I’m going to get out my big spoon and stir the pot just a bit . . .
Reading through comments following the Labels post got me to thinking – especially one particular comment. I’m not picking on this commenter, but a few things came to mind as I read her second comment. Based on what I just wrote in Discernment in Action (Chicken Wing Theology Applied), they are things I’d like say to right up here in post-land instead of back there in comment-land.
From “a thinking woman” in her second comment pertaining to Labels:
“I agree that too often labels are used 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.”
I’d like to offer some thoughts on the concept she presents in the last sentence of that paragraph first. If we’re seeking after where God wants us to be, and He is faithful, AND we’re listening to Him, I doubt that years or decades will pass as we “go around” trying to find which church is for us. God says that if we seek Him with our whole hearts, we will find Him. He is faithful. To be clear, I’m no proponent of “church hopping”. But to take one’s time visiting, evaluating statements of faith, listening, praying, discussing, getting to know the leadership and the vision of a church or churches . . . I think it’s okay to not be in a big rush to find the “right” church.
Again, from “a thinking woman”:
“I’m talking about practicality.”
In today’s American Church culture, I’m afraid that the leading of the Holy Spirit takes a back seat to practicality.
If, as we seek, we trust only that which falls within the boundaries of some prescribed set of denominational beliefs, (I’m talking about beliefs outside of the core, indisputable issues of the Christian faith) the risk is that we will not grow and mature as God has intended for us to. We need to let Him guide us to where and with whom we are to worship. That place may or may not be within the comfort-zone of our denominational bent. Actually letting God do that leading is very challenging in practice, because then we have to give up control. Not the self-control-type control, but the-I-wanna-go-where-I-feel-comfortable-and-agree-with-everyone-most-of-the-time-type control.
Say we choose to fellowship within our “labeled boundaries”, which I’m not saying is a bad thing, by the way, as long as we’ve been faithful to let God lead us to that place. If we follow along, trusting that which comes from someone within the boundaries of our chosen label, then we run the risk of letting our spiritual guard down, and failing to “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22) Like I’ve said before, I’m not saying that we should all be cynics, but we do need to listen to all teaching from all sources with a critical ear. Notice that I said a critical ear, not a critical spirit.
For example, I trust our pastor. I trust his teaching and his counsel and his integrity. I see the fruit that is borne out from his life and how and where he ministers. His marriage and family are solid. I would (and do) heartily invite and welcome visitors to our church.
That said, when I sit down as part of the congregation to hear a teaching from our pastor or someone speaking in his place, 1 Thessalonians 5:21,22 always stands watch in the back of my mind. For me, this results in three things:
1) I remember to measure everything I hear against the Word, even if it is from a trusted source.
2) I remember to set aside my pre/mis-conceptions that I may have about the issue at hand.
3) This makes me humble myself before God and allow the Holy Spirit to change my viewpoint if it needs changing. It makes me teachable, yet I maintain the “filter” that the Word and the Holy Spirit afford me.
Even if you consider yourself to be in a “safe” place, having what you consider to be a filter in the form of a label, I would submit to you that your label-filter should neither a starting nor an ending place be. A label filter should only be used as a factor, not as the primary element in your filtering process as you evaluate the teaching and practices of any church.
My point of view, as moot of a point as it may in reality be, is that if no one used labels, we’d all have to rely on the Word and the Holy Spirit to direct us, thereby giving God the greater control in our lives.