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.