When I introduce myself to someone, I give him my name. That name communicates something. For less famous people like me, most people I meet for the first time have just been made aware of my existence as a human being on planet earth. Once in a great while I get this response, “Oh, I’ve heard of you!” And then my mind races to determine what they might have heard about me. I usually come up with very few things.
After giving my name and getting his name, the conversation generally turns to questions about the person. Questions like the following are customarily asked back and forth: “What do you do?” “Where do you work?” “Do you have a family?” “What sports do you like?’ “What are your hobbies?” and inevitably I get to what is important to that person and he gets to what is important about me. But what is important to me? I want people to know that I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, a believer in the gospel, and sinner saved by grace.
Now there are many things that go along with this; important distinctions that define the kind of Christian that I am. For instance, I am a Trinitarian, Calvinistic, continuationalist, new covenantal, reformed, complementarian, baptistic, congregational, premillennial, Christian.
However, which of these tenets do I highlight to this person I just met?
Do I say I am a ….
New Covenantal Christian?
I am all of these things, but usually I say I am a Christian and ask if I can explain what that means.
I am not ashamed of any of the above titles, nor am I hesitant to talk about them in the right setting. They all accurately describe my Christianity, if defined properly. Yet too often, when just meeting someone, I am not given the time to define each of these term. Often there is only time for one and I want that one chance to be the gospel. I want people to know what it means to be a Christian: a sinner, rightly judged by God, yet saved by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that all who trust in Jesus will be saved.
But if I get caught up defining the above titles, I may not get the chance to share the gospel. Rather, as I get to know the person and he gets to know me, we will find the time to talk about these other important issues; to lay out the deeper truths. And if you have known me for any length of time, I love to dig in and discuss these issues.
Also, to present myself in all my Christian distinctiveness can be off-putting. Many of these terms have been misunderstood. Let me provide you with some examples of common misunderstandings: Trinitarians are polytheistic (believing in more than one god); Calvinists don’t care about evangelism, missions, or holiness; Continuationalists don’t believe in the sufficiency of Scripture; New Coventalists don’t have any use for the Old Testament, specifically the Mosaic Law; Reformed people are just argumentative people; Complementarians don’t let women do anything in church; Baptists “don’t smoke, drink, or chew, or go with girls that do,” but they do picket military funerals; Congregationalists become majority rule, like a democracy or club, with no care about what the bible says; Premillennialists hold the beliefs presented in the “Left Behind” series.
See the dangers in just stating the kind of Christian I am without an opportunity to define myself?
The same dangers exist as a church. When we present ourselves as “Baptist” we open ourselves up to misunderstandings, too often without the opportunity to define ourselves.
Also, we define ourselves by only one of our tenets: Baptist. Is that the most important tenet we hold? Is that how we want to introduce ourselves to people we meet for the first time? Do we want to spend our few moments explaining what we mean by “Baptist” over, let’s say, the gospel?
And, just as I am not ashamed of any of my biblical views that define my Christianity, neither should the church feel ashamed of its biblical views that define it. When talking about changing the name of the church, it’s not about changing our beliefs, or being ashamed of them, or hiding them.
A name change is about presenting what is most important to new people and it’s about removing the stumbling block of misunderstanding that often leads us to explaining everything but the gospel.
It’s about making much of the gospel, much about Jesus Christ, and much about God’s glory.
It’s about passionately pursuing the glory of God.