Labels cause a lot of grief depending on who is using them and who they are labelling. I realized this tonight when a friend of my parents was hung up on the idea that he was a gentile. I think he really had a great point. While this is something that I never really thought about, it has some sort of validity. Israel was a chosen nation, a chosen group of people to fulfill a certain task and to accomplish a purpose. They let that get to their heads and eventually it was an inclusive purpose that they had. They thought that they were the best and that they had one up on everyone else. My guess is this is where a label like Gentile came in. Gentiles were everyone who wasn’t as good as an Israelite. So while I see it as me just not being an Israelite, others who may understand the history a bit different see it as a derogatory remark because they are closer to God.
I find the same thing with labels like ’emerging’ or ’emergent.’ They only work so far as people understand them. When I say emerging church to someone in Sarnia they immediately think new age, no truth anti-bible church. When I say it online, it has a different meaning. Labels can only be used properly in the right perspective talking to the right people unless they are validated.
The last thing I would ever want is for a Muslim in Iraq to ever be turned off of the gospel because of the label Christianity. They have a very unique view of who Christians are in North America, and for you to use the label is to immediately disqualify many things in their minds. We need to learn to change our language depending on who we are talking to. Paul did it no matter where he went. He studied the language and the way words were used before using them and we need to do the same, even down to the smallest minute detail. Because what could mean nothing to us could be the very thing that one person is completely hung up on.
Labels can destroy. Labels can help bring clarity. They do two very opposite things and unless we use them properly the former will be the default. Let us use labels appropriately and use them for what they are good for and never let someone become the sum of their label. No label can encapsulate everything of something. There will always be exceptions and it is not healthy to make judgements based on labels. We need to learn to develop our opinions from relationships with people, not labels of people we don’t know.