I’m really afraid that, in our current Christian culture, we attribute certain labels to part of what it means to be a Christian that often end up overshadowing who we really are: believers in Jesus. Let me give a few examples.
Calvinist/Reformed. This is the subset I’ve run into most in recent years, especially in the college-age setting. Thanks to popular evangelical leaders like John Piper, being considered a “Calvinist” is what’s cool, what’s hip and apparently what’s biblical. If you’re not a Calvinist, well, you’re missing out on some serious things. A church I went to in college had a pastor on staff whose goal, as he explained to me one time and to my surprise, was to help people learn about the Calvinist/Reformed viewpoint and help them understand that it was true. You’ve got to know the five points, you’ve got to love reading commentaries and you’ve got to be super stubborn about what you believe.
Republican. This is the one that is a little more subtle. While some Christians will openly declare that, in a way, you must be Reformed to be a Christian, this is implied. If you’re a Democrat and you go to an evangelical church, you might be in trouble. Even if you have just a couple liberal tendencies, you might be in trouble. All for more gun control? Agree with some parts of the welfare system? For goodness’ sake, you’re not up in arms about the gay marriage case in the Supreme Court? Watch your back.
Baptist/Presbyterian/etc. Something about all the recent hoopla surrounding the Southern Baptist Convention bothered me. There seems to be this pride in being insert-your-denomination-here that could lead to an exclusivity and arrogance very similar to the Calvinist/Reformed group. It’s the same concept: you don’t do it our way, you’re doing it wrong.
At the end of the day, these labels and these groupings are incredibly destructive in my view for a couple reasons.
Exclusivity. Christianity is by nature an exclusive religion. You must be saved in order to receive the blessings and be called part of the crew. But once you’re part of the crew, what’s the point in formally dividing things up even further? I understand that people interpret Scripture different ways and, in some of those instances, the different interpretations aren’t salvation issues and are thus OK to wrestle with and discuss. But the “you must be one of us” attitude that comes with it is unloving and un-Christlike.
Arrogance. It’s my way or the highway, these people say. If you don’t buy all five points, are you really a Cal…I mean, Christian? There’s a lack of humility that leads to listening and humbly seeking to understand another vantage point on an issue. The pride then shows itself when comments like “so proud of what the Southern Baptists are doing” and “here’s what Calvinists get right” perpetuate themselves all across social media.
Wrong identity. Our primary identity should never be the fact that we belong to a certain political party or a certain theological viewpoint. And while those who claim Calvinism/Republicanism/Baptist may not say that their primary identity is those things, their actions display otherwise. Since our identity is easily shaped and shapes so much of what we do, it’s really easy for those factions to morph from a bit piece of our life to everything we are and everything we’re driven by, which then affects our words and actions.
To be transparent here, I’ve been that Calvinist snob as recently as a year ago. I was that Republican snob in middle and high school. I was never really that Baptist snob because, by the time I understood what the denominations meant, I had some kind of understanding that you could be a Christian in different denominations.
Here’s the thing: Calvinist/Baptist/Republican/etc., those are all identities we give ourselves. By virtue of being self-given, those identities are faulty and will never be satisfying in this life and most definitely not in the next. We are who God says we are, and He doesn’t say that we’re Calvinist/Baptist/Republican. He says we’re loved, forgiven, adopted, called, being sanctified, one day glorified.
The point of the Gospel is that we don’t have to look for our identity in anything else: our sin, our political views, our theological views, our gender, etc. We simply have to look, as cliché as this is, to the cross. There all our answers are found.