Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Naming Your Church, Part 4

The Power of a Personal Name

I remember when I was starting a church in the Barrio of East LA I came across a young woman who had two small children from two fathers, both of whom were in prison. The youngest of the two had a father in prison for life for multiple murders as a leader in the Mexican mafia. I asked the girl what her boy’s name is and was shocked when she told me he had not been given a name. He was an older toddler at the time. What a shame. To grow up not having a name is sad on so many fronts. Imagine knowing that you are not important enough to even have a name. Imagine how your own sense of identity is left unclear without a name. She simply called him Pudgy, but that was not his name just something they called him. This girl, who was the drug dealer for much of the neighborhood, eventually gave her life to Christ. I told her that she now has an opportunity to give her son a name that is special and can identify him for an important purpose for the rest of his life. I challenged her to pray and think about a special name for her son and hopefully turn this tragedy into something special. After she turned her life around she took her small family out of the hostile neighborhood and I was not able to keep contact with her. I have entrusted her and her boys to the Lord who has a name for all of us.

A name is an important thing. The Bible says that a good name is better than great wealth (Proverbs 22:1). A name can even be a commodity itself. Some banks will give credit to you simply because of your name...if you have the right one. Likewise, you could get run out of town simply because of a name. A single person can ruin a name for the rest of history. I seriously doubt anyone reading this blog is named Judas. You probably have never met anyone who has the misfortune of having the name Hitler. Even Adolf is probably tainted.

Zacheus, smudged with sap and perhaps a splinter or two, was hanging over the path longing to see the famous Rabbi as he approached town. His precarious position was not one of dignity and probably revealed more than any below would care to see. But you see, Zacheus was not one concerned with his reputation, he had passed that concern many years ago. He was a tax collector. In fact, he was the head of the tax collectors, which meant that his own people already disowned him and considered him a traitor. He was hated by all, so he was less concerned about what people would think about his climbing a tree in mid day to see Jesus.

Suddenly, and without warning, Jesus stopped. He looked up and called Zacheus by name! Wow, imagine the shock of that moment. It probably took everything he had to keep from falling off the branch, which is about the only thing less dignified than being up there in the first place. The power of a personal name can be incredible given the right context and spoken by the right person. Imagine if President Obama greeted you and knew your name personally! That would mean he knows something of you and had given thought to you prior to your meeting, and that alone is something.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus makes such a big deal out of his own name? Look at how much effort it took to make sure He was given the right name by Joseph and Mary (Matt. 1:21-25). If you do a search of the usage of “My name” in reference to Jesus in the Gospels you will find it 20 times. People come in his name, go in His name and are received in his name. His followers will be hated in his name, give water in his name, and pray in his name just to “name” a few (pardon the pun). If we ask the Father for anything in His name it will be granted to us. Wow, that does sound powerful doesn’t it? Perhaps a name is a powerful thing. When addressing a thousand demons at once he asked to know their name. Why? It is not as though a name is a secret password to spiritual power like saying “open Sesame” is in fairy tales. A name is important because it says something about the person. That is why Jesus’ name is so important, it says something about him and we are to value that…and use it for His purpose, not ours.

His name alone is powerful. It is so potent that the enemy wants to dilute it by making it a curse word. Have you ever heard someone hit the wrong nail with a hammer and shout out “Oh Buddha!” Of course not. Why? Because Buddha’s name is not as powerful, nor as much a threat as the name of Jesus. Not to pick on anyone in particular, Mohamed’s name is not elevated to the curse word status either. Jesus’ name is powerful because He is powerful. His name is part of Who He is and represents His being, just like yours does for you (except in his case his person is a whole lot more powerful than you are). His reputation stands apart and His name is therefore powerful.

The church is the bride of Christ. We are a people who carry His name. We should realize that this is more significant than simply branding a ministry in the eyes of potential parishioners. Selecting a name for the church is in fact a holy and dangerous thing. We should approach the whole idea with much reverence and fear. I don’t think I am being overly spiritual here; I am letting you in on a learning I have been on myself. Culturally speaking, in the West, naming something is pragmatic; but in God’s economy a name means so much more than “positioning” and “branding” in a free market.


Tagbo {grimtraveller} said...

Names are so important, they really are. Or at least, they can be. Sometimes as christians, we can make far too much of a name, almost attaching some kind of mystical power to them and trying to brand a person because of that name. I know a few people who ascribe power to a name {"Have you ever noticed how all Daniels are like such and such ?"} in a way that I think is not a million miles removed from the very astrological or primitive superstitions that we so often criticise and rightly stand against.
When we look at names recorded in scripture, we see a variety of approaches that don't tell you a thing about the person in question. They often will say something of the circumstances in which a person was born, or the gratitude or current feeling of the parent or the tradition that was prevalent at the time. Of course, it's a totally different kettle of fish when God himself does the naming - and that happens relatively few times. And when it does, there is virtually always an intention in his mind that is connected with where he is heading with things; it's only retrospectively that we have the benefit of seeing what and where.
Funnilly enough, I was thinking to myself a couple of days ago that I've not heard of anyone whose surname was Hitler or whose first name was Adolf {the guy that created the saxophone is one - but he was pre-Hitler and I think he was called Adolphus; there was also a vicious dog in a Danny Devito comedy but that was an obvious attempt at a laugh grabber}. I once had a humourous row with my mum when I said there was nothing wrong in naming a child Judas; she hit the roof ! It was really funny. As an aside, there really isn't such a name. The son of Jacob, the betrayer of Jesus and the letter writer before Revelation all had the same name - Y'hudah or Judah. It says something about the way that we've churned things around over the centuries that we've concocted three separate names out of the one and all of them carry a different concept as though they really were three totally different words ! They're not !!
It also tells us something about the way names were viewed back then. Judah the letter writer obviously had no qualms about having the same name as the betrayer of Christ or the man who slept with and impregnated a prostitute who turned out to be his daughter in law. James the apostle, James the brother of the Lord and James the letter writer had no qualms about having the same name as Jacob{ again, they're the same name, Ya'akov}, with it's dodgy figurative meaning of cheat/deceiver {literally, it means 'he grasps the heel' or something akin to that}. My apologies for the ramble if it's a bit long, but my point is that you can always read more or less into names and I suspect that's why churches in the early days never had them. Purely and simply, they belonged to Christ, they carried the Father's name and that's all there was to it. If they were in Ephesus or Corinth or wherever, they were the assembly in Ephesus, Corinth and so on. It's not a name they gave themselves. It's what they actually were. As soon as churches began naming themselves, the potential danger was there for myriads of different associations, both in their own minds and in the minds of others, especially those that did/do not yet believe. And that is what has happened throughout church history till we get to where we're at now. Often, subconsciously I'll concede, I feel that the names we have for our churches act as a weapon of superiority. If Christ is head of his body however, whatever our particular emphasis may be at any given time, surely it's at his leading. Therefore, as we ebb and flow with the Spirit, the fixed-ness of a 'name' is, to me, a retrograde step. Of course, if we are an organisation, then nothing I've written here applies.
Is it naivete on my part to suggest that belonging to the Lord is enough and his personality expressed through us as a united body actually says more than any name we think up could ?

Anonymous said...

Tagbo, I've noticed you tend to offer your own blog post after each offering from Neil. Have you ever thought of getting your own blog? Thinking out loud here.

Tagbo {grimtraveller} said...

For "Anonymous"
No, not really ! I like the interactive aspect of blog comment sections. I learn lots from them and the blog posts themselves contain good food for thought. I wish more people would use the comments page, actually.

Tagbo {grimtraveller} said...

Just a quick one to "anonymous" again, Hiya !
I don't think of my replies as blog posts. They're simply replies because a good piece of writing {in this case by Neil} has sparked me off or has highlighted something in a subject area that I've been thinking about.