the weblog of Alan Knox

Labels, Adjectives, and Division

Posted by on Aug 13, 2010 in definition, discipleship, unity | 4 comments

Labels, Adjectives, and Division

Three year ago, I wrote a post called “Labels, Adjectives, and Division.” I was just beginning to study and consider how much the church is divided and fractured in the way we live. We are united in Christ, but we fail to live in that unity.


Labels, Adjectives, and Division

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 follow 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. 8-13-2010

    I am starting a denomination called Handsome Christians. I am the chief apostle of course.

  2. 8-13-2010


    I need to put that young whipper snapper, Lionel, in his place.

    I am starting a denomination which defines “handsome” much more carefully. The word comes from Middle English word “handsom”, which meant easy to manipulate.

    Hmmnn! On the other hand I have changed my mind. It would seem that there are a lot of congregations of today who belong to the Handsomes.

    They must have taken Acts 17:11 out of their Bibles.

  3. 8-14-2010

    amen brother!

  4. 8-23-2010

    “The next time you hear a follow 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… and I’m realizing more and more that that refers to the “labeled” people we may have left behind when we moved out of labeled church group(s). It’s awfully easy to become an “unlabeled” snob. And to be just as “label-ful” even while refusing to assign ourselves a label.