name?” Clearly the only name we Christians should put on ourselves, is well it’s right in the word, CHRISTian. We should only meet under the name of and follow Jesus.
(2) Naming a Church after a denomination.
You know this one they have names like First Lutheran, Second Weaslyan, Trinity United Methodist, Grand Island Baptist and so on. This one is Convenient because it both tells folks what flavor of religion they belong to and also if there is another fellowship of the same denomination a mile away then they can be Fifth Whatever Church and the closer one can be Sixth Whatever Church. So it seems like an easy option but…
What does the Bible Say?
Well first of all, of course everything we already know about naming a church after a figure applies to this trend. Wesleyan’s are named after John Wesley, Mennonites are named after Menno Simons and so on. Denominations are in effect the same thing as saying “I’m for Paul” or “I’m for Apollos.” But additionally let us take a look at Galatians
Galatians 5:19-21 “19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Did you catch that, we have here a list of sins that come from being in the flesh and not in God’s Spirit. The Apostle says that these acts will not inherit the kingdom of God and that should scare all of us. But let us zoom in on just four items in this list.
- Wrath is extreme anger i.e. what happens when you refuse to forgive someone after a huge argument.
- Strife means: angry or bitter disagreement
- Sedition means: conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority, which yes might technically be what I’m doing when I write about church hmmm….
- Heresies: simply means “a group with a different opinion.” So by definition all denominations are heresies, and I am a heretic.
I don’t think the Apostle Paul would have been happy if he knew how very divided the church would become in the thousands of years after his death. I don’t think that God is pleased by us cutting up the body of Christ into thousands of smaller and smaller pieces. We don’t get all of this division and dissension without being wrathful towards our brother. Deep strife leads us to break off from our brethren and we become seditious and as big personalities break away from our fellowship to form their “own movement” we go with them and it leads to more and more heresies in this world. I don’t know if the Bible allows us to have 400,000+ Christian groups in this world and most of them all thinking “we’re the only ones who have it figured out.” There are deep wounds in the people of Christ today and we need to learn sooner rather than later that our divisions are not pleasing God. I think denominations are a very bad idea and I think identifying a meeting of the saints by the denomination they follow is doing no good to heal those deep wounds.
(3) The Uber trendy, Hipster, Latte, Mac, Soul Patch, Postmodern, Contemporary, Church Name
I doubt that I need to do much explaining for this one. We all know at least one of these congregation. My friends have in the past called them “party churches” or even “cupcake churches.” These fellowships are some times (but not always) very dangerous because they belong to the icky squishy amorphus “emergent church” other times they are mega-denominations where personal growth (in Christ) is basically non-existant. Folks probably show up more for the coffee and movie night instead of a desperate hunger to have fellowship with other members of the divine family.
What does the Bible say?
James 4:4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
I really hope that the problem with these of congregations is obvious… they are seeking the flesh of people. They are too concerned about marketing and being appealing to people and creating a “safe spaces for worship.” The Bible says that being like the world and doing the same song and dance as them is the right way to go the wrong way. In short group worship is NOT ABOUT US it is about the Lord and we must be focused on Him alone.
SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER: THE CHURCH NAME BASED ON LOCATION.
It’s time now to take a look at that very clear, logical pattern that is laid out in scripture for naming a word. Take a look at these verses and brace yourself there are a lot of them.
Act 8:1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the CHURCH IN JERUSALEM, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Act 11:22 The report of this came to the ears of the CHURCH IN JERUSALEM, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
Act 13:1 Now there were in the CHURCH AT ANTIOCH prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger,fn Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Rom 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the CHURCH AT CENCHREAE,
1 Co 1:2 To the CHURCH OF GOD THAT IS IN CORINTH, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
2 Co 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To THE CHURCH OF GOD THAT IS IN CORINTH, with all the SAINTS WHO ARE IN THE WHOLE OF ACHAIA:
Col 4:16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the CHURCH OF THE LAODICEANS; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.
2 Th 1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the CHURCH OF THE THESSALONIANS in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Rev 2:1 “To the angel of the CHURCH IN EPHESUS write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. Tools specific to
Rev 2:8 “And to the angel of the CHURCH IN SMYRNA write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
Rev 2:12 “And to the angel of the CHURCH IN PERGANUM write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. Tools specific to
Rev 2:18 “And to the angel of the CHURCH IN THYATIRA write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. Tools specific to
Rev 3:1 “And to the angel of the CHURCH IN SARDIS write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Tools specific to
Rev 3:7 “And to the angel of the CHURCH IN PHILADELPHIA write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. Tools specific to
Rev 3:14 “And to the angel of the CHURCH IN LAODICEA write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
Wow…. OK I know that was a lot but hopefully you got the jist after the first few verses and just skimmed the capitalized part of each verse. Do you see what I’m getting at here? The only church name that we should use if we’re following the Biblical pattern is the name of the city that you live in. So if you are in Dallas, then your configuration should be called “The Church in Dallas” or “the Dallas Fellowship” or “The Church of Dallas on 4th Ave.”
Now I can see you complaining “But that doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity” and again I remind you that the Church is not about you, it’s about God and worshiping him the way He prescribed in scripture. But to kind of help you scratch that creative itch let me just remind you that CHURCH and MINISTRY are different things. So even if I don’t think you should name your congregation something fancy, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have one ministry or several ministry with creative names. For example, the “Church in Dallas” could have a clothing ministry called “Joseph’s coat” and a Children’s ministry called “King Josiah’s Friends” or whatever fun names God wants you to use.
OK now I can see you saying “Well if my church is supposed to be the ‘Church of Metroville’ then what about the other churches, won’t we all have the same name? How are people going to know we are different churches??” And to that I say: EUREKA!!!! YOU GET IT!!! Your congregation is the Church of Metroville, but so is the Church of Saint John the Baptist up the street from you, they are the Church in Metroville too. And you know what, Third Baptist up the road is the Chruch of Metroville too!!! And guess what… you know that mega-congregation down the road called Mocha Church of the One Soul they are the Church of Metroville too (well at least some of the sincere people in their pews are)!
Please let me simplify this for you, what I’m saying is that even though you think that your meeting places is it’s own separate and distinct ‘church’ apart from all the other ‘churches’ in town that thought is mistaken. Biblically speaking there is only one church in your city and that church is the community of communities. You’ve likely noticed that I’ve been creatively avoiding using the word “church” throughout this article and that is because we here in the west have an odd idea of the church that has been molded and shifted over time. Biblically speaking every Christian who lives in your city is part of the same church, that doesn’t mean that you all meet at the same location on Sunday, and in many cases that might be impossible (IE in NYC where would that many people gather?) But we are all one body, one family, cleaned by the same blood and following the same God. This means that we are one church and the only reason the Bible gives us to divide ourselves is based on our geography not on our theology.
Choosing a church name is important because it tells everyone both believers and non-believers who you belong to. You might belong to a denomination, or belong to a biblical figure and others of us belong to the community we live in. My true hope is that you have found this article informative and that I may have shown you the Bible’s teaching on how to name a congregation.
Be blessed dear brethren.