Recently, I was asked to “weigh in” on the topic of Baptist Churches who, for a variety of reasons, don’t actually put the word “Baptist” in their church name. For some, this is a pragmatic concession to avoiding doors where there should be windows in a church’s public image. For example, use the term “Baptist” in many areas of the Northeast and you might as well be saying “cult” or “racist” or “Latter-Day Saints”. Others are less noble and practice a sort of religious “bait-n-switch” moniker assignment which is intended to get people to give them a try who might have had some sort of negative “Baptist baggage” lurking in their closet and would otherwise pass them by. Whatever, the rationale, it is a matter of great consternation in some circles of brethren who have apparently wearied of other great theological lint-picking topics.
But, as is the frequent case in this blogger’s ADD-addled mind, the topic of church names has been bouncing around for several weeks and I realize that there are actually some fairly interesting sub-groupings of church titles that can be both amusing and acceptably stereotypical. Let me share a few with you….
1. Churches with One-Word Names
These churches have cool, hip-even, names which often sound as much like a rock band or a let’s-open-the-dictionary-and-point-at-any-word-and-use-it exercise. Here are a few that I’ve seen recently: Kinetic, Elevation, Front-Porch (technically 2 words, but still hip), Mosaic, Celebration, North_______ (as in -ridge, -point, -pointe, -side, -ward, etc…), Impact, Lift, LatterRain, Life, and Fellowship.
These churches are generally for the younger and hipper crowd (that means not me) and their pastor is usually still shaving with a cat and a bowl of milk. The pastor usually doesn’t own a suit and if he should be caught wearing one, he wouldn’t apologize more if you caught him naked as a jaybird or wearing a silk teddy. Often, they will shave their head and polish it with lemon pledge which gives them a nice shine and a friendly lemony aroma. If they don’t shave their head, they will spike it, wax it, mousse it or towel dry it to get that “I just got out of bed” look. Often, they will produce kewl-looking facial hair (even in the presence of a totally bald head). Soul patches (that little tuft that grows between the chin and your lower lip), line side burns (which look like someone ran a charcoal briquet from sideburn to near the chin) the 5-day-old-5-o’clock-shadow look (which really is cool unless you have a beard like mine that grows straight out at which point you end up looking like a pubescent porcupine) and the every popular goatee du jour. State-of-the-art techno worship, stage props and coffee made from beans that have been passed through the digestive system of South American racoons complete the “One-Word” named church experience.
2. Churches with names that prove that they use THE Bible
These churches put it all out front and they are NOT ASHAMED. They believe that if they offend you before you actually walk in the door, they have begun the work of the Lord. Often, these names begin with “in-your-face” declarations like “Bible-Believer’s Baptist Church” (which is to imply that other churches may technically be churches, but really they don’t believe the Bible because if they did, they’d have it in their church name like we do.) But then, some good fundamentalist brethren decided that to merely say “Bible-Believers” was a compromise and so they took it a step further with the “KJV Bible-Believers Baptist Church” (because if the KJV was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it should be good enough for us! Amen?). Well, as the FFF would have it (Freakish Fundamentalist Fanatics) that wasn’t good enough, so some decided to adopt the coup de grace of Bible-believing church names…. The 1611 KJV Bible-Believers Baptist Church and all was well in fundamentalism. Until, of course, someone decided to name their church the Hyles Baptist Church (I’m not making this stuff up) after the legendary (in his own mind) Jack Hyles — universal protector of the KJV after 1988 or so. At any point, one can anticipate the formation of a Ruckman Baptist Church or a Riplinger Baptist Church. (No use explaining this to the sane…just do a google search for “Peter Ruckman” or “Gail Riplinger”.)
These churches are usually so exclusive that they break fellowship with themselves every few months at which they refer to their former “Bible-Believers” as members of the Alexandrian Cults. Their pastors choose hairstyles that are of several approved styles: 1) High and Tight — you know like they give you on the first day of boot camp or the first day in prison; 2) the ever-so-stylish pompadour; 3) recommended by Brylcream or 4) the artistic weave (practiced by guys who have developed a totally clear landing strip down their dome but are still in serious denial thus they weave the few pathetic strands from the sides of the road and which are now six feet long artfully into a poor imitation of a combover which is really quite amusing should you be so lucky as to be near them on a windy day.)
These guys also sleep in wing-tips and polyester suits (double-breasted preferred). White shirts are the sign of a true man and if you dare wear a pastel-colored shirt, you should simply join a Metropolitan Community Church as you are surely gay. Wrinkles are OK, cuff-lins aren’t and navy, gray and black are your only options. Members are expected to be able to pass dress-check when entering the vestibule.
3. The More-the-Merrier Named Church
There is a definite co-relation between the number of words in a church name and the racial composition of its congregation. As a general rule 3-word named churches will be as lilly white as a Brigham Young football game. Four-word named churches can go either way. But when you hit five words in a church name, you can bet your tithe check it is a church for “brothers” and I don’t mean in the spiritual sense of that word. Any time you see these words used in a collection of four or more followed by the word “church”, well you just gotta’ know they’ve got some good gospel music happening inside: Apostolic, Deliverance, Faith, Prophecy Divine, Holiness, Pentacostal, Zion, Horeb, Missionary, Ebenezer, House, Prayer, United, Holy Ghost/Spirit. These churches also seem to have the market on 15-passenger vans pretty much cornered. Many a tragic accident has nearly occurred because of a driver’s insistence on trying to read the entire church name from one of these fellowships while driving 70 down the interstate.
4. The Fundamentalist-Sub-Title Church
These particular churches are usually small and want you to know who they are before you even think about walking inside. At the same time, heaven forbid that you think they might be a black church, so they won’t put all their adjectives in the actual name of their church. They use “sub-titles” instead. Watch for their signs, but plan on reading them twice. They will use the traditional 3-word name like “Bible Baptist Church” or “Calvary Baptist Church”, but then underneath, you get the whole scoop. In smaller, but still clearly readable letters, they’ll tell you what “kind” of Baptist they are with a series of additional informative adjectives like: Independent, fundamental, missionary, soul-winning, Southern, premillenial, pre-wrath, post-wrath, amillienial, separated, BJU-supporting, GARB, non-charismatic, moral majority, Republican, pro-American, anti-immigration, gun -totin’, “Christ-honoring” music, women-can’t-wear-pants, Christian-school sponsoring, anti-NIV, IFCA, SBC, ABC, CBC, BBF, SWBF, IBBF, FBF, anti-Purpose-Driven, Purpose Driven, Beka-Book, homeschool, anti-cell group, no drums, CCM, just-say-no-to-wire-rim glasses, etc… If you don’t line up with all the subtitles, you’re basically not welcome, because, well….what would people think of us if we allowed the likes of you to worship with us?
5. The Obscure Bible Terms/Names Church
These churches seem to look far and wide to find little known places in Biblical geography or obscure or obtuse theological terms that may be “code” to the knowledgeable to name their congregations and give them a unique identity. Look for these words: Ebenezer, Gilead, Zion, Pisgah, Horeb, Herman, Berean, Corinthian, Laodicean, Pauline, Pergamus, Adventist, Ephesian, Bethany, Desiring God, Christ-Honoring, Believers, Abiding-in-Him, Covenant, Glad Tidings, Petra, Colossian, etc… Unless you have a seminary degree, upon seeing the church title, you might simply furrow your brow and say, “Huh?”
6. The Upright (and at times, Uptight) Church Name
All churches are technically institutions, but some are INSTITUTIONS and you can often see that in a name. For example, any church that has “First” in it’s name is an INSTITUTION. They have squatter’s rights to the spiritual of that particular denomination. Yes, you may indeed go to a non-numbered church or on occasion, a lesser-numbered church (in the USA, I’ve never seen a number go higher than 4th, but it is possible. I once attended a Thirteenth Baptist Church in Santiago, Cuba.) But if you don’t go to “First Church”, well then, you’ll always just feel a little lower than the others.
Another category of the Upright/Uptight would be churches named after Streets. This poses somewhat of a dilemma if the church chooses to relocate to a different street (see High Street Baptist in Springfield, MO and Thomas Road Baptist in Lynchburg, VA), but usually they just ignore the address and keep the name.
Another great signal is any name with Memorial in it. If there is a Memorial in the name, you’d better believe that someone from the individual’s family is still a member there and woe, and I mean WOE, to the pastor or individual who would dare consider changing the name of the church to something else.
These churches usually keep a pipe or Wurlitzer organ in the sanctuary even if no one knows how to play it. Guests who enter when the pipe organ style is being played have been known to spontaneously genuflect even when they’ve never been in a church before. When the Wurlitzer organ is playing, guests are known to have experienced episodes of confusion and furtively whispering to their spouses something about forgetting their roller skates.
On some occasions, as a church is transitioning to a more contemporary style or is still at war with itself as to whether or not we should try to keep their teens attending the church, you will find the organ accompanying a praise band which makes for a most-interesting, er, uh, shall we say, “Instrumental Cornucopia” of sounds and rhythms. One will also note that the organ is always placed as far as is architecturaly possible from the trap set on the platform. But if the organ ceases to be in view, the upright/uptight church must change it’s name to a one-named church. (Which is usually easier to accomplish AFTER the split rather than during it.)
There are other groups of churches classified by name categories, but my time for writing is over on this day. For those of you who are positively foaming at the mouth with rage over my tongue-in-cheek attempt at humor, please relax and get over yourself a little bit. We can laugh at ourselves and not be apostates. I’ve actually attended, pastored, preached at, been members at churches that fit all of the above categories and then some. If you know of a category that really needed to be mentioned, feel free to add it in the comments section. And if you can’t laugh with us, just laugh at us. It won’t matter in a hundred years.