Why are so few U.S. churches named after John the Baptist?

Dec 9, 2016 by

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According to our local phone directory, there are numerous churches with names of spiritual greats, Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; Saints Michael, Andrew, James and Stephen; and the Saints Peter, Paul and Mary.

But why so few named after St. John the Baptist? The only one I know in our area is a Catholic parish in Front Royal. Then there is the well known shrine to him in Jerusalem, an elaborate Franciscan Church of John the Baptist built at the supposed site of his birth.

Assuming that a congregation’s name is meant to express something of its mission and message, why don’t more churches choose to embody the revolutionary life and preaching of this renowned prophet and preacher? Especially since his primary purpose (like that of the church) was to announce to all the worldwide reign of Jesus?

Here are some ways such a church might define itself:

Mission: We exist to announce regime change. We are here to embody the just and transformative Rule of Heaven being established right here on earth, as incarnated in the life, teaching, death and death-overcoming reign of King Jesus.

Message: We emphasize a complete and profound change of life, enlisting people into the Reign of God Movement through the initiation rite of baptism. We urge everyone, from the lowliest to the greatest, to change their ways, to get in line with God’s plan to make all crooked places straight and to make of all mountains of privilege a level plain, and of announcing heaven’s shalom, salvation, liberation and justice to all.

Lifestyle: We will identify with those who own little rather than those who hoard much. If we have more than we need, we will share with those who have less, meanwhile living simply, frugally and generously.

Community Rapport: While we pray for deliverance from severe tests, we will expect opposition, unpopularity, persecution and even death, knowing that nothing can ultimately defeat God’s saving work in the world he created — and came to restore and redeem.


The following is from one of last Sunday’s lectionary texts:

John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:


Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!


John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.


When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.


– Matthew 3:3-10 (the Message)

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.

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