Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Reading Labels ................................. Parables 023

Every now and then I pick up a new product in the grocery store to read the contents listed on the label. I want to know what is in it before I buy it.

Labels are interesting. They can describe the contents of a box of cereal or classify people, organizations and schools of thought. However, convenient as titles and labels are, if descriptions are inaccurate or definitions vague, a label can cause serious misunderstandings.

It is no secret that the Christian church has been the object of labeling. Some congregations label themselves, such as Lutheran, Baptist, and Presbyterian, intending to identify their doctrinal distinctives. Other broader classifications include fundamental, liberal, orthodox, and so on.

Often, observers outside the church add some labels based on their personal experience. Besides that, philosophies that are not Christian borrow the terms used by the church, making label-reading increasingly confusing.

The New Testament Greek word for church is “ekklesia” referring to an assembly of people who are “called out,” called from a life of sin to the redemption offered freely by the Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture does put a few other names on those “called out” people such as “saints” and “brethren” but the Biblical identification of the church is rather straightforward with location being the primary distinction. In other words, each one who is “called out” is part of Christ’s church, no matter which place they meet, or what they call themselves.

To further define these “called out” ones, the Scriptures state that a person either has the Spirit of Christ, or does not have the Spirit of Christ. If not, then that person is not Christ’s, and therefore not a Christian (Romans 8:9).

Even though the Biblical definition seems to be simple, many people have a confused idea of what Christians are and what the church is. The confusion is revealed by the labels that are used. At the root of the problem is the tendency to define Christians as those who assemble in a building called a church. While This can be true, that definition is not entirely accurate. A building can be a church, but the church is not necessarily a building. A Christian can be found in a church building, but not everyone who regularly attends church necessarily has Christ in their heart.

The buildings labeled churches should be meeting places of Christians and the people labeled Christians should be called that because their label accurately describes their contents . . .  Christ!

If that were so, perhaps there would be a greater interest in the product.

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