Now I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all say the same thing, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by members of Chloe’s household, that there are quarrels among you. What I am saying is this: each of you says, “I’m with Paul,” or “I’m with Apollos,” or “I’m with Cephas,” or “I’m with Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was it Paul who was crucified for you? Or were you baptized in Paul’s name?
1 Corinthians 1:10-13 (HCSB)
A recent conversation with a friend turned to matters of theology. At one point he asked, “Aren’t you more moderate?” Another couple of questions followed with, “Oh, that makes you a(n)_ __________,” and so the conversation went. He asking what I thought about a certain topic, me explaining my positions and he trying to find the proper pigeon-hole in which to place me. I did my best to avoid the cages.
Another conversation with a different friend–a little farther back in time–turned to the subject of labels. His advice to me was, “You’d better label yourself or someone else is going to do it for you!” I did not take his advice.
Living in a world inhabited by theologians, pastors, writers and teachers, it feels that everyone wants to label everyone around them. Many people feel perfectly comfortable labeling themselves as conservative, liberal, moderate, complementarian, egalitarian, Calvinist, Arminian, triperspectivalist, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. More than once I’ve pulled up Derek Webb’s Name just to keep a sense of reality.
Oh my darlin’, you’ve must be a moving target just like me
They’ll call you right, they’ll call you left
They’ll call you names of all your friends
You never know
What you’ll have to do
Baby don’t let ’em
Don’t let ’em put a name on you
You say you wanna know the people I know
You say you wanna come in and crack my code, uh huh
Catch me if you think you can
But count on me for nothing man, uh huh
It’s gonna take more than hearing you say the only words you think I know
The truth may be with you today but may be gone tomorrow
Baby don’t let ’em
Don’t let ’em put a name on you
(Yes, I realize by invoking the name of Derek Webb I’ve created the opportunity for some people to “name” me, or him. And so it goes…)
I cannot help but think that some of this choosing of sides is rooted in laziness and arrogance. We are too lazy to get to the core of another person, so we are content to pigeon hole them for our convenience. It takes a LOT of time to build a relationship, while judgments can be made in milliseconds. It’s also easier to say, “I’m a conservative/progressive, dyed-in-the-wool,” than to say, “We should grab coffee and talk that through.”
Within the community of Christ’s followers there is the seemingly unstoppable urge to divide, sub-divide and factionalize. In other words, we relate to each other in ways the New Testament tells us not to do. The very act of categorization can be ungodly when it stands in the way of Spirit-led relationships that would show the world we belong to Him.
On the other hand we are, at times, too arrogant to accede to the possibility that we might be wrong about something. Buttressing our position with ever heightening stacks of supportive tomes breeds certainty of the impregnable soundness of our theologies. Further safety comes when we surround ourselves with those who think about the same things we do in the same ways we do. From lofty battlements challengers are bombarded with rhetorical bombs and their resultant craters.
All too often it reminds me of French Taunting.
And it is much easier than building bridges.
Other than “follower of Christ” I do not care for a name. If it makes you feel better to label yourself then by all means do so. But be prepared for the fallout.
I often think, however, that our penchant for labels has a dehumanizing effect on both the labelers and the labeled. It’s like always referring to our neighbors by their idiosyncrasies since such is easier than really getting to know them. “Oh, yeah, that’s the fat guy down on the corner,” rather than, “That’s Bob Fredrickson. We’ve known each other for a couple of years. His wife is Laura, and their son, Henry, is away at college.”
Conversations from relational integrity will bring Christ’s followers closer to unity in Christ. Unity is what He envisioned and what the New Testament teaches. It is a better testimony than the labels we prefer.
Rather than asking a person, “Are you a conservative?” or “Are you a Calvinist?” or “Are you a non-Calvinist” why not ask about the specific theme that interests you? “How do you interpret the passages about eternal security?” or “How do you see passages on election?” If the issue is politics what about “What is your position on same-sex marriage?” or “Where do you stand on abortion?” When the person responds, do not create a mental spreadsheet into which every other belief can be automatically entered. Our world is more complex than that.