Labels

I’ve had a fairly interesting denominational journey — lots of labels have been assigned by myself and by others, none of which really helped me understand my faith.  If I label myself as a Christian, does that make me a Christian?  If only it were that easy!  Sadly, many are duped into believing that it is.

The problem with labels is that if I tell someone I’m Baptist or a Calvinist, I am then forced to describe what I mean by Baptist or Calvinist, because I have no idea what they understand the terms to mean.  At this point, we must agree on what I mean by “Baptist” or “Calvinist” or else there is a great risk of miscommunication.  I borrowed this from Mortimer Adler’s book titled “How to Read a Book”:

“A term is not a word — at least, not just a word without further qualifications.  If a term and a word were exactly the same, you would only have to find the important words in a book in order to come to terms with it.  But a word can have many meanings, especially an important word.  If the author uses a word in one meaning, and the reader reads it in another, words have passed between them, but they have not come to terms.   Where there is unresolved ambiguity in communication, there is no communication or at best communication must be incomplete.”

I’ve learned that it is much easier to put on a label rather than surrender to it as the conclusion of exploration, thought and experience.  For most of my life I have been “Methodist” because that was what the sign said on the building, not because I spent many sleepless nights discerning what it was that I actually believed.  In the same vain, I was a “Christian” because I did what Christians were suppose to do — go to church, (occasionally) read the Bible and pray.  The labels were convenient, and when I used them people assumed things about me that I even assumed about myself.  Then God happened…

August 19, 2002, I’m at Metro Bible Study in Plano, Texas completely broken.  For the first time in my life I knew that God loved me.  I didn’t walk an aisle, or pray a prayer — I didn’t even “decide to follow Jesus” — I just sat there, unable to move, basking in His presence.  It wasn’t until last week that I realized this was the moment God saved me.  I thought I was suppose to make a decision!  What about my free will?  How can my love for God be genuine if I had no choice?  Maybe the “choice” was so obvious, I didn’t even have to make it.  Maybe the offer was so irresistible that I could do nothing but accept it.  When your eyes are opened, you don’t decide to see — you just see.

“When the Spirit illuminates the heart, then a part of the man sees which never saw before; a part of him knows which never knew before, and that with a kind of knowing which the most acute thinker cannot imitate.” A.W. Tozer

As vividly as I can recall that day, I only remember the date because afterwards I bought the tape (tape? honestly?) of that night’s message.  It was some tall, skinny guy I had never heard of named Matt Chandler (that might help to explain my “man-crush” on Matt — though it still doesn’t excuse it haha).  Before that moment, my basis for calling myself a Christian was unsubstantiated — it simply wasn’t true.

The funny thing is, since becoming a Christian I have used the term less and less.  After coming the the conclusion that I was one, the label just wasn’t as important to me anymore.