Friday, April 15, 2005

What's in a (Church's) Name?

As some of you may know, I attend a church in Huntington, WV called Living Hope Bible Church. Recently I was driving through a neighboring town in Ohio when I saw a new church called something like "Living Hope Christian Center." At first I was upset that they had used "Living Hope," but I realized that I was just being petty about our name. The folks who started this church had likely never even heard of us, as we're a pretty young, small church ourselves, so it is unlikely that they were copying our name. Plus, I suspect the two churches would not travel in the same theological circles. Regardless, what is important is that people are brought into the Kingdom of Christ through our respective ministries.

I did, however, continue to ponder the names of the various churches that have cropped up in my region over the last decade or so. New Life Victory Center. Spirit of Victory. Celebration Center. Living Hope Christian Center. End Time Assembly. What do all of these names have in common? None of them contain the word "church" (disclaimer: New Life Victory Center changed to New Life Church a while back). Why have so many Christians eschewed the word "church"?

One answer I might get from a large number of Christians is "Who cares?" Why does it matter exactly what we call our assemblies? Simply put, it matters because we are the Church. We are not "the Centers" or "the Assemblers." We are the Church. I understand the impulse to get away from traditional names that seem boring to people and to come up with something fresh and exciting, but ladies and gentlemen, we should be PROUD to be called the Church. This marks us as Christ's body! We are members of His Kingdom.

When we name our churches these exotic names we are telling the community that the "church" is the building where Christians gather. It is our assembly hall. This is another product of the overly individualized form of Christianity we practice today in America and in other parts of the West. I do not "go to" Living Hope Bible Church. I am a part of the body that is Living Hope Bible Church. When we call Churches "centers" and "assemblies" we play into a false concept of the nature of the Church and our relationship to it.