Scrooge never painted out Marley’s name. There it stood years afterward, above the warehouse door: “Scrooge and Marley.” From A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.
Have the “Spade & Archer” taken off the door and “Samuel Spade” put on. From The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
Ebenezer Scrooge has never taken Jacob Marley’s name off the door of their counting house. 7 years after his death there it remains. Why? Is it because he is too miserly to pay to have the sign redone? Or is there perhaps a deeper reason – could it be that the only long-term friendship he had was with Jacob Marley, and he can’t bring himself to remove that name?
Sam Spade has his partner’s name removed from the door the day after Miles Archer is murdered. Why? Could it be his contempt for the amoral, dull-witted Archer? Then again, he works relentlessly to solve Miles’ murder. But perhaps that is only him being true to his code – as he says “It doesn’t matter what you think of him, he’s your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.”
Last night at Monday Night for the Master a box of metal letters was brought to me. These letters spelled out “Church of Christ” on the sign at our old building. But last night they were just jumbled letters in a box. It made me nostalgic, and more than a little sad. It also got me thinking about the name on our door. Why is it there? Do we use it to proclaim Christ’s ownership? Or is it a title, like any denominational name?
“Church of Christ” is certainly a biblical name for us to use (Romans 16.16), but there are others: “The Way” (Acts 9.2), and “Church of the Firstborn” (Hebrews 12.23) would also do nicely. We are a “Church of Christ” only insofar as we belong to Him – acknowledge His sovereignty. If we use the name as a matter of convenience – to distinguish us from the denominational churches down the street, then the name on the door IS a denominational name – no matter how biblical that name is otherwise.
Back in 1985 I led a mission trip to New Liskeard, Ontario. My Grandpa went, and I got to go door-knocking with him – which is like having a catch with Ozzie Smith. Most of us are awkward at cold calling, but my Grandpa was gifted at it. The minister in New Liskeard who had planted the congregation just called it “The Church,” because he wanted to avoid denominational labels. My Grandpa introduced us as “just Christians” to everyone. One man, a retired General Motors executive, wanted to know just what kind of Christians we were. “Catholic?” he asked. “No.” my Grandpa replied. “Protestant?” he followed. “No.” “C of C?” he inquired. This gave my Grandpa a moment’s pause until I explained the man meant “Church of Canada.” “No.” This went on and on through Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Moravian, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Russian Orthodox…. until I felt like I was in that Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch. The man finally just closed the door on us because we refused to accept a denominational name. If we had said “Church of Christ” to that man he would have pigeonholed us as just another denomination, instead of the true family of God.
There is one Church. Jesus has one body. Jesus shepherds one flock. God is the Father of one family. We are born into that family when we are baptized (John 3.5). As the body we recognize Jesus as our head. As the flock we recognize Jesus as our shepherd. As the family we recognize God as our Father on account of the blood of Christ. This is what we mean when we say we are the “Church of Christ.”
If we mean something else, then we have taken a biblical phrase and made something denominational out of it. If we mean something else we should follow Sam Spade’s example and remove a name from the door that no longer applies.