It seems everyone in our country wants to wear a label. Designer labels identify the shirt, slacks, or blouse. If you are what you wear, then I’m a polo player with a brother named Brooks, and an uncle named Orvis. Slogans on t-shirts indicate a school, philosophy, musician, or host of other things you want to be affiliated with. Right now I’m wearing a shirt that says, “Wait a minute… I need to put on my ‘Gosh I really care’ face.”
We have labels in politics. Red states and blue states. Conservative, liberal, or moderate. Pro-defense or soft on defense. Pro-life or pro-abortion. Labels determine the way we vote.
Muslims have labels. They are divided into Shiite, Sunni, Wahhabi, Druze, and others. From what I can tell, they don’t like each other. If Islam is a religion of love and peace, it’s a denial of many of the teachings of their leader.
But, wait. Let’s not ignore the church labels. We’re no different in the church. We tag each other with labels. Let me see if I can name just a few. We have people who are Reformed, Charismatic, Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, Independent, Pre-millennial, Amillennial, Pre-tribulation rapture, Mid- tribulation rapture, Post-tribulation rapture, Covenant theology, Arminian, Calvinist, Dispensational, Evangelical, Conservative, Liberal, Orthodox, Neo-Orthodox, Unorthodox, Spirit-filled, Deeper Life, Universalist, Existential, Baptist, American Baptist, General Baptist, Primitive Baptist, Southern Baptist Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Anglican, Church of God, Church of Christ, Church of England, Pentecostal Holiness, Assembly of God, Evangelical Free, Mennonite.
NO WONDER PEOPLE ARE CONFUSED! We’ve got more labels than there are angels on the head of a pin. Enough already. You should get the point.
We seem to have more labels than any group on the planet. I guess it’s because of the influence of Vance Havner that I resist and despise labels. Havner said, “If the church would only be the church – if Christians would only be Christians – nothing could halt our onward march.” As it is, the church in America is dying and has no real impact on the culture. We’re so busy trying to covert others to our theological positions we aren’t converting the lost to Christ.”
All through my ministry I’ve had people try to convince me to come to their position. Charismatics want me to have the gift. Calvinists want me to be a five pointer. Dispensationalists want me to pledge my loyalty to the Scofield Bible. The King James crowd wants me to preach out of the authorized text. I always ask them, “Authorized by whom? A pagan king?”
For years when I was in student ministry, I had to fight with people over using only denominational material. I came to the conclusion, if it didn’t come out of Nashville (our Baptist Vatican) it wasn’t of God. Lord, help us when we are so narrow-minded.
It seems that some folks are more committed to their opinions, positions, and experiences than they are to Jesus. Having been won to Christ, they are then converted to a certain belief system within Christianity. Rather than focusing on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, they become teachers, evangelists, and disciples of a teaching/doctrine/experience and not of Jesus Christ. The secondary becomes the primary. When that happens, we lose the power.
Any books, ideas, person, teaching, or experience that is placed in a position of authority, preeminence, honor, or love above the Lord Jesus is at best a misplaced priority and at worse borders on a lack of balance or possible error and heresy.
I believe our pursuit of and pride in labels is a sign of our failure to understand the Word and our Lord. I believe labeling is something that is dividing the body and pleasing our enemy Satan.
The Bible is not a systematic theology. It’s a story. It’s the story of God’s love for man. Jesus told parables. He didn’t teach a systematic theology. Yes, there is a systematic theology in the Scriptures, but it wasn’t written as a text book for seminaries. It was written so common people could have a relationship with a holy God, not so they could get a degree.
The common people heard Jesus gladly. He (not the Pharisees and Scribes who had it all figured out) taught “as one who had authority.” Apparently, the cold, dead, formalized, “got it all figured out with little room for mystery or doubt” crowd didn’t impress the people. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, not debate with people full of themselves.
I like what Havner said, “Let Bible believers go right on enjoying the meat of the Word, leaving the bones to the theologians.” I have a dear friend who teaches in one of our Baptist schools. He is a Calvinist, but when his students start to ask him about all of that he responds, “I just teach the Bible. If you want to discuss that, you’ll need to take a theology class. I just teach the text.”
People have asked me if Ron Dunn was Reformed or a Calvinist. In reality, I don’t know. As close as we were, He never talked about it. He just preached the Word. It is sad to me that because someone believes in the Sovereignty of God, people make automatic assumptions about what theological camp they are in. EVERY Jew in the Old Testament believed in the Sovereignty of God and most of them couldn’t spell it or write it.
In fact, on subjects like the Sovereignty of God or the filling of the Holy Spirit, we need to be careful that we do not define these things according to our preferences and selected texts. Blessed are the balanced and blessed are those who don’t think they’ve got God in a box.
Acts 11 deals with the church in Antioch. I love what it says in verse 26, “And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” The church grew, evangelized, made disciples, and taught the Scriptures and unbelievers called them “Christians.” The only label that matters is whether the world knows we love Jesus. All other labels are, in my humble and accurate opinion, unnecessary and do not bring glory to Christ.
Christ is the great divider. He divides those who are for Him or against Him. We don’t need to be divided on secondary things. There’s room for disagreement about things we aren’t even certain about. Any man that thinks he can explain the omnipotent, omniscient, infinite, eternal God is deluded. God’s ways are not our ways. His brain is bigger than ours. We are limited, fallen, and finite.
(Copyright, Michael C. Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.