What's In A Name?

March 3, 1998

Isaiah 65:15 – But to His servants he will give another name.
Genesis 28:19 – He called that place Bethel.

As a new church on the western outskirts of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, one of the tasks for our group is to come up with a name for ourselves. In the passage from Isaiah, God promises to give a name to His servants. This presumably will be an eschatological or heavenly name. In the meantime we also give churches their temporal name. In Genesis 28, Jacob camps out in the open and during the night, sees angels ascending and descending upon a ladder from heaven to earth. He calls the place Bethel, which means literally, "house of God".

I've known many churches that have taken that name — usually Pentecostal or Baptist. Actually, calling a church Bethel Presbyterian Church would be redundant, as it would mean house of God church and since a church is a house of God, the two terms together are redundant. So the church should simply have a sign in front proclaiming, "Bethel" and nothing more. However, since we don't anticipate many folks in our new neighbourhood will read Hebrew, the conversation would probably go like this:

"George, look at that church sign: 'Bethel'. Where's the rest of the name?"

"I think they are Presbyterians, Mabel, and couldn't fit both words in the space."

We also have a quandary, as both St. Andrew's and Knox have been taken. I had a few suggestions, to which no one pays much attention. We are almost at the end of the Trans-Canada highway and have many seniors, and so I thought "Last Chance Presbyterian" would be good. No one else seems to agree, but then Sooke is west of here and the last stop westward, but they call themselves Knox.

I've noticed the Lutherans use the fruits of the Spirit for their church names. I've seen Hope Lutheran, Grace Lutheran, and Peace Lutheran among others. One member of the Sunday School wrote on her ballot, "The New Victorian Church of Love Presbyterian Church". I am very proud that she sees us that way, but doubt it will gain much support. It is curious too, don't you think, that no one uses all the fruits of the Spirit for naming churches. I've suggested the name "Long-suffering Presbyterian Church", and get some knowing glances. No one says so, but I think they would be happier with shorter sermons. Come to think of it, I don't care for that name or even "Patience Presbyterian", though is has a nice sound.

Actually I'm not at all worried about what names folks suggest. I think they will make a good responsible choice. They are Presbyterians, after all.

Another thing that is worth remembering is that in the long run we will be known by our fruit, if not named by them. I would not be unhappy overhearing in the coffee shop someone say to a friend:

"I know where your family can go for some help and spiritual guidance."

"Where's that? We've almost given up looking."

"Oh, you know, that Presbyterian church with the odd name."

"Oh, that one! OK, it's worth a try."

Prayer: Lord, whatever we are named on earth, we know that we are yours, and offer to you today the gift of wearing your name with pride and joy. Amen.

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About the author:

Harold McNabb
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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