A few weeks ago, three student ensembles under my direction presented a chamber music program at Baker Memorial Church in East Aurora, NY . This was a most enjoyable experience in terms of the hosting, the music, and my students. All this added up to pure delight.
But I’m caused to think about church names and am not so delighted anymore. The Grace Dean Memorial Concert Series, held throughout the year at this United Methodist Church facility, is presumably aptly named for its original benefactor, but the naming of a church (or church building—I’m really not sure which, because there’s no distinguishing with the UMC and many other church groups) with some human moniker is, in my opinion, inappropriate. In fact, I continue to believe that most church names are to some extent inappropriate—when they take a human, or a human aspect, as their jumping-off point rather than simply labeling themselves, and simply being, Christian.
What is it to be “Christian”? And what is it to be a “Christian” church or a “Christian” college? Will the adjectival use of a significant noun be appropriate? Will it be enough?
Hear Leroy Garrett on the naming of the American Restoration Movement church groups:
Our name had to be biblical. Alexander Campbell preferred Disciples, while Barton Stone insisted on Christians, believing it to be the divinely-appointed name, based on Acts11:26, “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” It was one of their disagreements. Campbell believed Christian was a name used in derision by outsiders, noting that in Scripture the disciples never called themselves by that name, not even Luke, the author of Acts, after saying that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. He went right on calling them disciples, and never Christians. Hardly a divinely-appointed name, Campbell insisted, but he was nonetheless honored to be called a Christian, even if at first used in derision.
I grew up sensing an almost reverent conception of the term “Christian” and for a long time believed that that word was the only apt label for me, for us, for anyone serious about God. I have since added “believer” and “disciple” and, in my more quirky moments, “Jesus person” and maybe a few more. I still use the term “Christian” most often. Perhaps this is the term that describes status, while “believer” describes personal faith, and “disciple” describes living patterns?
What happens in life is more important, but names are important, too.
Next: denominationalism within a “nondenomination”