Ashamed of the Name

A story carried by Reuter’s Press on February 2, 2005 tells of a dilemma facing an exclusive prep school in the Boston area. The school, Governor Dummer Academy, is considering changing its name. Some fear that the school’s name is the basis of wise cracks, and a marketing firm has advised that a name change would help student recruitment.
Not everyone agrees. After all, the school has been in existence for 242 years and the name honors the man whose donations helped begin the school. Wouldn’t it be an act of disrespect to change the name simply because it leads some to snicker?
A similar situation has occurred among religious groups in our country. For many years, preachers among churches of Christ have charged that denominations wear unscriptural names. Instead of honoring Christ, these names point to influential founders or tout a doctrine the group considers paramount. In almost all of these cases, the names are nowhere to be found in the Bible.
It is true that the New Testament does not assign a name to the church. “Church of God,” “churches of Christ,” “church of the firstborn” and other such Biblical phrases are descriptive in nature. Besides, why even assign a name to (denominate) the church if the Lord had only one church in mind? That Jesus intended only one church is undeniable when considering the words of His prayer: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their word; that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:20,21, NKJV). No name has been assigned to the sun above us because there is only one. Why should the Lord’s church need a name?
But because man has proliferated religious organizations, there must of necessity be some way to identify the Lord’s church in the midst of all others. If an identifying label must be used, shouldn’t it be one that is both Biblical and also honors the founder?
The religious world has now gone a step further. Afraid that the word “church” will conjure up negative images of structure, formality, and rigidity, many are moving away from that word. A quick glance at my local Yellow Pages under the heading of “Nondenominational Churches” reveals names like “Common Ground,” “Joyful Praise Ministries,” “Loving Faith Fellowship,” and “Believers Family Worship Center.” Names that avoid references to “church” will be more attractive, it is believed.
Whose idea was it to use the word “church” in the first place? (Hint: Read Matthew 16:18.) Doesn’t that word mean something significant? What are we saying when we decide to abandon terms given to us by God in favor of labels human wisdom deems preferable?
Some scholars speculate that the name “Christian” was coined by unbelievers as a form of ridicule. Shall we change that name, too, since many associate abuse and exploitation with it?
“For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

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Tim Hall

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