A Coffeehouse By Any Other Name

by John Gaines (used with permission)

A recent news story announced that the Starbucks Coffeehouse chain is going to test market the concept of opening new locations branded only with a local name.  The first such location will be called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, located reasonably enough on 15th Avenue in Seattle.  The Starbucks logo will be nowhere in sight and even the coffee will be rebranded “15th Avenue Coffee” rather than Starbucks.

It will still be Starbucks.  The product will be exactly the same as Starbucks.  It will simply be called by a different name.  A company official said that the new name was meant to give the store a “community personality.” That sounds a lot like what has been happening with some churches in recent years.  For example, the Saddleback Church in California was established under the name “Saddle back Valley Community Church” in 1980, but its pastor, Rick Warren, said in a 2005 interview, “I’m Southern Baptist, our church is Southern Baptist….” However, they never presented themselves under the Southern Baptist label.

Advocates of the Community Church movement have explained their desire to appeal to all members of their community and think that the use of denominational names might discourage some from other backgrounds attending their services.

Just as Starbucks may call itself something different, but it’s still Starbucks, so a Baptist church might not use that name, but it is still a Baptist church if it teaches Baptist doctrine.

Looking at the website of the Saddleback Church, one finds a section titled “What We Believe.” Much of the information on that page is biblical and accurate.  We have no difficulty at all with the beliefs they affirm about God, Christ, and the Bible being inspired and error-free.  However, keep reading and you find this sentence in the paragraph on baptism: “Baptism does not save you, but shows the world that you have already been saved.” While that sentiment may be totally consistent with Baptist church doctrine, it starkly conflicts with Bible teacher in 1 Peter 3:21 that “baptism now saves you.” So the point is simple.  If the coffee is the same, it doesn’t matter if the place calls itself Starbucks or 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea.  If the teaching differs from the Bible, it doesn’t matter if a church wears the brand of a recognized denomination or identifies itself as a community church.

How much better it would be if all believers in Christ could be content to simply follow the New Testament and be Christians!  In the book of Acts, we read that the disciples in the city of Antioch were called Christians [Acts 11:26].  The name we wear should honor Christ, who is our Lord, and who gave himself to purchase the church with his blood [Acts 20:28].  It might not matter much what men call the institutions they have established, whether it is coffee shops or denominational churches.  However, if we want to be the church built by Jesus Christ, we ought to honor him both by wearing his name and by teaching the doctrine the Holy Spirit gave us by inspiration.