The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lafayette, Indiana was founded in 1968, and this week the congregation is celebrating fifty years of God’s work. It has a special place in my heart as the congregation of my youth. In its early days, the congregation was perhaps only fifty people strong. Like most church plants, it faced many needs.
A local businessman who was a millionaire many times over attended the church regularly. His wife whom he married later in life came to faith in Christ through the ministry of the church. By prenuptial agreement, she was not heiress to any of his wealth beyond enjoying his estate as long as she lived.
The man was known as a something of a narcissist and had no viable profession of faith in Christ. The church met for a season at one of his properties. He attended worship often. In time, he offered to give the church a very large donation, with one stipulation: that the church bear his name. It would have been the Simon Louis Reformed Presbyterian Church (not his real name).
Psalm 49:11 reminds us that people have forever tried to preserve their own legacy in death by giving their own names to their lands. Paid naming rights are the rage everywhere on public venues today. All of the key players in this story are all dead and gone, and the exact amount of his offer is unknown. One rumor puts the figure at $1,000,000.00 (the equivalent of as much as $5,000,000.00 purchasing power in today's dollars?). That number might be far higher than the number actually offered, but, whatever the amount, it was a ridiculously large sum for a little church like the Reformed Presbyterian Church of West Lafayette, as it was then known.
The elders worked gently with the man but denied the offer. Of course, the responsibility created by such a large amount of money would likely have destroyed the church by itself. But, there was a bigger issue; something far more precious than dollars was at stake. Simon the Magician, in Acts 8, learned that one cannot buy the power of God when he sought to purchase the right to work miracles. The Apostles exclaimed to Simon, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore…”(Acts 9:18-20).
The honor of Jesus was at stake. Only Jesus has the power to purchase his church. It can only be bought with the price of his blood. No one can buy their way into his body. He alone claims the naming rights to his bride. We are his.
The man’s soul was also at stake, and the elders knew that. They wanted his heart to be right with the Lord. Sadly, like the rich young ruler in Jesus day, this man in Lafayette went away sad when his offer was rejected. He did not return to the church. It is not known that he ever professed faith in Christ and repented of his sin. His name has largely been forgotten in the community.
But the name of Jesus and his church endures, and she was enriched through the elders actions to reject that gift so many years ago. This week, we’ll gather to celebrate the faithfulness of the Lord to take a relatively small church that is not very wealthy by earthly standards and rejoice that, through her, Jesus has made many rich. He has gathered God’s people locally through that congregation, planted other churches through her, and sent forth many pastors and missionaries through her. Those gathered to Jesus near and far have been made rich by becoming part of his bride, a bride which always will share in his full inheritance.