Shedding Christian Labels (Or, It’s all Just Foo Foo Anyway)

I’m not much on labels. I’m really not much on labels in the church. Most of the labels in the church are man imposed anyway. Believe me, I’m married to a man in full time church work. I’ve heard them all. I’d list them all out here for you, but you’d lose interest and stop reading because the list is so long and boring. The sad thing is that most “serious” Christians can’t seem to get away from the labels.

I’m not much on serious Christians, either.

I grew up with a label. I was a “Methodist”. Immediately, when I told someone I was “Methodist”, an opinion was forming in their minds. “She’s a liberal. She must be rich. She was sprinkled, not immersed. She was baptized as a baby, so that doesn’t count.” (Who immerses babies?) I didn’t mind the label early on. I was a good Methodist, and so I was proud of the label. But then I grew up, and I realized that being a Christian meant more than being Methodist. Much more. I wanted to shed the label.

I did. I married a “Baptist”. So I didn’t shed a label exactly. I traded it for another one. Now people had a whole different impression of me. Same girl. Different label. “She’s a Bible thumping Republican fundamentalist. She’s a spiritual snob. She doesn’t think my sprinkle baptism counts.” More discomfort for me. And it just so happened that my husband was a “Baptist Minister”. So I got yet another label. “Baptist Minister’s Wife”. More opinions. “She should be Cory Ten Boom and Martha Stewart rolled into one.” Good grief.

After several years of wearing both of those labels, we traded again. This time we put on the “Presbyterian” label. Immediately, new impressions were formed of me based solely on my newest label. “She must be a lush, they all drink, you know. Do you know she doesn’t even witness because of that whole predestination thing? They baptize babies by immersion.”

I was growing weary of all the labels. By this time we had a few kids. They had label questions. Sometimes the kids would come home and want to know what brand of Christian we were. It was hard enough for me to keep up, let alone explain it to my small kids. So I just told them we didn’t wear labels anymore. We were just plain old Christians.

As if that wasn’t a label, too.

The problem with calling oneself “Christian” is that it’s hard to nail down just what that means. It could mean any number of things that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ. In fact, the very word began as a derogatory term. Early Christians didn’t call themselves Christians. They were called that by others who looked down upon them, or worse, persecuted them. Christian means, “Little Christ”.

It’s hard to escape labels. We yearn for them. Remember back in high school? You had the jocks, the nerds, the preps, the heads, and all that. We all want folks to wear a label. It’s just neater that way.

But we follow someone who doesn’t fit into a category. Jesus is one of a kind. No other religious head was born of a virgin or lived a sinless life. No other religious head sacrificed his own life, and then came back to life to save us. He’s the only one.

Jesus wasn’t much on labels either. He decidedly abolished many of the religious labels of his day. There was one label with which he was pretty smitten. He liked the label, Disciple. Where Christian is a little harder to define, Disciple is much easier to grasp. There is no ambiguity there. We don’t divide ourselves down denominational or lofty theological lines there. There is nothing divisive about being a disciple of Christ. It simply means to live as he lived. Do what Jesus did. Follow in his ways. Another way of saying disciple is “follower”. Just follow Jesus. Pretend he’s the line leader and go where he goes. Do what he does.

Sure, there are times for healthy theological debate, iron sharpens iron, and all that, but I think the reason Jesus didn’t just go ahead and divide us up into those groups while he was here, was because he knew what a huge wad of muck that would become.

Jesus simply said, “Follow me.” To his disciples.

He didn’t say, “All of you who think it’s best to be baptized with as little water as possible stand over here, while those who prefer a good dunking can stand over here. Now as often as you gather together, argue about that.”

No. He said, “Remember me.”

What would happen if we laid aside our petty differences? What if we shed our Christian labels? Is it more important to be right, or is it more important that we teach people how to follow Jesus? Do we want to be right, or do we want to introduce people to our line leader? When someone is drowning, they don’t need a sermon on the five points of Calvinism, or the tenets of the Methodist Book of Discipline, or the Baptist Faith and Message. They need a lifesaver.

They need to just follow Jesus.

Currently, I wear no labels, except Disciple or Follower. I have shaken off all the others. You won’t hear me preferring one denomination to another. I won’t tell you what I think about the return of Jesus and whether I am Pre-trib, Mid-trib, or Post-trib. I’ll only say that I know he’s coming back soon, and I want everyone possible to be ready for that day, because it was important to Jesus that everyone be told.

I’m happy to attend a church without labels. Oh, unless you label it “Life giving”. That’s the best label any church can have, regardless of denomination.

The only way I want to be judged is by how well I am following Him. In the end, I won’t be asked what denominational label I wore. I’ll be asked what I did with Jesus. Did I turn him into religion, or did I enter into a relationship with him? The rest is all foo foo anyway.

So what do you think?

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