Friday, January 20, 2006

Just Call Me Christian

Many people seem to be addicted to the pursuit of giving everything a label. Nothing can just exist. It must be titled, categorized and classified.

For example, every bookstore is filled with field guides for the amateur naturalist. It is not enough to appreciate and enjoy a bird for its beauty and song alone. It has to have a name. The bird watcher can look up smugly from his field guide and declare “That was a yellow-billed Cuckoo,” and feel that somehow by naming the bird he has put it in its proper place. Yet he may understand little or nothing about the bird’s behavioral patterns, diet, habitat, breeding, or any of the other things that make a Yellow-billed Cuckoo different from a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, or a Yellow-breasted Chat.

Label makers find especially fertile ground in the field of religion. To them, every belief and every believer must be neatly tucked away into a slot.

When I was growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee, they called people at the church I attended at that time “Holy Rollers.” Kids at school would ask me if it were true that in our church we turned off the lights and rolled on the floor. We didn’t but sometimes I think we came close.

“Holy Roller” was considered a slangy term which our church indignantly disclaimed. Long before my time, way back in 1915, the Church of God denomination had passed a resolution repudiating the title as a “slanderous and malignant offense.” My parents taught me early that I was not a “Holy Roller.” If not a Holy Roller, then I wanted to know what I was.

“Protestant” is one answer I received. However, the term “protestant” is a most negative one, and in my own personal spiritual pilgrimage I have discovered that serving God is the most positive lifestyle one can live. I’m not protesting anything. Perhaps “Catholic” would be a more apt term to describe the way I feel about the church, for I see myself as a part of the universal, or catholic, body of Christ. Yet many who belong to the Roman branch of the church might not appreciate my saying I am Catholic unless I give allegiance to the Pope.

While studying theology in college a teacher informed me that I was a “Fundamentalist.” In fact I do believe in the fundamental tenants of the Christian faith. But as a writer I have been attacked more by Fundamentalist Christians than any other group. From many angry letters-to-the-editor I’ve learned that many Fundamentalists don’t consider me a part of their camp.

“Pentecostal” is a category into which many would put me. Yet Pentecostals themselves are so divided that I have a difficult time deciding into which of their slots I fit, if any. There are classical, neo, progressive, old line, liberated and post-Pentecostals, to name a few. Some Pentecostals have called me “Charismatic,” but most hard-core Charismatics don’t consider me to be one of them.

Many of the terms people use to distinguish themselves are broad almost to the point of being meaningless. For example, some say they are “New Testament Christians,” but whoever heard of a Christian who disclaimed the New Testament? Many call themselves “Full Gospel,” but no one admits to being “Half Gospel.” Others use the term “Spirit Filled,” and so do I, yet, the term is open to a score of different theological interpretations.

“Born Again” once seemed to me a powerful term which adequately described the dramatic change Christ makes in a life. However, in recent years that term has been so secularized that it has lost its original punch. At times I have referred to myself as an “Evangelical,” but some people always mistake that to mean that I have the gift of an evangelist, which I don’t.

So please don’t put me in a box. If I have a label I’m sure to fall short of somebody’s expectations. Really, it takes all the effort I’ve got just to try to live up to the name “Christian.”

1 comment:

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