After the American Civil War some members of the Louisiana Lottery attempted to recruit Robert E. Lee to lend them the influence of his name for their business venture. This is done commonly today among famous athletes, musicians and others and proves to be very lucrative. Some athletes make more on their endorsements than from their actual sport. Robert E. Lee was astounded, straightened up, buttoned his coat and yelled, “Gentlemen, I lost my home in the war. I lost my fortune in the war. I lost everything except my name. My name is not for sale, and if you fellows don’t get out of here, I’ll break this crutch over your heads!” Lee recognized that our name is more valuable than any monetary gain. Proverbs 22:1 “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold.” A good name should be highly desired. Ecclesiastes 7:1 also say’s “A good name is better than precious ointment.” Our character should be valued above our wealth, for they are useless if in gaining them we have ruined our character or integrity.
Sometimes in an effort to obtain a good name people change their names or clarify them. This could be because of a bad reputation or inaccurate reputation. We see several name changes in the Scripture that show a new mission or new identity. In the Old Testament Abram was changed to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah and Jacob to Israel. In the New Testament we have Peter’s name changed from Simon and Paul’s name from Saul. Today people can change their names and typically it happens during a season of life that signifies a new direction, like at marriage or adoption.
As Flat Run Considers simplifying and clarifying her name as a church to not include “Baptist,” some of the same reasons surface in our desire for a good name. While we do not believe our church has earned a negative reputation, we believe that the name “Baptist” in general is confusing and carries a negative connotation to a significant amount of people. A recent survey among the unchurched found that the description “Baptist” brought a negative reaction among 40%. People will generally identify your Baptist church with the Baptist church that they are most familiar with. It could be the charismatic one, the Southern one, the independent one, Free Will one, etc. We have experienced a false association first hand at Flat Run. There are dozens of Baptist groups and associations that are very different. Most people do not realize this and assume, with no opportunity to converse, that you are that church. Those that are unfamiliar with the name will probably google “Baptist” and will be led to even more negative links that jump up first in their news feed, like Westboro Baptist, the group that protest at military funerals. The decision to remove “Baptist” in a church’s name may not be for every Baptist church, but it is certainly each church’s right and responsibility to weigh whether the godly strains in “Baptist” heritage or the negative associations of today are what people associate them with. Certainly there are discerning believers who investigate beyond a name or association. A church must ask “does it help us or hurt us pursue our mission?” Mission drift is taking place in many ministries. We must be intentional about examining whether we are on target in each season. We believe our mission of “making disciples that worship, grow and serve” is reached with fewer hurdles without the baggage of the association. At the same time we understand that we are here today and are what we are because of God’s blessing and providence of placing us in this heritage.
A church’s good name is made up by more than its denominational associations though. A church’s good name is also influenced by the collective names of those that make up her membership. The testimony of each member collectively produces the reputation and character of each church. Ultimately it’s not so much what we call ourselves, but who we are as followers of Christ.