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Naming Rites

Eutychus II

As much as the preachers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church may seek to practice John Calvin's hermeneutic of brevitas et facilitas in their biblical exegesis, it is a principle that has not applied to our name. I was painfully reminded of this recently when I fell into a conversation during a high school baseball game with a mother of one of my son's teammates. When she asked where I went to church, I proudly replied, "Reformation Orthodox Presbyterian Church."

"Wow," she gasped, "That's a mouthful!"

When I posed the same question to her, "Northside Grace" was her quick reply."

"Wow," I thought. "Three syllables!"

Those who are familiar with the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church know that our name was neither original nor has it appealed to some within and beyond the church as particularly attractive. Forced by threat of lawsuit by the vindictive mainline Presbyterian Church in the USA, the Presbyterian Church of America adopted Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1939, narrowly selecting the moniker over several alternatives. (I still chuckle over the one-upmanship in this nomination: "The True Presbyterian Church of the World" [emphasis added but doubtlessly in the mind of the nominator].)

I am not that bothered by the name myself. I do not buy the charge that it is implicitly boastful (as if the emphasis falls on the definite article that precedes it: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church). Still I concede that the name remains a stumbling block for at least a few in the church. And so in order to remove unnecessary offense I put myself to work imagining how the OPC might change its name and give its image a long-overdue update at the same time.

What is needed is a smart sounding name that grabs attention. Let's abandon the futile effort to find a way to describe ourselves as Presbyterian and American. Not only are all those permutations and combinations exhausted, but that sort of nomenclature is entirely passé and will simply not communicate to a media-savvy audience. No, we need something a lot livelier. How about a number? "Reformation 360" has a global hue to it, don't you think? Oh, but wait: isn't conversion a 180 degree turn? Or does "Reformation 180" sound half-hearted? Hmm, numbers might make too many heads spin.

Another possibility invokes the old DuPont wisdom of better living through chemistry. An "emerging" church in my neck of the woods has branded itself "H2O." Get it? As in water, that is, living water? So how about NaCl—you will recall from high school chemistry that is the symbol for salt—as in salt of the earth! I tested this with a focus group of a few friends and they wondered if it stood for some obscure cult like the National Association of Christian Libertines. So scratch that thought.

Maybe the trick is to combine two words and create a trademark neologism. Something like "Reformergence." Why can't we be both Reformed and emergent? Who is to say this is an either/or? On the other hand, what if folks focus on the "merge" in the middle? And suppose this puts pressure on union with another body? Then what becomes of my branding genius? I do not want it to go the way of "Cingular."

I finally settled on following Mark Driscoll's lead. The Seattle ecclesial entrepreneur has coined his hip network of followers the "Acts 29" network. It seems that the OPC might want to call itself "Acts 27." After all, that chapter was all about a shipwreck.

Ordained Servant Online, May 2010.