Do you every wonder why spirituality is respected, but religion is a dirty word? Consider the myriad of Christian terms: Protestant, Orthodox, Reformed, Charismatic, Fundamentalist, Evangelical… And this is before we use sub-denominations, philosophies, or personalities. If this definition growth continues, we will soon run out of phone boxes to meet in.

Through history, Christ’s followers have fought long and significant battles for doctrinal purity. While some battles such as the Reformation were not sought, they were necessary and costly. I treasure the stand for the Bible that many of the reformers took, even if I do not adopt their belief systems entirely. Some gospel doctrines are non-negotiable.

Fast-forward five hundred years and divisions within God’s church have exploded exponentially. As Western-church persecution decreased, internal separation increased. We now separate over more than just the gospel. We abandon fellowship over music styles, associations, eschatology, translations, administrations, non-core interpretations, etc. It must be enough to make God weep (John 17).

These distinctive divisions are known by labels which represent particular interpretations or positions. Depending on who is using it, each label can be applied as a badge of honour or a heretical insult (i.e. they are premillennial). But one label is never enough, so we further break down our cliques into four point or five point Calvinism for example. Often we must string together three or four labels in order to communicate perfect purity or the complete insult (i.e. KJV, Independent, Fundamental, Baptist). The end result is that Christ’s body is clinically dissected with just a few words.

However, Christian labels are not as clear cut as we may think. Often a label is defined by our prejudices or based on our experience. We may have met an arrogant preacher who calls himself a fundamentalist and then extrapolate that all fundamentalists believe and act the same way. Alternatively, we may have seen a Pentecostal preacher abuse the gifts of the Spirit, and conveniently conclude that all charismatics are weak theologically. Sadly this lazy approach strokes our pride and creates unnecessary hurt.

Ultimately, if we really believe that the Bible is our sole authority for faith and practice, we must not dismiss others with a broad stroke. We must treat every believer and every congregation individually, with love and grace. None of this says that we cannot have a position on non-gospel issues or that hermeneutics is irrelevant, but it should cause us to ask Would Christ deny fellowship over it? Just because we disagree does not mean we must take a divided stand.

We must take time to listen to other believers to see if our understanding is grounded in Scripture or a theological system. By uplifting underlying truths, we can devalue unnecessary labels. How many straw men have we created that will be incinerated in the light of Christ’s glory? Are our motives to build and fortify a religious empire or to grow in his Spirit? We may be pleasantly surprised to discover that there is fellowship outside our artificial boundaries. If we are confident that God is building his kingdom, then let’s not allow our insecurities to make God’s church smaller than Jesus does.

The more I grow into Christ, the more I grow out of man-made labels. I want to be known as a follower of Jesus rather than by an obscure Christian formula. I still have growth to go, but I pray that when the world looks at God’s Church, it may see less of a dismembered cadaver, and more of a beautiful and living bride of Christ.

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About Jeremy Crooks

Jeremy grew up in Sydney Australia. He has tertiary qualifications in business, training, and Bible. With experience in both church ministry and corporate human resources, Jeremy has a strong interest in how faith is demonstrated in our homes and workplaces. You can contact Jeremy at


  1. JANE 29 July, 2011 at 7:11 am - Reply

    Jeremy, lots of good stuff here: “Christ’s body clinically dissected with just a few words”; “dismiss others with a broad stroke”; “straw men . . . incinerated”–these are all well said. I’ve had to train myself away from asking about labels in order to give people a chance to speak for themselves–in word and in action. Seeing a person or organisation through labels is like looking through one of those antique windows–interesting but distorted. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Trish 29 July, 2011 at 8:56 am - Reply

    Well said Jeremy, first and foremost we are Followers of Christ.

  3. PJ 29 July, 2011 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    Very nice piece Jeremy, thanks.

    I slightly doubt your proposition that division and separation has increased in the church since the Reformation. Even in the midst of the Reformation there was division – reformed-minded Catholics, Lutherans, Swiss Reformed, Church of England and then all the different national reformed churches that never seemed to be able to get together. In the century immediately after the Reformation you had the Arminian controversy, Pietism, the Independents, Presbyterians, Erastians, Puritans etc. etc.

    The “church” has always seemed like a pretty divided institution. Even in the first three centuries there were Judiazers, Gnostics, Arians, Semi-Arians, Marcionites, Montanists, Donatists, Ebionites, Nestorians, Eutychians, etc etc…While some of these were heretical sects, I think the tendency to group-together in like-minded parties has always been present in the church. It’s just a part of (fallen) human nature. I don’t think its necessarily any worse now! (That doesn’t excuse it by the way!)

    What do you think?

  4. Jeremy 29 July, 2011 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    PJ – You are absolutely right that the church has always been a divided institution. Many of the above divisions you mentioned were as much political as theological.

    Today, I sense that we have added new dimentional divisions to the denominational silos. (e.g we sub-align by celebrity pastors, music styles, Bible versions, eschatology, political voting habits, etc)

    But maybe you are right. I could be looking back at church history with rose tinted glasses.

  5. Jason Harris 2 August, 2011 at 11:09 am - Reply

    Thanks for the post Jeremy. You make some good points and as a general principle, it’s something we need to be learning. God is not bound by our boundaries.

    I did agree with PJ about the history of the church. Also, I think the labels are simply a matter of human nature. Adam named the animals, and this was before the fall. We use labels because they tell us what something is. If someone is pre-mil, it is perfectly appropriate and profoundly human to say so. I think labels tell us important things about the history of a group and the scope of beliefs and philosophies they are likely to embrace. But as you and Jane pointed out, when we use these labels as weapons or build straw men, or use them in any way that is not motivated by Christian love, they can very easily blind us to the real people underneath.

    So I suppose I would argue that the labels aren’t the problem. Rather that it is the differences they denote that are the problem. Until we can learn to love and think well of those who are different, we will find ourselves judging prematurely and “separating” unnecessarily.

  6. Jeremy 2 August, 2011 at 8:32 pm - Reply

    Jason, I agree the problem is the motive behind ‘labelling’ I know we will never eradicate labels, but I do believe Christians have proliferated too many labels. It requires us to ask what are core issues and what are not. Overall, our challenge is to define ourselves less by Apollos or Paul, and more by Christ.

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