I am the pastor of Eastside Church of the Cross, formerly known as Louisburg Southern Baptist Church, in Louisburg, Kan. In a recent article at EthicsDaily.com, Jeannie Babb Taylor pondered the motive behind name changes in the Southern Baptist Convention and she used our church as her opening sample.
Her arguments are useful and well presented. In fairness to her, what she could not know is that her opening sample, Eastside Church of the Cross, is an anomaly. However, being anomalous will allow me to augment her nicely articulated thesis. Following are seven principles that kept us from what Taylor identified as improper bait-and-switch, consumer-driven marketing tactics.
1) Our church identity is rooted in Christ.
We are a colony of heaven (Philemon 3:20), not an outpost of the Southern Baptist Convention. Our new name reflects our true citizenship; it does not target a trendy demographic or align with local fads. Jesus defines us. Our Sunday sermons are about Christ; our name change was a step toward identifying with the scandalous wisdom of God.
2) Our church identity is rooted in Christ, but that does not erase secondary features.
We live in Louisburg, Kansas. That partly identifies who we are, but that is a circumstantial characteristic, along with worshipping on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and remaining Southern Baptist. We removed circumstantial and secondary features from our name, but we did not erase them from our identity.
3) The church name is no place for bait-and-switch tactics.
Our new name says upfront, “If you come here, the cross of Christ is central.” Like Taylor, I am displeased with the amorphous and edgeless names that say nothing. I am talking about whiny and desperate names that beg for people to come hang. Heavenly realities work the other way around. When the humble are desperate for Christ, they are drawn to him, not to slogans. Say-nothing slogan names may be attractive, and sometimes they may ironically name exactly what the church preaches.
4) A name change does not necessarily mean a stealth maneuver, and in our case, it definitely does not.
I say “necessarily” because Taylor is correct, a name change can flag some impure motives. The church name, of all things, should be closely aligned with what chiefly defines us. Being Southern Baptist is not a part of our official mission statement, so our name was updated with the mission statement in mind. This is not stealthy, but healthy.
5) Being ashamed is not the only reason for a new name.
If I paint my house blue, it is not because I was ashamed that it was off-white. We actually like our denomination. We changed our name not out of shame, but for other more noble reasons. A name change should be principled. As Taylor points out, going incognito via a name change is cowardice driven by shame, and that is ignoble.
6) We do not confuse our priorities: the Kingdom of God trumps denominational affiliation.
We are a church that worships the triune God. At the same time, we find it useful to pool our resources for the funding of certain seminaries. These two ideas (worshipping Jesus and supporting seminaries) are not competing. However, placing the denomination’s name in our church name showed confusion in priorities. We solved that by giving to Christ what we had previously given to the SBC.
7) Our name change should encourage our own denomination.
When we took the denomination’s name out of our name, we were taking out more than our denomination’s name. We were removing the fact of denomination from the privileged position we had given it – enthroned, as it was, in our name. We were saying that we bemoan the unfortunate state of the church such that there are denominations. Denominationalism is regrettable (John 17). We wish that authentic Christian people were not divided by the boundaries of secondary matters. We are not Pollyanna about this; we know we cannot fix denominationalism, but we do not celebrate it in our name.
Far from going incognito with our name change, we were taking a bold stand — even in our denomination. We signaled to our own peers that we believe there is another path. It was a small signal, but it was principled. Our name change was announced in the association’s paper and our ideas were electronically published as 24 Christ-honoring reasons for the change.
We are working within the system, not abandoning it (as if being non-denominational is somehow superior). We encourage brothers and sisters to consider the name of the church as another place to glorify Jesus. Let’s give back to Christ what has been given to sectarianism.
Steve Rives is pastor of Eastside Church of the Cross in Louisburg, Kan.