the weblog of Alan Knox

Labels, Adjectives, and Division

Posted by on Aug 14, 2007 in definition, discipleship, unity | 16 comments

Assemblies of God church… Lutheran church… Baptist church… Presbyterian church… Methodist church… Anglican church… Catholic church…

Denominational church… nondenominational church…

Evangelical church… Liberal church… Orthodox church… Conservative church… Emerging church… Missional church…

Mega-church… house church… seeker church… simple church… cell church…

Traditional church… Progressive church… Cutting-edge church… Alternative worship church…

I have read that these labels are very important. The labels and adjectives tell people something about the people that form that particular church. But, to whom are these labels and adjectives meaningful?

Are the labels meaningful for nonbelievers? For the most part, no. There are some people who do not follow Jesus Christ, but who nevertheless know the difference between the various flavors of the many Christian denominations. Some unbelievers probably even know the slight differences between the various types of Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, etc.

But, primarily, these labels and adjectives are used to distinguish one type of Christian from another type of Christian using terms and descriptions that are only meaningful to other Christians. Thus, these labels and adjectives tend to divide God’s family into various groups.

When people use these labels (Please, notice that I said “when”) to exclude brothers and sisters because they do not fit the “label”, then those people are being divisive and are not maintaining the unity of the family of God. Usually, this occurs because people want to congregate with those who are like them. This is not scriptural. We are part of the body of Christ with everyone who has been indwelled with the Spirit of God, whether or not they look like us, talk like us, smell like us, think like us, do like us, etc.

Excluding people because of labels also removes the responsibility and privilege of discipleship from believers. Instead of accepting others who are different from us (like Jesus accepted us) and teaching them how to walk with our Master, we exclude them from fellowship. Yes, discipleship can be difficult and messy this way. But, is anything else really discipleship?

Look at the variety of people that Jesus called disciples: fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, a friend of the high priest, a thief, even women… unclean women… prostitutes. Jesus welcomed them and encouraged them to follow him. What would have happened if Jesus had excluded people based on labels? He would have ended up with a group of Pharisees following him… and the Pharisees would have been very pleased with this.

The next time you hear a follower of Christ referred to by a label, remember that the person is your brother or sister. You are part of the family of God with them. You need that person and that person needs you. Yes, teach them… but also, listen to them. You may find that God wants to use that person – the person that you might intend to exclude – in order to help you grow closer to him.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-15-2007

    The nice thing about just being a believer is that you can be a:

    Small b baptist
    Small p presbyterian
    Small e episcopal
    Small c congregationalist
    Small p pentecostal . . .

    You get the idea.

    Good post!

  2. 8-15-2007

    Seems we are thinking along the same lines today. I just posted “Am I An Evangelical” which is my own take on what you write today. Labels can get us into trouble with those we are trying to reach with the Gospel.

  3. 8-15-2007

    ..Japanese steak house…

    I think people choose a church like they choose a restaurant. They want to know what’s good on the menu. And in some cases what they can get without having to pay too much for. (*ouch*)

    contemporary praise music…large nursery…padded pews…

    That is why the church often markets themselves by what is on their “menu.” Thus, the label that best matches their special extras and amenities. This seems dangerous.

    Jesus is the same no matter what your race, sex, or nationality. Why do we feel the church needs to fit an agenda or reach a certain audience?

    How do we change this? How can we make a difference and stop the division??? That’s what I want to do because I am guilty off all of this myself. I am a newer Christian, but I want to grow and learn and most definitely disciple. I feel God calling me, I just don’t know how to do it in a world so full of division.

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for this blog!!!!! You haven’t heard the last of me. 😉

  4. 8-15-2007

    Thanks for the post……I can’t help but think of Paul’s rebuke to the Corinthians for taking upon themselves distinctives that lead to division among the people of God.
    Are we not guilty of the same in the church today?

  5. 8-15-2007


    Do we agree? 😉

    Actually, I know that we agree on much more than this post. Thanks for the comment.


    Enjoyed your post. Thank you for telling us about it. (“Am I an evangelical?“)


    You asked: “How do we change this?” I think we change this by living in unity with all of our brother and sister, not just the ones who are like us and agree with us. Then, we teach others and demonstration to others to do the same.


    I think Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 1-4 and 1 Cor. 11 is very applicable.


  6. 8-15-2007

    I also see an application in I Cor. 14. These labels are pretty much like speaking in tongues to an unbeliever. They don’t understand. They need an interpretation. Then again, they don’t really edify anybody. Never mind.

    Distinctives, as with the poor, will probably always be with us, because of the hardness of our hearts. Jesus made use of the distinctives between the Saducees and the Pharisees in order to point out the truth. As we study some of our various denominational histories and distinctives, we will learn not to hold our own in such high regard. We need to have a humility toward church history, under the authority of scripture, in order to get a grip on our own biases and spirits of the age. That’s why C. S. Lewis prescribed reading more old books than new ones.

  7. 8-15-2007


    Great comment! I especially appreciated that last paragraph. Thanks!


  8. 8-15-2007


    This reminds me of the first time I ever taught about what the word church (ekklesia) means. Someone asked, what should we put on our sign if not “Blah Blah Baptist Church.” On her own she came up with “The Assembly of God.” I smiled and before I could say anything a man in the back spoke up and said, “We are not ever going to put that on our sign, we are a BAPTIST CHURCH, Assembly of God is a completely different denomination.”

    I still get a kick out of that.

    Great post!

    God’s Glory,

  9. 8-16-2007

    Lew, great story… wish I could have been there. Alan, an excellent post as usual. This is exactly what I’ve been trying to process lately. I discussed with Lew the other night that I don’t really think I’m a baptist anymore, but I don’t think it matters enough stop meeting with my local congregation. Isn’t unity more important? I’m still not sure of the best course of action, but as I contemplate what to do, I’m trying to keep unity with the body as the focus. Thanks for the reminder.

  10. 8-16-2007


    I remember you sharing that story. That’s a great addition to this post. Thanks!


    It is interesting to me that those who choose not to adhere to labels (i.e. baptist), can readily associate with those who do choose to adhere to labels. However, the opposite is not always true. Perhaps, as Guy suggested in his blog post, we should place the label “follower of Christ” first and foremost in our vocabulary and thoughts, and associate with any and all who humbly wear that title.


  11. 8-19-2007


    Please do not interpret this comment as in any way critical towards you. Actually, if I were to say this critically, I myself would be in the exact same boat as you.

    What I am wondering, though, is why, in light of your post here, does the fellowship in which you are one of the pastors choose to call itself Messiah Baptist Church?

  12. 8-19-2007


    It’s good to see you around here again! Are you stateside? If so, will you be in the NC area?

    I can’t answer for everyone who is part of Messiah Baptist Church. I think it is possible to use labels with using them to divide. Remember that I included this caveat in my post: “When people use these labels (Please, notice that I said “when”) to exclude brothers and sisters because they do not fit the “label”,…”


  13. 8-19-2007


    Yes, we are Stateside. In the midst of the transition, I´ve gotten a bit behind on blog-reading, and am just now trying to get caught up.

    In any case, yes, I do hope to get to North Carolina sometime this year. We are still in the process of nailing down our travel schedule, but I would love to meet you personally, if that works out.



  14. 8-20-2007


    If you come to NC, please let me know. You’ll find my email address in the sidebar under my profile.


  15. 10-30-2012

    ….Mormon Church, Scientology Church, Spiritualist Church…
    The ONLY label that is helpful is to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
    The word church is not even helpful, we religiously hold on to it as much as Baptist or 10:30 Sunday morning. Unless of course the religious form is actually more important than Jesus.

  16. 10-30-2012


    Yes, we are to accept anyone who God has accepted in Jesus Christ, regardless of what labels they apply to themselves or what labels other people apply to them.



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