I was looking through some of my old blog posts and came across one from April 2007 entitled Why I Am A Baptist. I was reading through the few comments at the bottom of the post and thought one exchange was worth re-posting here. An anonymous comment was questioning the use of labels in the religious world, such as Baptist. Following is the comment and my response:
Anonymous said... Would "A Follower of Christ, a New Testament Christian" be an adequate label for one who holds to all of the points that you listed by which compel you and many others to label yourselves a Baptist? It just seems to me that by insisting on labeling one's self, as in this instance, "a Baptist", could provide a distraction from our primary mission and that being the preaching of Christ crucified and risen from the dead, His Gospel. It seems to me that if we are to take a label it ought to be one so closely connected with scripture that this world could not not even for a moment mistake us for none other than a Christian. If one asks who I am, I respond that I am a Christian, a follower of Christ as taught in the scripture of the New Testament. How many "Baptist" churches are there in the world today. Flavors of all kinds in varying degrees of submission to sound Biblical doctrine. I think it true to say that that labels are a thing the world finds important. The New Testament churches were know by the doctrine of being followers of Christ. They were local in locality and identified by name as "the church of such and such a place." The new testament even gives the name of the city in which these followers of Christ were by others "first called Christians" Adherence to sound doctrine ought to be the cohesive agent that binds believers together in fellowship and to a corporate desire to further the Gospel Message and bring honor to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and not a label.
Pastor McEntire said... Anon
Thanks for your thoughtful response. I suppose that you do not have the same aversion to labels when you go grocery shopping. In fact you probably look for certain labels. The reason being that you have come to trust certain labels as being reliable in quality and value. You probably appreciate labels when you go to the doctor because it helps identify the kind of doctor you are seeing and helps ensure it is one with the proper training to meet your specific need. You probably appreciate labels when it comes to medicine and in fact would probably not take any medicine unless you had confidence it was properly labeled.
I am sure at least some Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses claim to be followers of Christ. Because of all the confusion in the religious world for someone to tell me they are a follower of Christ or a New Testament Christian really does not tell me anything. People who believe you baptize babies and you have to be baptized to be saved would embrace both of these terms in spite of the fact they hold to false doctrine.
In my estimation "labeling" is not a distraction but for purposes of clarification and distinction. Far from distracting labels serve to help people discriminate between different belief systems.
The Baptist name does have a very close connection to the Scripture. The man who baptized Jesus was called by God, John the Baptist.
When I ask who I am in a religious context I say I am a Baptist. This provides more information for the inquirer than simply saying I am a follower of Christ as taught in the scriptures of the New Testament. If you answered me this way I still wouldn't know what you believe. Do you accept the Catholic idea of Christianity, the Lutheran, the Methodist, the Anglican, the Pentecostal???? Many people say they are followers of Christ as taught in the scripture of the New Testament but they are not. I will always need clarification on that broad answer which is a "label" for so many belief systems.
Yes the world does find labels important because they are important. They are instructive and provide information.
The early believers were simply called disciples and churches were, as you point out, identified by their location. But this was before wholesale apostasy had developed among some churches. The disciples did not call themselves Christians, at least initially. They were called that by others. Baptists have never had the luxury of naming themselves. We have always been named by our enemies and those who have opposed our position of rebaptizing those who come to us from other "churches". While we have been called many things by our enemies through the last two thousand years one name that shows up over and over again is Ana-Baptist, or re-baptizers. We have embraced the name because it clearly sets forth one of our primary tenants that sets us apart from most others, the immersion of believers in water symbolically representing the gospel that saves.
I agree that adherence to sound doctrine ought to be the cohesive agent that binds believers together. And a good starting point for me to know if one is holding to sound doctrine or not is if they are Baptist.
If I was visiting a strange city and needed a church to attend or was contemplating a move to a strange city and needed a church the process of choosing one is much easier because of labels. Just like when I go to the grocery store to buy a can of corn, I look for the label. When I go into the city I am going to look for an Independent Baptist church because I know that it is in those kinds of churches where I am much more likely to find a home. I don't even have to bother with the local Catholic, Luther, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, Methodist, Church of Christ, etc. I know because of their "labels" that I will not find what I believe to be New Testament truth in those places.
I have a feeling that religion is the only area of your life where you do not appreciate labels and that is the most important area.