Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Applying Labels

A friend of mine (and fellow pastor at a neighboring church) stopped by my office yesterday and as we are prone to do carried on for a couple hours on theology, the church, family, and other matters. One of the things that came up was the advantages and disadvantages of labels. People are quick to throw around labels to describe another person or their beliefs. Sometimes those labels provide a helpful distinction but often times they generalize one's beliefs. Take for example the label Baptist which I'm happy to receive and happy to have my church receive. There are a few things that almost every Baptist church would agree upon but there are a vast array of things that they would disagree on. One cannot assume that because I am a Baptist former President Jimmy Carter's theological beliefs mirror my own. I happen to know they do not and I'm not referring to political views.

So when a person comes to me and says something like, "Are you a Calvinist?" I want to know what they mean before I receive the label. One person told me that his understanding of Calvinism is that a guy is walking down the street and God strikes him like lightning so poof, he's saved whether he likes it or not. If that is Calvinism then no, I'm not a Calvinist. If you understand the doctrines of grace as are revealed in Scripture and call that Calvinism then I'm happy to receive the label. Labels are not helpful when the definition of the label is unclear or if you are just trying to generalize a person.

Why are labels helpful? When someone rejects a label it is usually to say what they are not. So labels are helpful to determine distinctive beliefs. For example if someone says they reject the label 'conservative' (in a theological, not a political sense) it let's me know there is something they do not believe- like the inerrancy of Scripture. I don't want to make assumptions but the rejection of the label leads me to investigate further. Now what labels am I comfortable with? Well I think of this in terms of the labels I want my church to be identified with. I'm going to post on each of these labels over the next couple weeks. Here are labels- in alphabetical order- I'd like my church to get stuck with (or continue to get stuck with):

  1. Baptist
  2. Communal
  3. Confessional
  4. Conservative
  5. Evangelical
  6. Evangelistic
  7. Healthy
  8. Reformed

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