Labels. Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t live without ‘em.
It never ceases to amaze me how we argue over labels. I realise, of course, that in our muddy evangelical world, labels are useful, if not essential. I use them myself. We need to know where others are coming from, especially when it comes to working closely together. This is not about evaluating who’s a believer and who’s not, but there are practical issues of co-operation that we need to take into account and that make a real difference in local church and how it operates. That means labels are a good starting point.
But surely that’s all they should be – a starting point? Labels are slippery things and so they can never tell you everything you need to know about someone. Take “Reformed” for example. When I started in ministry, not so long ago, no one wanted this label! At least, not in the UK. It implied a culture as well as a set of beliefs. It went along with a certain style of church and dress. Remarkably, that has changed significantly even in 15+ years.
Now, everyone wants to be Reformed! And anyone who doesn’t see that as a primary label (a noun) wants it, at least, as an adjective. So, what happens? We start arguing about who owns the label! And the custodians of the label argue that others who don’t share their particular belief in one area or another cannot share the label: they are, after all, the custodians!
Enough already. Labels are really, really useful as a starting point. But we only ever know and trust one another (and provide a basis for working together) through relationships. That’s one of the reasons the internet can be so helpful, yet so dangerous at the same time. Helpful in that is facilitates relationship maintenance. Dangerous in that it requires serious effort for those relationships to ever get beyond the superficial.
Labels without relationships are never going to do anything but divide and stir controversy. So let’s rejoice in labels as far as we can, see their usefulness. But let’s hold to them loosely, always seeking relationships as the real means of knowing one another.
I’m Relational, I suppose. Or I would be, if that wasn’t another label.