I don’t really like labels in Christianity, because on the surface, they seem to divide people who are Christians.  That can be true.  But it is also true that labels can be helpful when talking to people who are not Christian, but say they are.  In today’s pluralistic, postmodern, theological buffet-type culture, we must be able to distinguish our beliefs from other false ideas about Christianity.

To say to someone, “I’m a Christian,” is biblically correct, and should be sufficient (it would have been in the first century).  At the same time a friend might say to me, “I’m a Christian,” but it’s evident that they are no more a Christian than I am an oak tree.  How can I make sure that my misguided friend understands the difference  in our beliefs?

Consider this analogy.  I ask my friend what being Christian means to him.  He says, “I go to church.  I pray before meals.  I try to be a good person.”  Then he asks me what being Christian means to me.  I say, “I am a born-again, Evangelical.  That means I believe the Bible is the infallible, authoritative word of God and that the only way to be forgiven of sin, escape the wrath of God, and have eternal life is justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ , who died on the cross and rose from the dead.”

When I defined being a Christian for myself, I put a label on myself (I use the word “label” here kind of loosely).  I labeled myself as an Evangelical (I could have even included the word “Protestant” in there too).  But the important thing is that I gave the label a precise definition.  The term “Evangelical” was practically synonymous with “Protestant” during the Reformation era.  The two main issues during this time were authority and justification.  The Catholic Church believed authority belonged to the Pope, and that justification could be purchased through indulgences.  The Reformers believed that authority was in the Word of God, and that justification was by grace and faith alone in Jesus.  This mean they protested (Protestant) against the false doctrines of the Catholic church, and identified themselves with the evangel (the true gospel of Scripture).

Because some people believe that Jesus is no more than a great moral teacher, and that the Bible is just a grab-bag story book with some good insights, we must be crystal clear in communicating what being “Christian” really means.  And sometimes, whether we want to or not, lableing ourselves might be helpful.

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4 thoughts on “Try to be absolutely clear when you say, “I am a Christian”

  1. Great post James, sometimes with my co-workers a label is useful. However, we do need to be careful with labels as well. Unfortunately, even the label Evangelical. With sad newspaper headlines like, “Evangelical caught in sex scandal,” or “Lead pastor admits gay encounters,” (these two are sadly not even made up example headlines..I’ve read these in the past year). Now many people I know can consider evangelicalism no more unique with God-fearing people than Mormon polygamy (http://www.startribune.com/local/west/87627962.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU ) This story I posted is in the same town I work in.
    I absolutely agree with your point that we need to be clear about who we are in Christ with those who are non-Christian or even those who say are Christian but are deists at best. However, I do think that at times, a label can be more harmful than good. (Don’t even get me started on Joel Osteen evangelicalism.)
    Thanks for you posts so that I can continue to reflect my own beliefs and stand points!

  2. Good thoughts and muched needed today. Labels can be such a hassle and even a distraction but they are needed. Maybe not so much “labels” but as you say, definitions. So many who say they are believers are speaking a different language. Like born again, for example – first of all I think that was a bad translation. It is more Fathered from the spiritual realm or fathered by God from above. Look what people have done with “born again” today.

    Good reminder we need to be clear we mean the same thing as who we are talking to.

  3. I think important is that we don’t become judgmental. I agree, definition is better. Otherwise, we give society the wrong impression. I think impressions are very important. Humanity response on what they hear and see and experience. It is sad that after many centuries the church is still in strive. Instead of focusing on the unity, often it is and still is the differences in doctrines, traditions and culture.. that keeps people away from Christianity. People always asks “why is there so many differences within the Church”.
    A development that is perhaps not new , but encouraging is the “independant” church, where the focus is just to achieve unity among the different church fathers.

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