It is one thing when they identify products, something else entirely when they classify people.
Labels are necessary for the purpose of identifying items. In some cases they are a necessary evil. But it is one thing to identify items by the appropriate label so that someone knows what he is buying. It is something entirely different to label people.
Yet, some live and die by the label. They label themselves and everyone else in the world who does not agree with them.
Of course, the labels they choose for themselves are titles of commendation, while the labels they put on others are titles of condemnation. Some use labels to identify or associate with a group because of their inability to express their own viewpoints.
Labels give some people a feeling of security by being linked with great leaders of the past and present. Putting a label on yourself saves one from having to pioneer some “new” idea and thus relieves the burden of criticism by giving one an identity shield to hide behind.
There is no place where labels are any more freely handed out than in some religious circles. We are all acquainted with the terms liberal, modernist, evangelical, neoevangelical, fundamentalist, and so on, ad infinitum, and ad nauseum.
Frankly, I don’t like labels. My main objection is that they tend to link you with people with whom you may only have one thing in common. If I had to choose some “label” to distinguish me in life, my choice would be the simple title “Christian.” The term “Christian” was first used in Antioch (Acts 11:26) to distinguish the followers of Christ. It is really not a label. A label is something you give yourself—a title is something you earn.
Yet there are those who feel that being a Christian is not enough. Since thousands of people who have embraced various philosophies claim to be Christians, there are those who try to distinguish themselves better by a long list of adjectives. This is an attempt to get in the right group—whatever group that is.
I seem to have a problem finding a group that I really feel comfortable with. For example, I don’t like the term evangelical—it seems to have too much in common with jelly. The term fundamentalist doesn’t really offend me, but according to the news media, the Jim Jones cult was a fundamentalist cult, as are snake handlers. Even if you say you are a fundamentalist, you could be classified as hyper, pseudo, militant, or neo, except when labeling yourself: then it is historic (rhymes with hysteric). Conservative is a nice word, but it is vague, general, and tends to stereotype people. Some think that if you are a conservative you are by nature a racist. That is absurd and ridiculous.
So now we are faced with having to identify ourselves with a host of glittering adjectives such as Bible-believing, born-again, militant, fundamentalist, and so on.
If you really think about it, you will soon realize that by adding adjectives, you are simply narrowing your field of vision. Yet those who hand out labels like they are passing out tracts tend to label people because of their position on one single issue.
I have recently expressed myself regarding a sensitive issue. Because of my position, some men in the ministry have labeled me as new evangelical, liberal, and, in the words of one critic, “an infidel.”
You see, I really am in a dilemma, and though it may sound as if I do not want people to know what I am, that is not true. It is just that I do not care for the unpleasant overtones that come with an identification label.
If anyone is really interested in where I stand on a particular issue, then let him ask. I will deal with each issue individually. But I am not interested in tying myself to some traditional confession of faith by labeling myself.
I do not wish to be linked with a group that may eventually embarrass me by not having good old-fashioned manners, and I have yet to find a group, for the purpose of security and association, that I want to be identified with totally.
So if you do not mind—and if you do it does not bother me—I will just be satisfied with the title Christian. If I do all that I must to merit that title, I will have my hands full.
DALLAS AINSLEYMr. Ainsley is pastor of Good News Baptist Church, Chesapeake, Virginia. Reprinted from the Fundamentalist Journal; used by permission.
Mr. Ainsley is pastor of Good News Baptist Church, Chesapeake, Virginia. Reprinted from the Fundamentalist Journal; used by permission.
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