Monday with Michael Spencer
What’s in a Name? (2007)
Here in Kentucky, most of the Baptist Churches of a certain age have a particular approach to their names. Most choose to go the geographic route, so we have Three Forks of the Elkhorn, Muddy Gap, First Baptist Every-town-you-can-think-of, a couple of thousand “creeks” of various kinds and so on.
After that, Bible names come in second. Bethel. Emmanuel. Grace. Cana. Bethlehem. And finally, evangelical, emerging and missional names run last: The Journey. Friendship. Sojourners. Victory.
I’ve never put much stock in any theory that a church name has any actual influence on a church’s character. I’ve preached at Little Hope Baptist and everything seemed to be hopeful. We have a lot of “Memorial” churches- like my wife’s former church, which after a fire, renamed themselves Walnut Memorial- and everyone seems cheerfully engaged in the present rather than mourning over the past.
Occasionally, however, a name truly puzzles me. Why, I ask, would someone choose this name if they know anything about the actual meaning of the name? If it’s a Biblical name, I’m sometimes forced to conclude that someone hadn’t read very carefully.
For example, an extremely common name among Baptist churches in my area- and around the south apparently- is Corinth. I could drive you to several Corinth Baptist Churches within three hours. Wonderful churches all, but oh….that name! What were they thinking?
I’ve never seen a Philippi Baptist Church or a Thessalonica Baptist Church, but Corinth Baptist is remarkably popular. Inexplicably popular.
For those of you in the dark, there are two letters to the church at Corinth in the New Testament. It is true that one of these letters contains the famous “love” chapter, I Corinthians 13. But it is also true that the church at Corinth could best be described as a zoo of problems no church would want to be associated with.
Like what? Divisions galore. No visible functioning leadership. Sexual sin in the congregation is approved of to the point that Paul has to throw a bit of a fit to get them to deal with it. Once the offenders are excommunicated from the fellowship, Paul has to plead with them again to allow him to repent and return.
Paul himself is an issue, as the Corinthians have come to despise their founder in favor of something Paul calls “super-apostles.” Then there are divisions over food offered to idols. Lawsuits. Immaturity to the point that Paul calls the Corinthians infants and threatens to come after them “with a stick.” He thanks God that he baptized so few of them.
He has to haul out his entire spiritual experience resume to get their attention. They are enamored with philosophy and rhetoric. They’ve fallen under the influence of female spiritualists and their insistence that everyone speak in ecstatic tongues. He forbids women to speak, tells them to quit dressing like- and frequenting- prostitutes. They want less preaching and more “spiritual gifts.” They’ve turned the Lord’s Supper into a drunken embarrassment.
It’s a zoo, Why would anyone name their church after this bunch?
I have no good answer for that one, but I do know this.
Must of us are candidates for the Corinthian Church at one time or another. We’re immature, disobedient, shallow and rebellious. We would drive an apostle to make threats. We love our sin. We love our fan clubs. We love our personalities. We love our inconsistencies.
As churches, we are guilty of devaluing preaching, are fascinated by our own ideas of spirituality and see no big problem with hauling the world into our lives, homes and churches. We fight with one another and convince ourselves we’re quite spiritual. Church discipline is an alien word for most of us and the Lord’s Supper is actually vanishing for lack of entertainment value.
No word anywhere is more appropriate for us than the announcement that without love we’re just making noise. No one needs to hear the gospel more than those of us who act as if we’re far beyond it. In fact, our version of the Christian life would probably make us quite popular at Corinth.
Paul, amazingly, tells the Corinthians that Jesus died for their sins. He says you have the Holy Spirit. He says the righteousness of Christ is given to you even though you live such disappointing lives. The day of judgement will show that we had a good foundation and were given the riches of the gospel, but what we’ve done with that is another story.
We are still the people of God, like the rebellious and disobedient nation in the old covenant story. Like the Corinthians.
I Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. It’s still true, then and now.
Maybe Corinth Baptist Church is a very good name after all. There’s hope for the body of Christ. Jesus loves his people, and will present all the Corinths as a blameless, beautiful bride at the wedding banquet that’s coming.
NOTE: No offense to any Corinth Baptist Churches out there is intended in this post.