Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What’s in a Name?

A couple of weeks ago, we received a mailer from a new church start in our community.  Actually, the pastor has been working on this for about four years, but evidently they are moving toward more visibility in the community, thus the mailing.

When I went to the church’s web site, I found this paragraph:

“We are the first Theologically SBC church in Rutherford County, TN to start with out [sic] “Baptist” in the name and take an interdenominational approach to people.  Every church has core theology that ties them to a denomination.  This directs all the teaching and doctrine of a church, but we refuse to focus on the dogmas [sic] of a denomination!  Jesus is so much bigger than a denomination.”

So what’s this all about?  After reading this, I have to ask questions like, “Is this a Baptist congregation or not?” “Did you feel that you had to put this on your web site because you are receiving funds from the state Baptist convention to get started?”  “Do you intend to keep this on your website until the financial assistance from the state Baptist convention runs out and then declare your true colors?”

These folks are living with some tensions, aren’t they? They seem to be saying that they come from a Baptist background and hold Baptist beliefs, but please don’t hold that against them because they still love people. 

By pursuing this strategy, this church communicates several things.

First, they do want to reach people but being “Baptist” may get in the way of that, so they aren’t using Baptist in the name of their church.  This is not so unusual these days and actually makes some sense and, in spite of what they have on their website, they are not the first Southern Baptist Convention church start in the county that has chosen not to put their denominational connection in the name of their church. I can think of a half dozen off pretty quickly.

Second, what does being “Baptist” really mean to these folks?  They seem to be saying, “Don’t hate us because we grew up Baptist, believe Baptist doctrines, and take Baptist money.”  In fact they make it clear on their web site that their mission and ministry work is not limited to Southern Baptist causes.  It seems that they may be a bit ashamed of who they are.

Third, what does it mean to take “an interdenominational approach” to people?  Most churches that are interested in outreach and evangelism welcome people without putting a tag on them.  Does “an interdenominational approach” mean they won’t hold it against someone who was a Presbyterian if they want to join this new church?  Does it mean that they will accept prior baptism regardless of mode and meaning of administration?  Does it mean that they won’t push Baptist doctrine too hard if someone joins?

If this church is honestly Baptist in its beliefs, welcomes all people regardless of their religious background, and ministers in such a way that honors the calling and giftedness of its members, I hope they will prosper.  But if they are just trying to market themselves in a way that won’t be offensive, perhaps they need to rethink their vision and strategy.

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