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Shakespeare may have prophesied when asking, “What’s in a name?”

He might as well have said to me, “What’s a nice boy like you doing in a place like this?” You recognize it; words that play off the old saw screenwriters put on the lips of the guy leaning on the bar, leering at the woman serving drinks, and then inquiring, “What’s a nice girl like you…etc.” But I’m not a pretty waitress, we weren’t in a bar, and he wasn’t leering. He was expressing a clear-cut judgment though.

It was a friend–a nice guy, but still suspicious. He was dubious about anything “church” –so much of which he automatically would label “traditional.” Now, he had heard I had been elected President of The Foursquare Church denomination.

“Tell me, Jack,” he ventured. “How do you… well… do you feel comfortable… I mean, about accepting this role?” His actual words didn’t really make his point; it was his tone (not dubious, but bewildered), his eyes (not unkindly challenging, but suggesting mild cynicism), and it was also his manner. It was clear that he didn’t doubt me or my worth, but was equally clear that he was doubtful that whatever investment anybody might make could possibly be enough to recover the value of so archaic an ecclesiastical artifact as “a denomination.”

Like the worn out “what’s a nice girl” cliché, there is another today, quoted with surprising ease and frequency, presuming its repetition verifies its accuracy. It is phrased different ways, but essentially announces the foregone conclusion that we have come to “the end of denominational Christianity” (or at least the end of any possible vitality in any of them). Whatever may in fact be true about change in where people focus their faith today, that presumption reminds me of Mark Twain’s remark when, after falling ill overseas, reports in some American newspapers read, “Mark Twain Dies In England.” Twain immediately sent a telegram to his publisher with the now famous line, “Please advise the press that announcements concerning my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Without seeming to defend the office I’ve accepted [let me correct that to say, “a divine mandate I believe I have been given by God and confirmed by man”] please accept my invitation to think with me concerning this topic.

First, let me assert that, to my view, the oft-indulged presumption that “denominations” are dead, dying or passé is essentially the product of incorrect “denominating.” The word itself essentially means (a) “to give a name to, or designate,” and is also used (b) to express monetary terms–dollars, lira, yen, marks, rubles, etc. Those two facts might, in fact, teach us something–relating as they do to more than “something historic,” but to the meaning and value in a name. They illustrate the historic fact that virtually every church “denomination” was born and named as the result of something you and I would call a “prophetic word from the Lord.” Presbyterians sought local and area church leadership by elders (Gk. presbuteros) rather than a distant pope or cardinal; Methodists focused the disciplining methods of full hearted, committed disciples rather than the sloth of nominal Christianity; etc. Even where the names of individuals were involved (Lutheran, Campbellites), the primary value and issue at stake wasn’t the leaders name, but the message he characterized—always one of revival, or fresh mission in the life of the Spirit.

The “denominated” value wasn’t in a tradition but in a passion. The purpose wasn’t to establish an institution but to experience a fresh incarnation of Jesus ministry among and through His people. So properly speaking, wherever the passion continues, the “denominated” group can’t be “dead.”

Of course, at the same time–and it’s sadly true–there are instances where values and passion have become forgotten and died as one generation has followed another. And when that happens, denominations do die, even though they still seem to exist, and thereby lend credence to the “old saw” that generalizes about all denominations. But the facts are, that not only are there many very vital denominations today, but also that the “dead” in any group (denominational or otherwise) is more likely only among portions of that tradition than to the entire group. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever known of any denomination that didn’t have a residue of health among a remnant; a fact that argues against the judgmental, small-souled attitude that jibes “any and all.”

My own commitment to the Foursquare Church has never obstructed my freedom to either (a) relate to and interrelate with any part of the whole Body of Christ, or (b) pursue my sense of prophetic mission and vision in answering Christ’s call on my life. One reason, doubtless, is that those are both primary values written into the core of my particular denomination. But quite beside my experience, I have friends in Presbyterian, Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, Reformed, Baptist, Congregational and other denominations, who are as vitally alive in, committed to and functional in Spirit-filled life, ministry and revival blessing as anyone–yet who still observe their traditions (infusing them with the revival power in which their respective tradition was born)! In short, they–we, I dare say–live in a constancy that is, for us, not a bondage to history, but is a commitment to an expectancy–a living hope! That hope that God honors hungry hearts with His fullness (Matt. 5:5) and worshipping congregations with the revelation of Himself (John 4:23). For these, the denominated “name” isn’t a restriction, but it themes a quest for God that brings release and invokes the working of God’s Spirit in power. (For example: Foursquare themes a four-fold message of Jesus Christ–Savior, Healer, Baptizer and Coming King–squarely based on God’s Word. I’ve had no problem keeping passionate about that–that is, about Jesus!)

In noting as much, let me warn any who might need the caution: Don’t be duped by the idea that because something is “denominational” it will automatically be spiritually vacuous. Not only is that dishonest, it also tilts toward the side of the critic’s inevitable slide to pride that will surely become deceiving at best and destructive at worst. I recall knowing a leader who years ago left the denomination of his youth (for justifiably explainable reasons), but within a few years had framed a fellowship of churches under his own leadership (and a quite fruitful one at that). To this day he would deny that he has formed “a denomination,” and he would shudder if you called it an “apostolic network.” However, as time has passed, the structures he criticized have been substituted for by strictures within his own group—lines of control that are every bit as limiting as those things he supposed he had transcended when leaving “a denomination.” The point: Better simply to announce what God has called you to be, and not to denounce what you aren’t or what you may think is less valid than you see your group being. You may become a mirror of what you criticize.

I’ve seen leaders who have “husbanded” the founding of their own “independent” group, regaling followers with stories of denominational failures that surpass by far the unreliable concoctions often designated as “old wives tales.” There is nothing unworthy about the independent or autonomous church, to my view. But an “independent spirit” will inevitably manifest and multiply rebellion and separatism.

We need to foster the value of one another in the Church, wherever we come from or whatever we’re named. In my week-long sessions at the School of Pastoral Nurture (see, I seek to mentor toward a spiritually-passionate, compellingly gracious and biblically-spectrumed hunger for Holy Spirit power that urges: “bloom where you’re planted (Titus 1:5a),” and “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3-6).

I have been encouraged to watch the framing up of new fellowships of churches–indeed, new “denominations”–within the few years of my own leadership. Calvary Chapel, The Vineyard, the Family of Faith and Praise Chapel, to name only a few, and each has a vibrancy and passion unique to its founder or founders. Furthermore, I honor those networks framed around true, biblically characterized apostles–men who serve a constituency with an authority born of humility, not contrived by power brokering. [I distinguish these from any “network,” however framed or named, that serves more to elevate the leader than serve those he leads, or escalates “control” rather than generating “release.”] My point though is to note that these, too, are all “denominations.” Their newness in being formed, and irrespective of the structures by which they are framed, neither can nor do alter the fact: They have a name and a value—they are denominational, like it or not.

Where am I going in all this? Well, actually, I’m simply going where I’ve been for the last forty-eight years: I’m moving forward, committed to Christ and His Church–the whole Bride, notwithstanding her “warts”–any of her yet-unremoved “spots” or still-un-ironed-out “wrinkles”(Eph. 5:27). And within my denomination, in my role as “President,” I’ve simply received a call to serve as one assigned by the hand of Jesus and confirmed by the hands of a multitude of brethren. Frankly, of great excitement to me is the fact that a significant re-structuring of the Foursquare Church took place just prior to my placement in office–one that releases the dynamism of a more apostolic order of release and growth. Further, I’ve always liked the fact that Jesus placed me in a fellowship that has always honored the Whole Family of God–Christ’s Church; and always lived in the value emblazoned in the cornerstone of our founding church–Angelus Temple: “Dedicated unto the cause of Inter-denominational and World Wide Evangelism.”

So, my friend, who seemed to suspect that I had been sucked by ecclesiastical politics into the vacuum of some inert structure devoid of spiritual promise or hope, is bound to be disappointed. Not only that I’m still going to be alive, joyous and vital in Jesus, but so will be a long list of friends who know who they are, and where (denominationally) they’ve been called to be. The list includes names from Robert Schuller to Bill Hybels, from Paul Walker to Tommy Barnett, from John Maxwell to Rick Warren… and the beat goes on. As you know, not one of them is trapped by sectarianism, but neither is their kind threatened by or assailants of denominations…or of those who aren’t in one.

May their “denomination”–that is, those values–always increase!

Copyright, 2005 – J. W. Hayford (Publishing rights authorized by Strang Communications, Lake Mary, Florida)

(1934-2023) was the former president of The Foursquare Church and founding pastor of The Church On The Way.