Names can be incredibly significant

Published 1:40 pm Monday, May 11, 2020

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By MICHAEL J. BROOKS | Guest Columnist

Note: This is an opinion column.

President Jimmy Carter once told his assembled advisers that no greater brain power had ever sat in that White House cabinet room before, except when President Thomas Jefferson dined there alone!

Jefferson was a man of many interests. He was a thinker, an inventor, a farmer and a scientist. As our third president, he foresaw the settling of the American Northwest after the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806. Jefferson thought the states carved from the Northwest should be divided into a geometric grid, and, according to historian Joseph J. Ellis, the president suggested several names: Sylvania, Metropotania, Cherronerus and Polypotamia (I guess Jefferson didn’t think of “Fredonia” later popularized by the Marx Brothers!). Instead, we have Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

William Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” Sometimes a name can be incredibly significant.

The early church struggled in a number of ways. First, they were confused about the mission of Jesus. Luke said that just before his ascension, the disciples asked Jesus about Israeli independence from Rome (Acts 1:6). Then they struggled about the reach of the gospel. The first followers of Jesus thought the gospel was for the Jews only. And even after they conceded that non-Jews could follow Christ, some insisted non-Jews become Jews first and then convert.

Another struggle they had was what to call themselves. Apparently, disciples called themselves “believers” and also “people of the way,” perhaps built on Jesus word in John 14:6 that he was “the way, the truth and the life.”

But it’s striking that it was in a non-Jewish church, Antioch, that followers of Jesus first became known as “Christians” (Acts 11:26).

“Christian” is built on the Greek word “Christos,” which is the equivalent of the Hebrew word “messiah.” The suffix seems to indicate “belonging to” or “slave of.” Whereas true followers of Christ were happy to be known as his servants, it’s believed that critics used the name in an unkind manner to denigrate Christians as mere slaves.

Christians are called to be true servants of Jesus, submitting to his authority in their lives and seeking to serve him in a needy world. What a standard to live up to!

The late Robert Schuller once explained one reason for constructing the Crystal Cathedral in California. He suggested that the church “hid” behind stained glass windows, and his congregation should worship behind clear glass so they could see a world in need outside their church.

Most of us don’t worship in glass worship places, but Schuller’s proposition is valid.

What’s in a name? “Christian” emphasizes we obediently follow in the steps of the Savior who healed the sick, gave hope to the hopeless and preached the gospel of forgiveness. -30-

Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is