In my so-called dotage, which is in itself a label I refuse to apply to myself, I have become increasingly resistant to labels. Well, at least, to labels meant to categorize people. I am happy to accept labels on food products, usually; and on specific types of plants and animals; and bio-hazard warning labels. But, stereotypes, generalizations, pigeon-holes, boxes, et al, applied to human individuals and especially to groups of people, are never precise, legitimate, fair, perfect, nor unqualified.
This principle of “resistance to labels” is at work in almost every area of life, from sports to music to politics to literature. Some things defy pinpoint labels. In particular, as this applies in my own life, I am finding that my “belief system” keeps bumping up against the edges of various labels then moving away; sometimes abruptly, sometimes discreetly. Time was, I truly yearned to find a “satisfactory” label for my “faith portfolio” so that I could easily answer questions about what or who I am. Now I do not want the “faith” question to be answered so blithely.
I am tempted here to declare a basic “statement of faith” so that my dear readers will understand where I am coming from. (Also, I keep wanting to put every phrase in quotation marks. Is this a symptom of label resistance?) (Further, I am bugged by ending that sentence with a preposition, but “from where I am coming” just does not cut the mustard, ya know?) (And now I am apparently hiding behind a seemingly endless chain of parenthetical statements so I can postpone the revelations I am about to make) (Are you still reading? Cool.)
My suspicion is that the basics of my faith are not so different from most of you intrepid readers. I believe in the Creator. I believe in the truth and history of His Holy Word. I believe in Yeshua haMashiach ben Elohim (Jesus Christ, Son of God); his birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, rule, and return. I believe in the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). The rest, which is much, we can discuss later, I reckon.
Labels are astonishingly rampant in the Body of Messiah. I have known this all my life, and I suspect nearly everyone knows this. I mean, we can start with denominational labels. Take a moment to come to terms with the images and terminology that arise in your mind when you see/hear these few representative denominational labels: Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic, Assembly of God, Nazarene, A.M.E., Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, LDS, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of God in Christ, Quakers… and, of course, the list could go on for pages. By some estimates there are more than 40,000 distinct Christian denominations in existence. Forty. Thousand.
Now, some would say, “one Body, many members” explains the “need” for the various denominations. I disagree, but that is not actually the point of this blog entry. I will just say this about that: are the many denominations operating in unity as One Body?
Over the past several years, my faith journey has crossed, and often joined, a path upon which has been bestowed the label “Hebrew Roots Movement.” I still consider myself to be a “Hebrew Roots” sojourner. But that label has taken on some unfortunate connotations due to the publicized behavior of some of its adherents. These days, I am hesitant to tell a new acquaintance, “I am a Hebrew Roots believer.” Many of us in this “exploration” are feeling the same way. We do not want to be lumped in with the emerging mainstream definition of “Hebrew Roots.”
So, what can we do about this? It’s not like I can memorialize my present, personal, preferred definitions of terms and expect the world to accept, adopt, and celebrate!
What I am trying to do here, I guess, is just to admit to myself and to all and sundry that I am sincerely trying to avoid being molded and stamped by external (mis)interpretations of names, terms, and labels.
A couple of my favorite (?) examples of this phenomenon go back several decades in my personal experience. Pentecostal and Charismatic. There is no reason for any Bible-believing follower of Yeshua to avoid these terms. In fact, we should ALL be both Pentecostal and Charismatic; i.e., if we believe in the infilling of the Holy Spirit and the gifts that come with it.
In 1974, I had a personal experience that highlighted this label resistance phenomenon for me. I was raised in a denomination that ardently eschewed that term (denomination) and insisted on being called a “movement.” It is called “Church of God (Anderson, IN).” There are many groups who call themselves “Church of God,” usually with some qualification in parentheses to set them apart from each other. (btw, this is not what I think YHVH means when he tells us to be “set apart”)
I was working in Georgia that summer (1974). One day I saw a little church that was from “my” Church of God. In the southern US, there is another Church of God (or two or three) that has distinctly different doctrines about the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” So, to make sure onlookers understood the difference, the sign out front of this little church declared, “Church of God (Anderson, IN) (NON-PENTECOSTAL).” Yes. It was in all-caps, just like that. I laughed. And then I wept.
I understood. They were trying to manage the expectations of potential visitors. Is that what we have come to? Pre-selection of folks who might come share with us? This is a recurring theme all over so-called Christendom. A whole movement arose around this concept of managing expectations a few decades ago. It is called “Seeker Sensitivity.”
OK. So many terms, so little chance y’all will keep reading.
So… I will not try to make an exhaustive list of malleable labels (mal-labels?). And I certainly will not try to offer any definitions or clarifications. But I will make a list as a demonstration of the breadth of the label-making phenomenon. I encourage you to look at the list below and consider how YOU would define each of these terms; and how do these things look in your own life and beliefs? Do any of them make you uncomfortable with the notion of applying them to yourself? It is a long list, but it barely scratches the surface.
Our definitions and interpretations of these and many other terms leads us to distance ourselves from each other. We all need to be moving closer to Father. As we do that, we will be drawing closer to each other, not farther apart. Which do you prefer? Drawing close to Father, or keeping a sterile barrier between yourself and your brothers and sisters?
Perhaps we should concentrate on how to walk together in faith, love, and peace.