Reflecting on Christian Labels and Unity in Christ

Just recently as I have been reading a few different blogs and articles, and some of the social media responses to these, I have been struck by how quickly we as Christians can be to prescribe labels to ourselves and to each other, even if they are not accurate. Labels are often shaped by our denominations or theological standing, such as being ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative,’ or ‘Pentecostal’ or reformed’. Admittedly, the majority of what I have seen has been a fight against being ‘legalistic’, whilst also being very defensive of ‘grace-covering-all’- but I have no doubt that the name-calling and labeling goes both ways, and that judgement is often handed out on those who do not fit into the ‘good-Christian’ image.

After seeing this I felt so discouraged, my heart was heavy and I felt so deflated and saddened, not only by the situations before me, but how I could just as easily fall into the trap that I saw and despised. As I observed someone labeling someone else as a ‘Pharisee’ for saying that we can’t let grace become an excuse for not pursuing holiness (and therefore judging without even knowing the person), I too sat there, judging. Based off the one comment I saw, I began internally saying “oh I just wish this person knew God and read their Bible; their identity really seems to be in being a certain ‘sort’ of Christian rather than in Christ.’

And I think this is actually really hard.

I’m not one to get involved in social media debates, and I have a desire to not make judgement of others, but I can’t help but feel that an aspect of my discerning might be correct -not specifically for this person, but for some people, maybe many people at times, even maybe myself. We can find our identity by being a certain sort of Christian- whether it be by our denomination or by our theology, rather than simply as a follower of Christ. And when this happens, that’s when we assign and view others’ identity in the same way, whether it be the same or different to ours. From here our aim becomes to prove that ours is the better identity and that we have it right by how good our theology is, or how good we are at living in God’s grace or ‘experiencing the Holy Spirit’. And no matter how much we try and disguise it as being ‘loving’, it is divisive, and hurtful not only to individuals but to the church.

For most of us, we sit somewhere on this spectrum of ‘liberal’ to ‘conservative,’ and most of us would probably say that where we sit is the right balance. I have always tried to see the pros and cons of both ends of the spectrum, and of course I find one side easier than the other. But I think that it is important that we all make great effort to see the strengths and gifts of our brothers and sisters whose faith looks a little different from us, for the sake of church unity.

As I have grown in age and in spiritual maturity, I have found that an increasing number of things, in light of the gospel, simply do not matter to me anymore. From science vs Christianity debates, to the detailed ins and outs of predestination, I have found contentment in trusting that even if I don’t know the answers, God can be trusted because of who He is, rather than because of my understanding. That’s not to say that topics like this don’t need reflecting on and working through for each individual to the point of trust and contentment, but for me, I have now found more important things to focus my mental energy on. In ways, I feel like these differences in denomination is the next topic in that list, of balancing inherent importance with its insignificance in comparison to the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Although, of course, these things always seem easier said than done, and it can be easy to it  into the ‘too hard’ box in hopeful longing for the day when we are truly united in Christ, with Christ, and all these potentially divisive differences fade away. But if we do that, we miss the incredible opportunity God has given us to glorify Him now. It is because of our differences that we can demonstrate the unity of God, that is a reality here and now for us in Christ. As we pray for God’s Kingdom to come here on Earth, we can play a part in making it happen, in the way we love and encourage each other, and humbly look beyond our secondary differences to see our brothers and sisters as members of the one family – God’s family – all because of the same grace received in Jesus Christ.

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)