I had been serving Woodville Baptist Church as their youth minister. Woodville was, and still is, a small county-seat town located south of Natchez in the extreme southwest corner of the state. Woodville’s claim to fame was that it was the boyhood home of Jefferson Davis. Woodville also boasts the first standard-sized railroad line ever built in America, which once was used to ship cotton down to the Mississippi River at St. Francisville, Louisiana. Although it was a tiny town, they had very active Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Catholic churches, each one claiming to be the oldest of their denomination in the state. You could leave your house unlocked in Woodville and not worry about anybody breaking in.
I took my new bride from Woodville to New Orleans. We settled into an apartment belonging to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and I promptly went to a big New Orleans bank to open a checking account.
The bank clerk took one look at my check from Woodville, and said, “I can’t deposit this check. It doesn’t have an account number.” I said, “That bank doesn’t use account numbers. They go by your name.” The clerk sarcastically replied, “This is 1980. Nobody does that anymore.”
I just shrugged and said, “They do. Why don’t you call them and ask them?”
So the bank clerk took my challenge and left me sitting at his desk while he went off to another room and called. In a few minutes, he came back with a sheepish grin on his face.
I asked, “Well, did they tell you that my check was good?”
He said, “Yeah, and the guy also said to tell you hello.”
It’s nice to be known by your name rather than just a number, isn’t it?
God knows your name. Revelation 10:15 tells us that he has the names of all who believe in Jesus Christ written in his Book of Life. And beside the name of each believer, that book has these words written: “Paid in Full,” because Christ made full payment for our sins upon the cross (1 Corinthians 6:20). That’s one book that I’ve made sure has my name. And you can take that to the bank!
Copyright by Bob Rogers
Recently I heard about a church named “Church by the Side of the Road.” I’m sure there was a good reason to name the church that, but for some reason it conjured up pictures in my head of a church broken down and abandoned on the roadside.
I once served as pastor of Calhoun Baptist Church in Hot Coffee, Mississippi. Hot Coffee is the name of a rural community with two country stores and one church. I always thought it would be fun to change the name of the church to Hot Coffee Baptist Church, but I found out that I would be getting into hot water to suggest such a radical change. They might have decided to send me to Boiling Springs Baptist Church, which is in Soperton, Georgia.
Nevertheless, that experience caused me to pay attention to unusual church names.
A real tongue-twister from Mississippi is Eastabutchie Baptist Church. (Try saying that aloud really fast.) Saint James the Less Catholic Church in New Orleans has to be careful how they display their name on their sign, because they don’t want anybody to think they’re “Less Catholic.” I wonder if Spray United Methodist Church in Eden, North Carolina believes in more than just sprinkling. Cape Coral, Florida has a congregation named “Church Today.” Can you imagine the confusion when you ask a member, “Have you been to church today?”
Lots of churches are named “Unity” and “Harmony,” but in Miller’s Grove, Texas, they were honest enough to name the church Divide Baptist Church. I wonder if they split off from Petty United Methodist Church, which is also in Texas.
A member of North Spoon Baptist Church in Pearl River County, Mississippi, told me they chose their name “because there was already a South Fork.” Somewhere in Africa, there is a Wet Cow Manure Baptist Church. Apparently when the tribal chief asked what they should name it, the missionary told them to name it after something precious to them.
The state of Georgia, where I lived for years, is full of interesting church names. I’d love to visit Star of Bethlehem Baptist in Douglasville at Christmas, and I’d love to celebrate communion at Church of the Living Bread in Stone Mountain. I’m sure that Georgia New Seoul Baptist Church in Tucker is a Korean congregation, but I love the double-meaning.
Whispering Pines Baptist Church in Hephzibah sounds like a peaceful place to worship, and God’s Acre Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta must have the perfect location. I’ve always heard that there is no perfect church, but the folks might disagree at Ideal Baptist Church (located in Ideal, of course.)
Which reminds me that, while there is no perfect church, there is a church that is ideal for you, if you’ll just look around with an open mind and heart and seek a church that loves Jesus, loves the Bible, and loves people.
Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
Many pastors have come to learn some deep, dark secrets of members that we must take to our graves. But thanks to HIPAA, one of the secrets we used to find out about has been hidden. I’m talking about the real first names of church members.
You see, hospitals list patients by the name that is on their insurance, not by the name their family and friends call them. In the old days, the preacher could look at the list of patients at the information desk, and find out, for example, that John Smith was actually Orville J. Smith. Of course, John didn’t like to use the name “Orville” and would beg the preacher to keep it a secret. Going to visit “Bubba”? No problem, you could just ask for his last name and find him. But then along came HIPAA.
HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a law that protects the privacy of hospital patients and wreaks havoc on the hospital visitation ministry of pastors. Under HIPAA, patients have the right to refuse the release of any information to anybody, including their own pastors. And under HIPAA, anybody inquiring about a patient must give the correct name of the patient– even if the patient doesn’t go by that name.
So now when the preacher goes to the hospital and asks for John Smith, the lady at the information desk looks down at “Orville J. Smith” on her computer screen, and then looks up at the preacher with a smirk and says, “I’m sorry, we don’t have anybody by that name.” The preacher can beg and plead and promise to do a wedding for her family for free, but she will just say, “Have you ever heard of HIPAA? I can’t release that information unless you can give me the correct name.”
I must admit, we preachers had it coming. After all, for years we have abused that privileged information, barging into the hospital room and loudly asking, “How are you feeling Orville?” as John (a.k.a. Orville) hides under his sheets in embarrassment. But no more. Now, only God and your doctor have to know your real first name. That is, unless Orville wants his pastor to come pray before his next knee surgery.
In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was organized in Augusta, Georgia, just a couple hours’ drive north of where I now live. However, we’ve come a long way since then, not just in miles or time.
In 1845, one of the main reasons why Southern Baptists split from the North was that the SBC wanted to appoint slaveholders as missionaries. Today, many SBC churches are integrated, including my own, African-American pastor Fred Luter is our vice-president, and Luter will probably be elected president this year at the convention meeting in New Orleans.
In 1845, all of our churches were in the South. Today, we are still concentrated in the South, but we have churches in all 50 states. One of our largest churches is in California.
The idea of changing the name, particularly dropping the word “Southern” in favor of something else, has come up many times in the past century, and has always been voted down. Now the Executive Committee of the SBC is passing along the following recommendation to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention: to keep the legal name Southern Baptist, while at the same time encouraging churches that do not wish to use that name to adopt the informal name “Great Commission Baptists.”
I have mixed feelings about this recommendation. Although this is not officially a name change proposal, it could lead to name “erosion” and confusion. Imagine two Baptists who meet and ask about each other’s churches. One says, “I’m a Southern Baptist.” The other says, “I’m a Great Commission Baptist.” They have no idea their churches are affiliated with one another. How does that unify us?
While the name “Southern Baptist” is negative for some, it has positive connotations for others, such as those who received assistance in SBC disaster relief efforts after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and for millions who found faith and Christian nurture in an SBC church.
I am a Southerner, but I grew up an Army chaplain’s son, and lived outside the South, as well. I remember that while attending a Southern Baptist church on Staten Island, New York, that “Southern” was not considered helpful to evangelism. After all, what New Yorker wants to join a “Southern” church? However, the church simply used the name “Baptist,” just as most SBC churches do in the South, including my own. My former youth minister, Jason McNair, who now serves in the Utah-Idaho convention, feels that a name change is a waste of time and energy and doesn’t address the most important issues.
If we earn a good reputation, people don’t care as much about the name. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is the name of a conservative Lutheran denomination. Lutherans looking for a conservative church are glad to find a church by that name, even if they are not in Missouri. It’s not the name that matters; it’s the reputation behind the name. After all, New York Life Insurance sells in Georgia, and Kentucky Fried Chicken sells in California.
Some claim that “Southern” is offensive to African-Americans. I asked this question of my former classmate Cathy McNair, an African-American who graduated with me from Petal High School in Petal, Mississippi. She said, “Well….used to…back in the stone age…it was pretty much understood that Southern Baptist was a synonym for Blacks need not attend….nowadays…not so much.” (By the way, Cathy said about the same thing as Jason, that spending time on a name change was ignoring “weightier matters.”)
Cathy makes an important point about the “used to” and “nowadays” of the Southern Baptist name. Although the name remained the same, the name gained a new reputation over the years, as Southern Baptists repented of the racial sins of the past and many SBC churches opened their doors to all races.
And here is the key: we must be known for what we are for instead of what we are against. Too often we are known as those people who boycott Disney and hate gays. We should be known as the people who love all people (gays included) enough to show them how to change. Our logo says it all. The cross, Bible and globe show what we are for: the gospel of forgiveness by faith in Jesus’ death on the cross, faithfulness to the Bible, and sharing this good news with the whole world. If we are known for these things, we will please our Lord, whatever name we choose to use.
I may vote in favor of the recommendation, since it keeps the legal name and only encourages those who already don’t want to use the SBC name to at least use the same name (“Great Commission Baptist”). But for me, the bottom line is, that it’s far more important for us to change our ways than to change our name.
(The Southern Baptist Convention will hear this proposal at its meeting in New Orleans on June 19-20, 2012.)
To read more on this subject, read these reports and blogs:
Official recommendation from the task force on a name change.
by Ed Stetzer, researcher with LifeWay Christian Resources, favors a name change, but feels changing our actions is more important. Many comments on his blog, many of them with objections to the name change.
by Benjie Potter, feels the name change proposal is silly, and offers a Southern Baptist revision of Shakespeare’s “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”
(Below is a photograph of the historical marker in Augusta, Georgia, where the Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845.)