I learned a lot about church identity from Yahya, a Muslim friend of mine. He had been talking with an aggressive Christian who seemed ungodly to him. Yahya said that he respected Frank, Brenda, and me, and our church. When I told him that Frank, Brenda and I went to different congregations, he was surprised because we all talked and acted the same. Maybe that is what Jesus had in mind when he said that people recognize Christians by their love.
Instead we sometimes market churches as Saks Fifth Avenue versus Wal-Mart? Why do churches identify themselves the way they do?
I worship with Holy Cross Church, but our namesake, Martin Luther, wrote in the 1500s, “I ask that men make no reference to my name; let them call themselves Christians not Lutherans. What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for anyone. St. Paul would not allow the Christians to call themselves Paul’s or Peter’s, but Christian. How then should I—poor stinking maggot-food that I am—come to have men call the children of Christ by my wretched name? Not so, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians, after him whose teaching we hold. I hold, together with the universal church, the one universal teaching of Christ, who is our only Master.”
In the 1700s, John Wesley, patriarch of the Wesleyans, Nazarenes and Methodists, wrote similar words, “Would to God that all party names, and unscriptural phrases and forms which have divided the Christian world, were forgot and that the very name [Methodist] might never be mentioned more, but be buried in eternal oblivion.”
In the 1800s, Charles Spurgeon was the mega-church, Baptist preacher extraordinaire of England. He said, “I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living! I hope that the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ’s name last forever.”
We must admit: we are not expressing our churches’ identity the way our leaders asked us to. We have too often done so in a way that does not make Jesus Christ the most prominent name associated with our congregations. For all the honor we feel toward these godly leaders and others, we sometimes turn a deaf ear toward their wishes.
If you are part of a church, I hope that you will keep building bridges between people and keep tearing down walls. If you are not part of a church, we could use your help.