Beyond Christian labels

Recently I’ve been thinking about the labels we use in the church to describe different portions of the church. I know that labels are in some way important because they bring clarity to the discussion. The problem with this kind of label is that they often boil down to us versus them. The other problem is that no one label can describe any person. The only way that labels can work is if we string a long series of them together, which will ultimately contradict each other. I think of the absurdly long subtitle to Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy. More to the point I’m frustrated with labels because I don’t fit in any of them and I’d really like to be able to describe what I am. In the spirit of the afore mentioned book, I’m an evangelical progressive academic charismatic conservative liberal orthodox protestant catholic.

My problem is that I’m an idealist and I honestly believe there is a place for unity in the church. We don’t have to keep fighting battles. We don’t have to keep vilifying portions of the church. Will we agree on everything? Heck no! Can we live in peace with each other? I sure hope so.

My grandfather was a devout Catholic for a long time, then he became a devout Protestant. This resulted in not a deeper faith by him – I believe his faith was always deep – but in some of the most tense, uncomfortable Christmas dinners ever. He would give a speech to the whole family and basically call out the members who were still Catholic about how they needed to become more Protestant. I love my grandfather (may he rest in peace), but he – along with so much of the church – believed that you have to pick a side. For him that meant being a protestant and shunning the teachings of the Catholic church. I just don’t see the purpose to picking.

Every label’s belief system is partially wrong and the inverse is true as well. I love the verse in Phillipians that says to ‘work out your faith with fear and trembling’. The problem with picking a side is that it takes the working out of our faith away. If we accept a set standard of teachings we don’t have to think about it, we don’t have to do the work. Personally, I feel like my faith is more robust because I’ve embraced so many labels, but at the same time shunning some of their teachings when they don’t resonate.

Sure there’s an argument to be made that many of the belief systems of these groups have been forged over time and it’s that time of forging that brings them strength. We should trust those who have come before. After all how can one person’s experience compare with hundreds and thousands who have come before. I totally agree with this argument, but I also think that there is a place for personal experience in our faith development.

All that is to say that I’m tired of trying to fit into a pre-configured box that says I should believe X. I’m going to be working out my faith with a large chunk of fear and trembling. If you want to come along for the ride it’s going to be cool and if not, I understand. Either way, don’t try to label me because I don’t fit nicely in any of the labels – other than one…Christian.


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