This post continues the conversation Glynn Young, Nancy Rosback and I are having over the book Mere Churchianity. They always have a head start on me, so be sure check out their thoughts on Chapter 11, "It's a Bad Idea to be a Good Christian" over at Faith, Fiction, Friends and Bend the Page.
Soren Kierkegaard said “once you label me, you negate me.” The idea was that labels strip us of our humanity, reduces us to nothing more than that label, and denies what makes each of us unique. If you label everything, then nothing has meaning. Michael Spencer observed this in our churches and came to the same conclusion: these labels have no meaning. "Dynamic" worship. "Seeker Sensitive" church. "Good Christian". My favorites are "missional" and "purpose driven" as if the church leaders just read a book and suddenly they're a new church.
This should come as no surprise. Our consumer-driven culture requires everything to be marketed, even churches. And because of this, churches are constantly on the lookout for a niche, a buzzword, a marketing strategy that makes them stand out above the rest. I was on a business trip in Utah where I saw a billboard advertising a church. Their motto was, "church. caffeinated." (To get the in-joke, you have to understand that Utah is 90-ish percent Mormon and they do not drink coffee.) Sadly, we seldom see churches advertised as God-centered, Jesus-focused, or Christ-like. If you didn't know the label, you wouldn't know these churches are even Christian.
When Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone began the Restoration Movement during the Second Great Awakening, they wanted to strip all the labels that described people more than their beliefs. One of my favorite movies is A River Runs Through It. The patriarch of the family is a preacher and the movie has this line, "My family is Presbyterian, which my dad likes to say is like Methodists who can read." Ask a stranger on the street if they are Christian and they are just as likely to answer their specific tradition as to just simply answer "yes". Stone and Campbell desired a church free from from labels so these churches adopted the simple name "churches of Christ." Of course, a hundred-plus years later many might as well be called churches of Tradition, churches of Legalism, or a capella churches. (Oh wait, some already call themselves by the last one. Sigh.)
If there is to be a movement back towards Jesus-shaped Churches, preaching and living Jesus-shaped spirituality (which even Michael admits is just another label), we need to strip ourselves of the labels that divide and instead embrace Christ alone as the "author and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). This is his premise of what so many who have left the Church are looking for. It is sad they have been unable to find it. I believe these churches are out there (see some of my previous posts from this book). I pray that we find these churches more and more out in the religious marketplace.