Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Label Me, I'll Label You

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.


HisFireFly said...

My heart is shouting out a strong and solid Amen.. and Amen again!

Even this morning, in my journaling time with the Lord, He was speaking about not relying on any structures made by man..

Well said Frank!

Anonymous said...

yeah. humans like to label things so that they can communicate about it. then when that is not "good" enough...we add more labels..."new and improved", "recently remodeled", "coffee?".

like, when i meet someone for the first time...the very first meeting, mind you, there is always "the" question. You know the one..."What do you do?".

I think that is a stupid and rude question. See how we are? If people took the time to actually look and listen and shut up for long enough, they could use ther brain to deduct and see what the person is about. but, you see, we don't want to take the time and watch or listen. we are too important for that, see? we are busy, and need the information fast. we almost demand the information. it is not like we really know the person, but, we think that we can immediatly have the information about them. like we shoul spit it out like a little computer.

i was wondering the other day if people will still learn how to write by hand in the future.
or if they will just text all their thoughts...
odd thought, but still...

Fatha Frank said...

@Karin, thank you for the kind words! Glad the Holy Spirit used me to speak to you this morning.

@Nancy, I think we are already seeing in our society what Kierkegaard warned against. Not only do we not communicate at a personal level anymore, we reduce one another to labels, be they religion, career, or even where you live. Thank you for the additional thoughts.

Jerry said...

Looking to Christ and not away from labels seems to be a way.
You know, the minute you try to not think about something it cloggs your mind that much more.

But then we have to be careful not to label Christ.

Good discussions.

Nancy, I will remember your comment about asking about occupation...I do that all the time. I need to recieve and capture people more than find a label for them.

Fatha Frank said...

Jerry, thanks for coming by and commenting. I think you bring out a big problem with labels- once they're stuck in our heads, we struggle to think of anything else.

Please come back often, our discussion if this book has been great and rewarding. I'm really enjoying everyone's perspectives. Expect the next chapter Tuesday morning if not Monday night.