A Brotherhood Not a Royal Order, Or The Labels Won’t Set You Free

To my semi-regular reader Chris, this one’s for you.

I recently had coffee with a friend whom I’m getting to know, and as our discussion moved to the spiritual realm I found myself hesitant to really open up about myself. I was avoiding certain topics and discussions, and in particular as we were figuring where one another is on the Christian spectrum I didn’t throw certain names around.

I didn’t want him to suddenly fall his head back with an “ooh,” thinking I’m one of those.

To be direct, I was hesitant to mention the Emerging church movement.

If you’ve read any number of posts on here, you’ve probably figured out that I’m not only not conservative, but that my thinking could often place me in the emergent camp. An odd camp to be in because it has few, if any, defined or distinct ideals.

But truth be told I read some emergent authors, and even think I gain a lot from their insight. I’ve avoided naming names on this blog precisely because its so dangerous these days. It’s a near-instant way to turn someone off. It’s likely this post may even accomplish that.

The wide availability of information on the internet, as well as the polarization of politics, has only increased the division among believers. In some ways the brotherhood is gone, because these days the common bond of Jesus falls to the way side as we determine “what type” of Christian (or heretic) someone is upon meeting them.

Are you Southern Baptist?

Or a strict Calvinist?

A crazy Pentecostal? One of those flaming Methodists? What about a social justice Christian? Fuzzy Wuzzy Seeker Friendly Evangelical*?

*a term I just coined

Christians have tremendous difficulty simply getting along with one another – can you imagine what it would have been like for Jews and Gentiles coming together? The kicking and screaming and dragging of feet that went on?

Though it certainly didn’t happen cleanly, instead of staring down all the obvious differences, instead both groups lost their identity in Jesus. No longer was there Jew nor Gentile, Greek nor Roman.

And though it certainly seems helpful to know if someone is emergent, fundamentalist, pentecostal, episcopalian – maybe we need to lose our identities. Maybe we trim down on some pride.

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5 Responses to A Brotherhood Not a Royal Order, Or The Labels Won’t Set You Free

  1. David says:

    You left out the Charismatics and now my feelings are hurt. 😉

    I don’t always think that the labels are prideful, but more of a way to say, “we agree on these things.” (an nothing else)

    As soon as you slap a label on me, I can tell you why it doesn’t fit. MPT labels me a few times a week. I find that sort of offensive after a while. Should we engage in the debate? Yes! Stereotypes are funny because they are very true in so many ways; and sometimes destructive.

    I don’t believe the denominations are God. Having read and studied the Bible for a good long time, it is easy to see where most denominations got their “truths.”

    http://fireandgrace.blogspot.com/2010/02/have-you-wondered-why-man-cant-fly-and.html

    Honestly, I am tired of labels, titles and signs. If the church would just love folks with their gifts and not spend so much time deciding who’s right and who’s wrong, we’d get down the road faster.

    And if your label lines up with the Bible, then why do you need one?

    • well David as you know I’m quite ignorant with the whole Charismatic movement, so much so that I thought I did cover it when I mentioned Pentecostals!

      • David says:

        In cemetery I had to take Church History. It was an eye opener. I have to say I heard so much stuff from the pulpit, Bible teachers, and Bible study guides that I just decided to read the book for myself. I started with the NIV; reading the study notes as well. Then moved on to the RSV and Amplified. In ministry school we had to read the NKJ through in 10 months. Somewhere in there I started to really think and relate to God to a point where sermons bore me.

        I sent you a list of my Top 10 favorite books. I am just not convinced that a Christian can really be in a deep relationship with Christ with a weekly sermon.

        If you want to get a little insight read some of John Wimber’s stuff. Nothing earth shattering but thoughtful and for the most part sound. Sure you can find some fundies that don’t like him – so what else is new?

  2. Chris says:

    Hey Charlie,

    if I understand what you’re saying in your post, you feel a little hesitant to open up with your new friend and admit you identify more with a particular subset of Christianity because you think he might categorize you and you don’t want to be bound to that label, is that right? I’m also assuming that you foresee a potential friendship that you could value and you don’t want to jeopardize that.
    Maybe what you need to do is just ask yourself whether or not you may subconsciously have an agenda. What are you looking for in this relationship? Are you hoping to get this person to “open up” to a different (your) way of thinking? Are you hoping to persuade or sway this person in some way? These things are hard because they require honest self-examination of motives. I have to try very hard to guard against it myself. Even here on this very blog, I’m always asking myself if what I am trying to do is “win” in some way. For me I think (hope) that what I am doing (needing) is thinking out loud and bouncing ideas off of others where the conversation looks interesting. It’s a process that I think helps me to clarify my thinking bit by bit. Maybe what you are doing (needing) right now is looking for someone in a non-digital setting that you can open up with. I don’t know. But I do know that real, personal, face-to-face relationships are important. So maybe go slow with this person, but at some point you’ve got to be real and open up and gamble that he/she will see more than a label.
    Separation among Christians I think to some degree is almost a given, considering the human condition. It’s really almost as much about personalities as it is ideologies. I think of Paul and Apollos separating after their quarrel over something that was not even a spiritual issue. I’ve read some commentaries where the translation does not do the disagreement justice. That this was more like they were literally screaming at each other. So if it happened to the apostle Paul why should I be surprised when it happens today. I’m not really sure that some separation in a certain sense is all that bad. David seems to think that denominationalism is not of God. Maybe he’s right, I’m not sure. Does unity require uniformity? I don’t believe it does. I think there is latitude there, and I don’t think it’s necessarily bad if like-minded Christians of a certain persuasion hang out (or worship) together. It’s certainly what emergents do. I only think it’s bad if our little Christian enclaves, or bubbles become so impermeable that we can no longer even sit down and have any kind of fellowship or meaningful discussions with one another. Does this happen? Maybe. But personally, I feel like there are very few people whose presence I wouldn’t engage.

  3. Chris I can most definitely assure you I’m not out to get my friend to believe as I do. I don’t spend much time trying to convince others of my position – though the validation would be nice I’ve got other areas I focus on. I agree that face-to-face relationship is where it’s at, and I think it matters not what persuasion of Christian I engage with, but their spiritual maturity in seeing past labels & beliefs (I hope that doesn’t make me sound elitist in that I only hang out with the highly mature, not what I’m trying to say.

    Your question of does unity require uniformity? I’d say of course not, I mean how rag-tag was the early church – I think the point is uniformity is transformed by an identity-dropping bond of Jesus.

    I think certainly emergents haven’t mixed well and holed up in an enclave – likely because they were just so relieved to find each other and not feel crazy. I think we could all use some branching. Not one denomination or “style” of Christianity has it nailed, and I think each one emphasizes things others miss and therefore each have great value.

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