I’d like to begin with a couple of principles:
1. We can tell what is in our hearts based on what comes out of our mouths.
2. We can tell what we believe in based on how we save and spend our resources.
Personally, I find both of these ideas to be fairly profound. Somebody else might not agree with whether or not they are true. And that is fine. One of the awesome things about the world is that we don’t all have to agree.
An issue I would say that has less room for argument is the question of whether Jesus believed these things. It seems quite clear to me that Jesus did. I hardly paraphrased at all. These ideas are pretty much straight out of his mouth.
There is a third principle I’d like to mention. This idea is the idea that names have power.
Jesus did not explicitly ever say this. But he implies it in many of his interactions, particularly when casting demons out. The demon that identifies itself as “Legion”, for example, at first seems to think that Jesus will have no power of it, because it does not give Jesus an actual name. Conversely, numerous demons seem to think that they will have power over Jesus, simply because they know his name.
Jesus himself renames “Saul” as “Paul” as a way to draw a distinction between his pre-Jesus and post-Jesus life. God renamed the person who would come to be known as “Isreal.” Adam’s first task is to give names to the animals. Clearly, names are important things. This does not imply some sort-of magical belief. One could say that the power in names is rooted in the fact that we believe names have power. We could suggest that it’s something of a self-fufilling prophecy.
This is why groups from street gangs to summer camps give members special names. This is why some people get so persnickety about whether they expect to be called the short version of their name (e.g. “Rich”) or the long version of their name (e.g. Richard.) This is why many tribal societies have given members multiple names, often a public one and a second, more secret one.
I believe the evidence a couple paragraphs makes a pretty strong case for the idea that Jesus recognizes the strength of names and titles. But I realize it’s a little more open to interpretation than the first couple principles mentioned.
This absurdly egg-headed introduction gets me to the point I was considerng today:
Taken together, I’m submit that those 3 principles mean that titles and names are powerful things, and they, much like the words that come out of our mouths, provide a picture of what is going on in hearts.
This has been a long-winded and egg-headed introduction. The real point I want to make is that the way we name our churches in America says something about us. And what it says isn’t very nice.
Consider a church with a name like “1st Lutheran Chuch of Doofustown.”
A claim to the primacy and age of the church is the very first part of this title. Jesus tells us that the 1st shall be last. It would be a pretty cool act of guerilla art (or maybe vandalism; you say tomato, I say tomatoh) to run around to all the church signs that start with “1st” and write “Last.” This of course is a biblical statement. If the first shall be last, then all these churches bragging about their first status are indeed last.
That biblical idea aside, it is still telling that some church names start with that sort of claim. The fact that we put it first suggest that the fact that we are first is more important than anything else.
After we thump our chests, gorilla like, by asserting that we are first, we move on to a denominational title. Placing this second suggests that it is the second-most important thing. Placing it before the word church suggests that the things that divide us are more important than the things that unite us. It suggests that whether one is a Lutheran or a Baptist (or whatever) is a more important question than whether or not one follows Christ.
And finally, that little word: church. Much has recently been made about the fact that church is not a building. While I agree with this, as long as we continue to write it on the side of the buildings, there will be a disconnect.
As long as we wax eloquently about the “big c church” or the “global church” but continue to call the individual buildings by this name, we will lose some credibility, and deservedly so.
There are other ways to title a church. Some great names are simply not lived up to. A friend told me about a local Baptish congegation. They rent space from another Baptist congregation. This second congregation owns the land and buildings and what not.
The punchline here is that the renting congregation calls itself “The United Baptist Church of …” While it’s good that they are not bragging about being first or whatever, this leads to the question: what precisely are they united with, if they can’t join with their landlord and worship together? (The picture above is not from this church; it’s a snap shot I found in the public domain.)
I know that there are traditions and rules around these things. I know that probably lots of people haven’t given a whole lot of thought. Jesus calls us out, though, to buck tradition when it doesn’t work, we’re told to ponder and meditate and think over things, so that we can most efficiently do his work.