I was walking across a bridge one day and I saw a man about to jump. I said, "Stop, don't do it." "Why shouldn't I?" he asked. "Well, are you a Christian?" I asked. He said: "Yes." I said, "Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?" "Protestant." "Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?" "Baptist." "Wow, me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?" "Baptist Church of God." "Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?" "Reformed Baptist Church of God." "Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?" He said, "Reformation of 1915." I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.
(Source: Emo Phillips, quoted in The Independent)
That joke certainly described the way Christians used to be – and sadly a lot of tribalism still exists, but have you noticed how increasingly disinterested Christians are becoming about each others' denominational and theological tags? I have and it's great! When I meet fellow believers at conferences, at the workplace, out shopping, or at social and leisure activities, it's wonderful to discover another person who also seeks to follow Christ – but finding out which 'sub-brand' they are aligned to, an activity which can be so divisive and negative, is becoming less important. Hurrah! It's not just teens and twenties, or the middle aged, I notice many older Christians are becoming less bothered about ticking off a series of boxes – when they meet another Christian. Denominational affiliation isn't the issue it was. Instead it's more about lifestyle and heart attitude – does this person walk the walk or do they just talk the talk? Actions speak louder than words. So what if you are a charismatic, evangelical Methodist who is Calvinistic and holds to a mid-tribulation pre-millennial understanding of the end times? Big deal. Except of course, that it is still a big deal with many of us – particularly church leaders.
Our beliefs and what we think about a pile of things like - the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or women in leadership, or what does and doesn't constitute sinful behaviour – this can all make a difference to the way we interact and treat each other. But is that right?
Recently I quizzed Evangelical Alliance general director Joel Edwards, about the name 'evangelical' and asked him whether that word should be ditched now that it has become associated with so many negative connotations. Joel's response is passionate and really worth reading (page 20).
Meanwhile, having read Tony Watkins' fascinating article on creation and evolution (page 12), I've learned that the 'name' that describes my view about the way the earth was created is 'Old Earth Special Creationist' – how about you?
By the time you read this article senior 'evangelicals' – that 'name' again – will have met to discuss atonement theology. The potential for falling out and division is massive.
Names matter. Our theology matters. Our understanding of scripture matters. What we teach and preach matters. The way our beliefs affect our actions and our lifestyle matters. But ultimately what counts is living in harmony and obedience to the will of Christ. Jesus - the name above all names, the most powerful and life-giving name in the universe - commands you and me to love one another. This is not a polite request made at a church meeting, this is not a point of order, this is not an option. The Master commands us to love one another. John records how Christ went on to say: 'By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another' (John 13:35). Whatever sub-tag we give ourselves – His name is the one we must live in obedience to. And He says 'love'.