Recently, our denomination had its large gathering. People from all over the globe gathered to discuss the future and make decisions to guide the denomination forward. I was quite intrigued with the process, since I have never actually been able to attend but was able to view the proceedings via live feed.
One particular conversation stuck out to me. Our manual currently states that every church must have the denominational name attached to its name. This came up for debate. Many who have been in the church for a long time felt it was necessary to maintain this rule so that we wouldn’t lose our identity. They felt it would compromise our heritage and voice. The other side countered that not having the name attached provided opportunities to reach the community that might not otherwise be possible. Distrust in organizations and denominations made it difficult to reach the younger generation. Of course, this a narrow characterization of the various stances for both sides. But, essentially, everyone had their reasons for voting for or against this resolution.
In my estimation, this whole conversation misses the point. I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Two lovers kept apart because their families are feuding like Hatfields and McCoys. Yet, despite the fact that they are supposed to hate each other, they find they would rather be together. There’s a great balcony scene. Juliet is on her balcony. Romeo is serenading her fromt he courtyard. Juliet is worried that Romeo will be caught and killed. But, Romeo can’t be persuaded to leave. He summarizes the whole situation quite nicely: “What’s in a name? Wouldn’t a rose by any other name smell so sweet?”
Indeed, what is in a name? There are churches within our denomination that put the denominational name on everything they have. They are gungho about the institution. And, yet, the Gospel is not preached in their midst. Likewise, there are churches within our denomination that do not place the denominational marker on everything. They’d rather avoid any responsibility to the larger community of faith of which they are a part. And, sometimes, they also do not preach the Gospel.
Vice versa. There are churches in our denomination that do and do not attach the donominational name to their church’s name. And, yet, miraculously – the Gospel is preached and lived out.
Indeed, what is in a name? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to avoid useless arguments about something as short-lived as an institution? Wouldn’t it be better to focus on preaching the Gospel, proclaiming the Kingdom, and pronouncing the way of Jesus to the nations? If those things were at the heart of our mission, would it really matter what denomination we claim or that claims us (not to say that those things are entirely unimportant)? The Kingdom and the Gospel are much grander visions than our denomination… even if it is a faithful denomination. Because it is only a tiny fragment of the Church universal, which is One Body, with One Lord, One Faith, having experienced One Baptism, and empowered by the One Holy Spirit.
What is in a name? Perhaps the name we should be most concerned about is “Christian.” Wouldn’t a Christian that has been brought into the Way, by any other name, be a fragrance pleasing to God?