Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 22, 1971

Church Of Christ Labels

John Collins

How often have we preached, taught, heard, believed, and read, "Religious division, to a large extent, exists not over what the Bible says, but over what it doesn't say. One example is the various denominational names. The, so called, Baptist Christian would never call himself a Methodist Christian. The Lutheran Christian refuses to be tagged a Presbyterian Christian, etc... The Bible does not authorize these terms of division. If mankind would do away with these labels and titles and be content with being just Christians, there would be a better chance of preventing some division. Let's all speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent on this and all issues of religion."

We agree completely with this admonition. Human titles do cause division and should be abolished. We've preached this in the past, present, and will continue to do so in the future.

As the Lord's church, we maintain, and rightly so, that we have no man-made creed. We follow the Bible alone as our guide. This is a Bible position and should be espoused. However, it would seem that some members of the Lord's church have fallen into the same religious error, only unofficially and, quite probably, unknowingly, as well. What do we mean?

Coming from Birmingham, Alabama, where a great number of Christians believe women should have their heads covered when in public worship, we've been asked, "Are there still any Hatter Groups in Birmingham?" Or, in the southern California area one hears, over coffee when preachers gather, or in casual Christian's conversation, "I believe that congregation at is a Moyer Marriage Bunch."

Again, as elders consider whom to ask for a meeting, you might hear this, "Well, we can't ask brother because he's an Anti-War preacher. Brother ? I don't know about him. Doesn't he go along with that No-Lord's-Supper-At-Night-Group?"

Of course, the biggest label placing now is, "Liberal church of Christ," and "Conservative church of Christ." We must be ever careful lest we fall prey to "The Liberals." We've heard this term used in such derision that you'd think the speaker was talking about the old "boogy man" who hides under beds to scare little children.

There are many more titles we could list. We're sure each person reading this article had heard, read, used, or thought of others that do exactly what denominational terms do — divide.

Would a "Hatter Group" ask a "Non-Hatter" preacher to work with them, full-time? Would a "Moyer Marriage Church" invite a "Non-Moyer Marriage" preacher to hold them a meeting? Would an "Anti-War Congregation" dare to consider a "Pro-War Preacher" for a full time work? The "One Cup" Christian would never consider being called a "Multiple Cupper." The "No Lord's Supper At Night" member would not wished to be called a "No Invitation Songer" and on and on and on ...

The group of congregations in Birmingham, in which the majority of members feel a woman should wear a covering in public, are set aside by many brethren with the title, "Hatters," and that's that. It's as if we had our church of Christ pantry with this congregation on this shelf and that one there, all neatly sorted and assigned.

Do we associate with these members? Well, maybe, at meetings and the like, but we'd better not call on them to lead prayer. Do we recognize them in full standing? No, not fully. Are they condemned to hell? Well, that's not in our hands, who's to say? Should we invite those who differ with us to express their views and discuss our differences? Perhaps, on a limited basis, but not in the public assembly — why, this would tear the church apart. They believe what they want to believe and we'll believe the Bible and "I'll get to Scotland afore ye."

Brothers and sisters, labeling divides. No matter if its denominational creed written titles or unofficial official church of Christ stickers, labeling divides and tends to avoid discussion over differences while cementing the walls that keep us apart.

From a study of the New Testament we find only, two types of congregations mentioned, faithful and unfaithful; that is, those recognized by the Lord as His and those having "their candlesticks removed." Naturally, faithful congregations can get into trouble as evidenced by the Corinthian church and six of the seven congregations mentioned in Revelation chapters two and three.

Someone asks, "Shouldn't we designate congregations that aren't teaching the truth? After all, we're told to mark them that cause division and occasions of stumbling." This is beside the point of this article. Yes, we should reveal error and mark it as such. If a certain congregation is unfaithful we need to be aware of it. However, the labeling technique doesn't do this. It pinpoints one difference, labels the congregation or individual by that difference, and draws lines of fellowship to whatever degree is currently brotherhood accepted. It draws lines of denominational division.

A person is either a faithful Christian or he isn't. A congregation is either the Lord's or it's not. There is no second class citizenship in the kingdom of God either for individuals or churches. Our position of acceptance may be in danger of being lost by our disregard or disobedience of God's will, but until that moment of severance comes, we are still God's accepted people.

Tacking labels is foolishness. Why do we do it? We'll mention two reasons that have been seen in various places. One is out of a desire to designate individuals and/or congregations in error. Another is out of fear of discussion and being called upon to defend a position. This is usually phrased, "We don't want to stir up any trouble." We applaud the former reason even if we disagree with the labeling technique, but we recognize the latter as weak and not Christ-like in attitude. We can't just paste a label on a person or congregation and say, "You're labeled, that settles the matter."

We're not saying sweep all differences under the rug and recognize everyone and every congregation as all right regardless of what they believe and teach. We are saying, recognize each congregation as either faithful or unfaithful, not as a label, but as a condition. Our recognition must be based upon our understanding of what the New Testament teaches that a faithful person or congregation should be. If we find, upon examination, that we disagree with another's position, discuss the matter from the Bible. We mustn't be fearful of discussion to such a point that we'll stamp a label on his or its head and shelve it under "different" and say, "that takes care of that."

There is a tendency among human beings to resist change and to repel differences. Perhaps this is couched in the self-preservation instinct inherent in all people. One thing that will help us avoid this practice is to realize that regardless of what we hear, read, teach, believe, or whatever, nothing will change The Truth, The Word of God. We are human beings capable of reasoning and judgment. Preachers and elders must never get the idea that we don't discuss certain issues before the congregation because it might cause trouble. If we've got enough sense to recognize the truth, why don't we feel others have the same ability? Sure, some are weaker in the faith than others, but they can still reason. This is one way to help them grow. We abhor "Big Brotherism" in the church as much as we do in society.

Our Father is Jehovah and His Word is our guide. May we ever approach this Word with an open mind, willing and ready to discuss differences and beliefs as we grow in our individual "grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ."

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