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    Joyfully Growing In Grace engages in an examination of beliefs found in the Hebrew Roots Movement, Messianic Judaism, and Netzarim streams of thought and related sects.

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    Many Christians meet folks who say they are ‘Messianic’ and assume that those folks are Jewish Christians. Most aren’t Jewish at all, but are Gentile Christians who have chosen to pursue Torah observance and have adopted the Messianic term, calling themselves Messianic Christians, adherents to Messianic Judaism, or simply, Messianics. Some will even try to avoid that label and say that they are followers of "The Way".

    These Gentiles (and to be fair, some Messianic Jews) preach Torah observance/pursuance for Christians, persuading many believers that the Christianity of the Bible is a false religion and that we must return to the faith of the first century sect of Judaism that they say Yeshua (Jesus Christ) embraced. According to them, once you become aware that you should be 'keeping' the edicts and regulations of Mosaic Covenant Law, if you do not, you are then in willful disobedience to God.

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Labels

We do like to define things and have everything all figured out, don’t we? 

If I label myself a Christian-homeschooling-stay-at-home-mom-of-six, that gives you a pretty good idea of who you think I am, doesn’t it?  Or does it?  Do you really know who I am, or do you just have a pre-supposition of who I am based on the labels I’ve given to you or that have been put on me by others?

I’ve always kind of approached labels with caution.  Like the ingredients on the outside of a bottle of this or a box of that, until one really digs in and gets past the packaging, one really can’t get a feeling for the nuances of flavor and texture and character and color of what’s inside.  That takes digging.  It takes time.  It takes effort.

Add to labels the insulation of anonymity that the internet provides, and one needs to add a healthy dose of discernment to one’s evaluation of labels, whether they be self-imposed or imposed by others.

I’ve been asked what my denomination is on occasion.  I don’t have one.  No quick label there, sorry =o).  Just a plain old Bible-believing follower of Christ.  I’ve been blissfully ignorant of many of the micro-labels within Christendom today until lately.  Wow.  I had no idea that people had such far-reaching and differing opinions on what they perceive Scripture to say.  Sure, I have had a good grasp of the major streams of thought/denominations/religions/cults, but sheesh!  If all those weren’t enough, there are bunches of sub-divisions and divisions within those sub-divisions.  I’m pretty observant by nature, so it really has taken me a bit by surprise that I’ve been so taken by surprise =o). 

Back to labels.  When my husband and I relocated from a far-away town, we needed to find a new church.  We visited several churches, any of which would have been fine places to worship.  We often drove past a small plaza, and on the vertical sign by the road listing the tenants in the plaza was a sign that read “Worship Christ”, and in the corner of the plaza (which is shaped like an “L”) there was a sign reading “CHURCH”.  Those labels intrigued us every time we drove by.  We decided to stop and look at the posted times of worship were so we could go and visit one Sunday.  In this case, the “Worship Christ” label fit really well.  It has been our church home for over 12 years now, and the church has grown and built a modest church building on some land.

What a blessing it is to be in a healthy, functional, body of believers.  It is not a perfect place, but the Law of Love is practiced there, and the leadership is mature and accountable, submitting to each other.  There are no power plays there, just willing hearts to Biblically mature the Body and grow the Kingdom as God leads and confirms.

The example set by leadership carries over into the local Body.  Though there are different backgrounds and experiences (and baggage) that people bring as they come to fellowship, we are there to worship God, bathe in the Word and fellowship with one another.  And the Law of Love does reign there.  Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Worship Christ.  Church.  Good labels. 

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6 Responses

  1. Wendy,
    Thank you for this thoughtful post. Sometimes I forget to come to Christ like a little child, that faith is simple and beautiful. Doubtless we each have individual tendencies … whether they be toward the flashy or the shallow or the overly theological. May we promote unity of the body and the truth of the Gospel as we live our lives and worship Christ.
    Meg

  2. Hi Wendy,

    Although I agree that labels should be approached with caution, I have found them to be ever so helpful. Since EVERYONE says I’m a Bible-believing Christian, labels are helpful to know where a person is coming from as far as their interpretation of Scripture goes. I am fairly studied when it comes to the different denominations, and I like it when someone just comes out and says, “I’m Southern Baptist,” or Apostolic, or Reformed, or so on. That way I know immediately how I will understand them when they speak on certain issues of faith. Because like I said, everyone (Christian denominations that is) says they are Bible-believing, but they most of the time will believe very different things about what they think the Bible says.

  3. To a thinking woman,
    Yes, it is nice when you’re getting to know someone to have the label on the package neatly applied so you have a good idea of what you’re getting. But is that the reality? Part of the reason for this post was that we need to be really careful about labels in general, because people as a rule hesitate to be transparent about who they really are.

    It can be convenient to apply a label to ourselves and then hide our hearts beneath it. The conversations that people have when the labels are clear and tight can be limited to those parameters, reducing the chances for real, heart-to-heart communication. Sometimes the labels we wear are so that we can hide from even ourselves.

    As for as the knowledge that comes from denominational labels, I would much rather not have the pre-conception planted in my mind about “who” a person is when getting to know them. I do like to know where someone stands on the core issues of the Christian faith, though I prefer to arrive at that knowlege in the course of conversation and observation rather than “reading” a label someone attaches to themselves. Frankly, I enjoy the relationship that is built discussing and learning about another’s testimony and point of view.

    Another point: If we as the Church (the Body of Christ) are to put into practice passages like Romans chapters 14 and 15, labels shouldn’t matter anyway. Two believers of opposing views on secondary disputable matters in reality view the other as the weaker brother. In which case we are to show deference to one another.

    Denominational lines too often have been drawn as battle lines instead of areas of preference within the circle of secondary, disputable matters. It’s okay to gravitate and worship with those who are like-minded, but we need to remember that the Church should be about relationship – first and foremost with God – and then with each other. That’s relationship with the whole Body of Christ, not just among those who agree with every point in a systematic theology.

    We as the Body of Christ need to walk in the model of 1 Corinthians chapters 12, 13, and 14, recognizing that differences in the Body of Christ are not usally a bad thing at all, but part of God’s design. If some of the “parts” are more focused on their pet theology than loving God or their neighbor, then there is a problem. But the design of the Body of Christ as God has set it up is one of necessary differences (talents and giftings), rooted and grounded in Christ, with the underlying framework being love.

    Labels in the Word were usually reserved for those that God was kind of frustrated with. I’m content to wear the label of one who follows Christ.

    In Him,
    ~Wendy

  4. Hey Wendy,

    Thanks for letting me know about your blog! Great post on labels. I’ve always had a great distate of labels because of the way I grew up. I am the daughter of a preacher. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times — “You know some of the worst kids to hang around with are the deacon’s and preacher’s kids!”. Well, I wasn’t one of those kids. Never got into mischeif (at least on purpose), was never rebellious, never drank, smoke, or practiced a promiscuous lifestyle…. I could go on about that but I won’t. I’m learning more and more these days about what it means to truly be a Christian, or, as my favorite artist says, “God Follower” (the label “Christian” often gets a bad rap these days). I wish we could, somehow, drop the denominational titles in our churches’ names. Like you said, those titles often become battle lines and it’s very unfortunate, very sad. We’re not only dragging our names’ through the mud when we battle over some things, we’re often dragging Christ’s name through the mud, too.

  5. Hi Wendy,
    I agree that too often labels are use to draw battle lines. But that is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about practicality. Nearly everyone in the US says they believe in God or are a Christian. Our family is Reformed, and currently looking into joining ourselves to a Presbyterian congregation. But if no one wanted to use labels, we could go around for years or decades trying to find a like-minded church to join.

    We should be charitable to those who differ from our view of Scripture on the “non-Gospel issues”. However, how often do we really have the time to devote to everyone we meet to find out if they are in line with the the Gospel issues. Whereas, if a Mormon, or JW (who call themselves Christians) was to approach us, we know right away that we need to engage them in the Gospel, not secondary issues like baptism or cessasionism. You can address the important things first.

    We need to have unity in Christ and His Gospel. Then charitable discuss differences in secondary issues. I don’t know about you, but being a MOMYS, I rarely have time to spend with other women in discussions. It’s nice to know upfront what would make a good conversation topic and what would not.

  6. To a thinking woman,

    See “Labels II” for a response to the first paragraph of your comment above.

    In regard to the balance of your comment,

    ” . . . how often do we really have the time to devote to everyone we meet to find out if they are in line with the Gospel issues. Whereas, if a Mormon, or JW (who call themselves Christians) was to approach us, we know right away that we need to engage them in the Gospel . . . you can address the important things first.”

    If we are letting God order our steps and He allows someone to cross our path and the conversation turns to issues of faith, we NEED to take the time to find out where they are, spiritually. I’ll concede that if they say they are a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness you are going to have a much better idea where they’re coming from (both deny that Jesus is God, making them not Christians as defined by Scripture).

    What I was more addressing in my “Labels” post is that we are often in too much of a hurry to have it all “figured out” so we can move on with our lives, either accepting or rejecting a point of view, that we may miss something that God really wants us to learn. Again, we must always always always measure everything against the Word and submit it to God in prayer. I just would hate to miss anything that God is putting before me be because it doesn’t bear a label that I’m comfortable with.

    You said, “It’s nice to know up front what would make a good conversation topic and what would not.”

    I understand where you’re coming from with that; time is tight as a mom to many and our “social” time can be really limited. I just want to encourage you to not limit God within that limited time that you do have.

    “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you” Psalm 32:8

    In Him,
    Wendy

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