labels3Question: In a recent Bible study on personal witnessing, a lot of different denominations were mentioned in the discussion (i.e., Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc.).

Personally, I prefer to call myself simply a “Christian” and sometimes wonder whether using all these other labels is even necessary. Can’t we all just call ourselves “Christians” and stop using all the potentially divisive labels?

Answer: I too prefer to call myself a “Christian” because that is what believers are called in the Bible (Acts 11:28). Here, however, is the problem: Nearly everyone in our culture likes to refer to themselves as “Christians”, while many are not Christians at all.

Even though the meaning of the word “Christian” was very clear in the book of Acts, it is no longer clear in America. That is why denominational labels are helpful. They indicate with one-single-word what a person actually thinks it means to be a Christian.

In other words, and since our discussion was about personal witnessing, the use of denominational labels actually helps us know whether we:

1. Can greet a person as a brother or sister in Christ
2. Might need to make inquiry as to the state of their soul
3. Should invite them to repent and believe the gospel
4. Need to avoid or shun them as a heretic

Allow me to demonstrate by offering a few examples:

If someone describes their Christianity as “Catholic” or a “Lutheran”, then point 2 would be in order because there are many  people in such churches that are trusting in the sacraments for salvation rather than in Christ. Depending on how they respond, I would then proceed either to point 1 or point 3.

If someone describes their Christianity as “Pentecostal”, then point 2 would also be in order because there are two distinct types of pentecostal (which are also easily identifiable with labels): “Trinitarian” and “Oneness”.  If someone claims to be the former, I would proceed with point 1 or 2; but if they claim to be the latter, points 3 or 4 would be more appropriate.

If someone describes their Christianity as “Mormon” or “Latter Day” or “Jehovah’s Witness”, then point 4 would be in order (unless you are gifted in the art of apologetics and are able to bring cult members to point 3).

To be sure, the use of such labels is never infallible, but again, it does save a lot of time in finding out what a person thinks it means to be a Christian.

In fact, if such labels did not exist, I would have to ask a very complicated question of every self-proclaimed “Christian” before being able to greet them according to point 1:

 “Greetings, are you a Christian? That is, do you believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant word of God; and that Jesus Christ, who has two distinct natures (both human and divine), came into this world through the miracle of the incarnation; obtained righteousness through his active obedience, made substitutionary atonement through his passive obedience; and now applies that redemption through the regenerating work of his Spirit as individuals personally repent of their sins, believe the gospel, and are justified by faith alone, so that they may then live lives of holiness to the glory of God the Father?”  

It would certainly be wonderful if everyone called a “Christian” could speak in such clear terms, but most cannot. Therefore we will continue to use our convenient labels to save some time in our daily discussions and hopefully lead many to Christ.

Answered by Pastor McShaffrey