Monday, March 10, 2008

The Problem with Labels

There is a problem with labels.
Label – 1. a slip of paper, cloth, or other material, marked or inscribed, for attachment to something to indicate its manufacturer, nature, ownership, destination, etc. 2. a short word or phrase descriptive of a person, group, intellectual movement, etc. (
Labels made by man are not always reliable sources of full disclosure on an item. Even when food or clothing is labeled we don’t necessary know all the ingredients. They may not all be disclosed. There are times when a food label may be correct on the outside of the package but something has happened to the food inside, and it has spoiled due to a contamination of unknown origin.

Labels given to man, by man, are not typically reliable sources of full disclosure on what’s inside a person or who that person truly is. As we have the saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, we can also say, “You can’t really know the depths of a person by the label stamped upon them.”
People typically don’t mind being labeled by others if the label seems to be a “positive one” by general human consensus. But what about when a negative label is placed upon someone and it is totally forgotten that person is still God’s creation? What if it is forgotten that they are a creation designed and formed by Him; stamped by Him, “YHWH’s Property”? The only completely reliable label is the one God has given us, “YHWH’s Property”.
Man-made labels entail a lot of variables that must be taken into account before passing judgment. When someone is labeled people automatically assume that based on what they know about that label, they now also know everything there is to know about a person, their character, or their faith. The label might have a negative connotation to them, or a positive one—based on their past experiences or what they have been taught—but their inclination is to rely on what they know about that label to pass full judgment on the person. Often times, the depths of the whole person are totally missed because someone doesn’t go past the label on the outside. (This happens to God every day.)
For example, “father” or “mother” can mean many things to many people. A father or mother may have given physical birth to a child, but that doesn’t guarantee that they will love or take care of that child. It can also mean not physically giving birth to a child but caring for them faithfully and unselfishly. There are abusive father’s and mother’s, but we can’t assume because some are abusive there are also others who are not. There are many kinds of people and types of parenting within the labels “father” and “mother”. Because there are bad parents in the world it does not give us the right to assume that no parent can be a good/great one and none should have a right to raise their children.
It is the same with “love”. There is faithful love, faithless love, conditional love, unconditional love, temporal love, unending love. Only God is the perfect Father loving with a perfect love. Only Christ is the perfect Lord loving with a perfect love. But because man’s love is imperfect doesn’t mean we should stop having relationships altogether and loving or letting ourselves be loved.
Then there’s the “Christian” label. There are all kinds of people with the label “Christian”. Under “Christian” there are all kinds of groups and sub-groups and categories. There are countless differing beliefs and types of people under this one label. But ONE devotion must be in common, otherwise the name does not fit…the One is CHRIST, the Son of God, the perfect image of God,
Sent by the Father…
Sacrificed for the sins of the world…
Resurrected unto immortality by the Father…
the Savior of mankind…
Little CHRISTs, followers of Christ, is where the name CHRISTian comes from. There are “Christians” who give the label “Christian” a bad name. There are those who call themselves “Christian” and behave in terrible ways that God detests. They do not exemplify CHRIST whatsoever. Because of people like that there are people who don’t want anything to do with CHRIST or “Christians”. There are also “Unbelievers” that behave more CHRIST-like than some “Christians”.
Keeping all this in mind, it is ridiculous to automatically disassociate ourselves from someone based merely on a man-made label given to them (or their beliefs) or on what little we may have learned from other sources about that label and the many variables that are a part of it.
Yesterday, I read the following excerpt from a blog that I enjoy checking out, although a few of the Christian author’s views do differ from mine. He is replying to concerns expressed from some readers on the book, The Shack.
Does The Shack promote Ultimate Reconciliation (UR)?
It does not. While some of that was in earlier versions because of the author’s partiality at the time to some aspects of what people call UR, I made it clear at the outset that I didn’t embrace UR as sound teaching and didn’t want to be involved in a project that promoted it. In my view UR is an extrapolation of Scripture to humanistic conclusions about our Father’s love that has to be forced on the biblical text.
Since I don’t believe in UR and wholeheartedly embrace the finished product, I think those who see UR here, either positively or negatively are reading into the text. To me that was the beauty of the collaboration. Three hearts weighed in on the theology to make it as true as we could muster. The process also helped shape our theologies in honest, protracted discussions. I think the author would say that some of that dialog significantly affected his views. This book represents growth in that area for all of us. Holding him to the conclusions he may have embraced years earlier would be unfair to the ongoing process of God in his life and theology.
That said, however, I’m not afraid to have that discussion with people I regard as brothers and sisters since many have held that view in the course of theological history. Also keep in mind that the heretic hunters lump many absurd notions into what they call UR, but when I actually talk to those people partial to some view of ultimate reconciliation they do not endorse all the absurdities ascribed to them. This is a heavily nuanced discussion with UR meaning a lot of different things to different people. For myself, I am convinced that Jesus is someone we have to accept through repentance and belief in this age to participate in his life.
Throughout The Shack Mack’s choices are in play, determining what he will let God do in his life through their encounter. He is no victim of God’s process. He is a willing participant at every juncture. And even though Papa says ‘He is reconciled to all men” he also notes that, “not all men are reconciled to me.
There are various things in his comments I’d like to address (maybe in a future post), but I’m going to stick to the point for this particular post and not digress. First, I’d like to thank Wayne Jacobsen for speaking the truth that whether we, “Christians”, believe in the ultimate reconciliation of all or not, we are still brothers and sisters in CHRIST. Very accurately he also states, “keep in mind that the heretic hunters lump many absurd notions into what they call UR, but when I actually talk to those people partial to some view of ultimate reconciliation they do not endorse all the absurdities ascribed to them. This is a heavily nuanced discussion with UR meaning a lot of different things to different people.” That is the point I am trying to make here. There are people (I won’t label them with a name as Wayne does) that do lump many things under one label. To assume that everyone seeming to fit under a particular label believes “this” or “that” is to jump into very faulty generalizations of very unique individuals and of their faith. Wayne noticed, from his experiences and spending the time relating and discussing with others, that a simple label does not offer full disclosure. Full disclosure can only be found in spending time getting to know a person and being willing to have relationship and graceful discussions with them.
One could search the whole World Wide Web (internet) and read every book in the world trying to understand something only to find that there are extreme negative opinions, extremely positive opinions, and in-the-middle-of-the-road opinions on just about every subject that can be discussed. THAT search is not the answer.
The search for GOD is the answer. He is THE Answer. He has sent His Son, CHRIST, as our way, our truth, and our life. Intimate relationship with the One God and His Son and graceful relationship with others is the answer.
The apostle Paul said to the ekklesia in Corinth,
…there are quarrels among you…Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." Has Christ been divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:11-13)
…my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)
…whenever anyone may be saying, ‘I, indeed, am of Paul,’ yet another, ‘I, of Apollos,’ will he not be fleshly? What then is Apollos? Now what is Paul? Servants are they, through whom you believe, and as the Lord gives to each. I plant, Apollos irrigates, but God makes it grow up. So that, neither is he who is planting anything, nor he who is irrigating, but God Who makes it grow up.” (1 Corinthians 3:4-7)
I follow CHRIST, THE Author and Perfecter of my faith; a faith resting on the power of GOD.
…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
In His arms…

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