Faith Matters: What’s in a church name?

  • Rev. Joseph DiDonato of Faith Church, formerly Faith Baptist Church, on Silver Street in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Faith Church in Greenfield. Recorder file photo/PAUL FRANZ

Faith Church
Friday, October 27, 2017

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)

12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Cor 1:11-13

The Apostle Paul asks a good question, “Is Christ divided?”

The world is divided by race, class, age, orientation, gender, politics and creed. Christianity in some ways is no different. You probably noticed that there are different kinds of churches. We have Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopal and Pentecostal churches, just to name a few. Each of these denominations have similarities, distinctions and outright differences. There are preconceived notions when it comes to denominational names. What do you think of when I say Catholic or Pentecostal or Baptist? More often than not, what comes to mind is what has been portrayed by the media, which has not always been good — think Westboro Baptist (known for allegations of hate speech)!

Denominationalism can be divisive and has caused the church to lose credibility among the fastest growing group in America — the “Nones”.

This growing group chooses to be unaffiliated with any religious group. The Nones are done with denominationalism and the hatred that is often associated with certain strands of Christianity. The Pew Research Center says this about the Nones: “In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent of all U.S. adults.” This is something that we should take note of.

Denominationalism has become a hindrance to the average American. Today, there is no denominational loyalty like there was 50 years ago. I was brought up in the Catholic Church, and I remember hearing people say, “I was born a Catholic and I will die a Catholic.” As Stan Reib says, “For the unchurched, there is little or no difference between any denomination. Their only perception is that some denominations are more negative or judgmental toward those who are not part of their group.” In other words, denominational names can be an obstacle for many.

At this point in my ministry, I have been affiliated with Baptist movements for 29 years and will continue to do so. However, I am not tied to the name “Baptist” but I do embrace a Baptist heritage.

There are all kinds and styles of Baptist churches. Baptists, in my opinion, are the most diverse in their methods, styles and beliefs. One reason for this is that Baptists are not technically considered a denomination since each church is autonomous. Baptists are nondenominational. They have no popes, bishops or cardinals. There is no Baptist headquarters. Most Baptist churches voluntarily cooperate with other churches and missions. Baptists are free to worship and “do church” according to their own conscience.

While Baptists are known for their method of baptism (immersion), Baptist identity is originally known for these four distinctions.

1. Bible freedom: Every Christian has the right to interpret the bible freely.

2. Soul freedom: Every Christian approaches God without imposition of creed, clergy or civil government.

3. Church freedom: Each church is autonomous and free from any denominational control.

4. Religious freedom: Baptists affirm freedom OF religion, freedom FOR religion, and freedom FROM religion, insisting that “Caesar is not Christ, and Christ is not Caesar.”

So, what’s in a church name? As you see this can be confusing. For this reason, we have shortened our name from Faith Baptist Church to Faith Church as it reflects our priorities and convictions.

Our Baptist heritage causes us to put more emphasis on “Faith” and “Church” than on a manmade name, “Baptist.” We are committed to the practical unity of all those who acknowledge Christ. We resolve to sink into spiritual union with the body of Christ at large. We are Faith Church — a church that believes that loving God is about loving people. We are a Jesus kind of church. Here are three other reasons why we want to be known as Faith Church.

1. There are no Baptist churches in the Bible — just Christians who gather together as the church. It is not the name on the church that matters, but what’s going on inside the church. People do not stay at a church for the name, but they do stay because of the community inside the church.

Our focus is on Faith and Community centered on Jesus and His Gospel. I asked a long-time member what he thought of taking the name Baptist out, and he said, “It doesn’t matter the name on the outside, I am still coming here every week because of what happening inside.” Another member of our church said, “The church is people. Our church is not the name or building but the people inside it. I love the church because I love people.”

2. I have met people that have had a bad experience at a denominational church, and they automatically lump all churches under that denomination together and will never go again. By removing the denominational name, we are striving to be more inviting — giving people space to experience what church is supposed to be about — Jesus and the Cross.

3. We love Greenfield, Franklin County and the Pioneer Valley, and therefore, it makes sense. A member said, “If we are just looking to reach Baptists, then we should leave our name alone, but if we are looking to reach all kinds of people, then take it out.” That make sense!

Ultimately, Faith Church is a Jesus church — a church that reads the Bible in a Jesus-centered way. We believe Christianity is about Jesus and not about being Baptist, Catholic or any other denomination. Faith Church is not about religion, but it is about a place for people to come — to wrestle, doubt and struggle, and discover faith, hope and love in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Growing up Catholic, I participated in the life of the church leading up to my Confirmation. At the age of 17, I left the Catholic Church. It was not about becoming Baptist as much as it was in following Jesus. I found that freedom in a Baptist church, a “Baptist” church that did not make a big deal about their name. At the end of the day and the end of my life, it is only about the One Man who laid down His life for us and rose again — Jesus. Faith Church is about Jesus. We invite you to experience what we are about this Sunday. We’d love to meet you.

About Faith Church

Join us at 8:45 or 11 a.m. on Sundays. We are a diverse but grace-orientated group that strives to be a just, truthful and generous expression of the Christian faith. We have lively music and Jesus-centered teachings from the Bible. Check us out at discoverfaithchurch.com and follow us on Facebook. We are at 331 Silver St., Greenfield.