Why I Don't Like Church Names

Some of my friends already know I don't like church "names." They're so odd to me. (Not my friends, the names.) It's like naming your group of friends: "We are 'Awesome'—'Awesome Group of Friends, Springfield'—and we believe that you too can be awesome! Because that's what we're all about! Welcome to Awesome."

Or, it's like:

"I'm going to Hudson."

"What? Is that a town around here?"

"Oh, no, my family name is 'Hudson.' We're going to have dinner with my parents and my sister, so I said, 'I'm going to Hudson.'"

"But you can't go to who you are. That doesn't make any sense!"

"Well, hmm... you're right. But we've been saying it that way since my great-great grandpa or something. It doesn't do any harm."

"Yah, except the moment you start referring to it that way, you start thinking of it that way, and pretty soon your children think of your family as an event and a tradition. And you'll be fighting that for the rest of your life."

But I'm particularly annoyed by "First" churches. Really? You were first? Are you in competition with the other churches?: "Ha! We got here first! Nah nah nah nah nah nah!" Or, "We've been here the longest! That proves something!" All it proves is age and that we've made the Kingdom into a competitive sport. Oh, how darling! Who really cares who was first? ...Other than the people who wish they were, or those poorly misinformed folks who think "First" is a denomination and actually means something. (I've come across several of those.)


Really, back hundreds of years ago, who's idea was it to call their community of believing friends by a name?

I imagine it probably started with place names. "The church* in Troas" may have eventually become "The Church of Troas" and when, because of the hardness of their hearts, people tore away, they didn't want to call themselves "The Other Church of Troas" (because that sounds tacky), so they decided on "The Harmony Church of Troas", because, they felt, that's what best described their vision: harmony. And... well, you can easily imagine where it led from there. Here we are now!

Understand me, here: I'm not trying to be critical in a cynical way, rather I think it is pretty funny. I'm chuckling.

But to be a bit more serious: I am a little mad about it. Just what the heck are we thinking? It totally wrecks the beauty and purity of what the Body of Christ is supposed to be! It makes a lively, relationally-oriented community made up of people who believe God out to be an organizationally-oriented religious club, location, or event. It makes a family into a team. And when you "join" a team "of faith," the faith becomes a game and you can't help but feel better about yourself because you are on what you perceive to be the winning team. Competition with other teams is, without having to think one moment about it, the automatic sociological response to joining a team. It's you versus them.

Don't believe me? Just listen to the way people talk about their church! I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, so I won't even bother to quote anyone.

Once it gets this far, it stops being about people and starts being about numbers (although, to be fair, it is never so cut and dry as this—or at least I hope not). And that's what people on the outside will think of it immediately. That's what people on the inside will come to think of it eventually. And down the road, no one will scarcely be able to perceive that anything is wrong with the picture. You call it by a name and that's what you get. You don't get a family of people. You get a roster and a point scale. Because you treated it like a team.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me crawl up into a ball and weep." Words are power things. If you call your friend "stupid" or "ugly" and keep calling him that—no matter how obviously untrue it may be—he will begin to doubt himself and will eventually accept it as truth. Adolf Hitler even said it of bold-faced lies: "If you tell a lie long enough and loud enough and often enough, the people will believe it." And if that is true of lies (as Hitler clearly demonstrated), then surely it must be true of half-truths, which are much easier to accept.

Remember what was said in the scenario I gave?: "...the moment you start referring to it that way, you start thinking of it that way, and pretty soon your children think of your family as an event and a tradition. And you'll be fighting that for the rest of your life."

Words shape worldviews and ideologies and revolutions. I know it's hard, and I know everyone else does it, and I know this is totally opposite of the standard paradigm, but don't allow yourself to make into something less what is intended to be something so much more.

Be a "Hudson." Be a part of Christ's "body." Be Father's loved child. Be the community of people who have been absolutely—I love it!—changed by the happy news about God.

Be more than a product of easy slips.

*   Understand that "church" (really Greek's "ekklesia") was a simple, everyday word and functionally meant "community," especially to Jewish hearers who were accustomed to hearing it used repeatedly in the Greek versions of the Old Testament for "the jewish community"—not at all the loaded, technical word we use today.

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  1. Anonymous Mon Mar 02, 09:27:00 AM EST

    Dave! You've outdone yourself!
    I LOVED this little article! Seriously, I laughed, and also almost cried. You were in RARE form on this one (though I always love your posts).

    Recently, I had an email discussion with a professional stand-up comic, which I am reminded of when I read this article. My words to him describe how this article hit me:

    "Comics tell us about painful truths, but make us laugh in the process, taking the sting out of the pain a bit.  We identify with the routine, but are able to laugh about things that otherwise would make us feel like crying."

    That's EXACTLY what this article did for me. Thanks!