Monday, April 06, 2009

It's All in a Name ...

We've all got names. Names are significant. They are so significant that God actually changed people's names when He did something in their lives.

I was driving back from work this morning and sitting in a traffic jam by the "Administrative Offices of the Church of God of Prophecy" in Birmingham. I pass it every day but I think I particularly took notice because I was listening to Terry Virgo on CD speaking at "Together for the Future" in Switzerland in 2003 and he gave the following quote;

"We didn't fight for the gifts of the Spirit to then ignore the gifts of the Spirit! That is despising prophecy, that is quenching prophecy".

I wondered whether the prophetic is something that strongly characterises and marks the "Church of God of Prophecy". I'm ignorant - never having been to that church denomination. But it started a flow of thought within me about "church names". And "movement names".

Something remarkable happened when Pete Day and I were meeting together last week - I happened to comment that when I first encountered his church and visited it when I used to be friends with Peter Cockrell (Pete Day's predecessor), it was known as "Lansdowne Evangelical FREE Church". I guess for brevity's sake it is more commonly known as "Lansdowne Evangelical Church". But God began to impress on us the importance of the word "FREE"!

But I will never forget when I was at the Brighton Leadership Conference in 2003 and Terry Virgo was praying. He made one of his comments during his prayer (and it often happens with him) that I just seized upon. Terry prayed;

"Let our doctrines adorn our name".

And I've never forgotten that! What a challenge. What he was essentially laying before the gathered thousands was this - we call ourselves "Newfrontiers". But what "new frontiers" are we breaking? What new challenges are we meeting? What new untrodden paths are we moving along?

And the same questions face all other names. Is the prophetic a key part of the "Church of God of Prophecy"? Do they fight the fight of faith by the prophecies given? Or is the prophetic quenched and ignored and has become in essence liturgy? What about Lansdowne Evangelical Free Church? Are they really free and living out that freedom of the wonder of God's lavish grace? I know I can testify with integrity that Pete Day is a pastor who most certainly is striving in that direction and those dear folk in London are fortunate to have such a man of God with a vision to see the people of God set free from condemnation and guilt and loosed into New Covenant life.

What about some of my other favourite churches?

"City Church International" - no surprise I love this name and get a tingle from it. But the challenge is immense. Not only is this church set itself a goal of being a blessing and a gift to the city of Hong Kong but they have also set the world as their parish. "World evangelisation" is the goal and nothing less will do! Those who follow the ministry of City Church International will know that is true. The sheer fact that a church less than 5 years old managed to attract over 20 nations to the "Glory and Grace" conference!

"Church of Christ the King" - again this awesome church has set it's standard through it's name as exalting and glorifying the risen and reigning Christ Jesus. I've expressed my dissatisfaction before with a persistance in calling Jesus Christ; "The Saviour". Indeed He is our Saviour but that was a part of His earthly ministry that is now complete. He is our glorious risen and reigning King - and sits enthroned TODAY! That's why any emphasis or focus should remind us of a throne or an empty tomb - not a cross. And again I can testify that visiting CCK certainly makes you aware of the risen Christ.

"Jubilee Church - Sydney" - well I haven't actually visited this church but I know it's very dear to the heart of my friend Ursula. But I love the name "Jubilee". I think there's a few churches in the UK with that name. What does "jubilee" mean and suggest? This is the best definition;

"Jubilee (Christian), the year of Jubilee is a special year for the remission of sins and universal pardon where debts are forgiven, slaves and prisoners freed, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, a Jubilee year is to occur every fifty years".

So the challenge to a "jubilee" church is this - do they make their people aware that this is the year of God's favour? Or are the people actually unaware that God is even delighted with us!?

I would be remiss if I didn't mention my former home church in Dunstable. It went through an interesting but telling change of name. We used to be known as "New Covenant Church" which is clear enough in it's statement. We are and were a people of the New Covenant! But then the name was changed along with the doctrinal position of the church to it's present name; "West Street Baptist Church". To my mind, there is little challenge in that name. It's simply a geographical statement that the church meets in West Street in Dunstable and they are "baptist" - whatever that means.

But I think possibly the greatest challenging name that a church can adopt is to call themselves; "Grace Church". It is such a basic word but is only one I am learning about in these last few years. "God's redemption at Christ's expense" is one often-used but oversimplified definition. The scope of grace is as glorious as the stars that God flung into space. No matter how often we stare at it, we still haven't quite covered it or even begun to see all aspects of it!

But surely to call yourself "Grace Church" is making a statement to the watching world that the whole place is saturated in the grace of God. That there is no condemnation or guilt or legalism. Indeed legalism (being the exact opposite to grace) should be so far removed that even the concept of legalism in a "Grace Church" is laughable. Every member would hate and despise what legalism and law does to the Christian!

In fact because they are a "Grace Church" - if the grace of God is known in dynamic reality then the Presence of God in a manifest fashion should be daily/weekly present and known. Signs, wonders and miracles should be commonplace for the people know that it is nothing to do with their efforts but in fact the divine boundless energy and love and passion of a loving God!

I wonder what part "by-laws" have to play in a "grace" church ...

I saved the best till last. In 2007 Rob Rufus prophesied that we would begin to see 100% first generation grace churches being born into the earth. That were not just "grace" by name and legalism by doctrine. And personally I have always loved the name "New Covenant" and loved the name "Grace". Partly because the last two churches I was a member at were called that (although they didn't live up to the name by any standard) - but also because I just love, love, love the names. So Julie and Aaron Morris have combined the two!

"New Covenant Grace Church". What a challenge facing them! But I don't know of a couple better placed to lead this precious group of people and ultimately change Canada and the nations. Because I am fortunate enough to see the heart-ache, worry, pain and agony that this couple suffer - but the determination to not allow legalism to flourish anywhere near them.

A rather random blog post I know. But just a meandering-inspired by the rush hour this morning! Do our doctrines really adorn our names? Are we free? Are we really a "grace" church? Is the world our parish, the nations our mission field? Are we breaking new frontiers where possible? Or is our name actually a historical nostalgic something dreamt up by a pastor when he was at college? Because our names are what the world sees first - and don't tend to be impressed if what they see is the opposite of what is claimed.


jul said...

Dan, I'm sitting here tearing up! I could kiss you! Thanks so much for your kind and encouraging words, you have no idea what they mean to me right now...

Dan Bowen said...

Ha ha awww well just the truth!

David Clavey said...

The problem with the name "new covenant church" is when you do door to door, which I did for a few years with David Fortune. As soon as we said the words "hello we are from new ..." we sounded like we were a new church. indeed we used to add "formally called west street baptist, you know the building next to the coop.