Monday, May 07, 2007


What is the purpose of a "label" within today's church? Within our conservative circles, there seems to be a debate raging regarding the need to label ourselves. If you do not have the right label, you are "snubbed". Students that attend FBTS are told that for a church to be approved, it must carry the label "baptist". Our culture today (call it post-modern or whatever label :-) you like) has sought to remove these labels. Often, the removal of these labels from our churches is met with fierce criticism by our fundamentalist brothers. One wonders, though, if this fierce opposition is rooted, not in the text itself, but in the modernistic reality of their previous culture. Modernism, with its insistence upon scientific reality, seemed to attract labels to itself. The modernist liked to define and label things (whether they be world views, or historical categories). Is the same true of our "older" fundamental/evangelical movement? Did the "older fundamentalist" buy into this aspect of culture, enjoying labeling and being labeled? Now, they react to the removal of these labels, not due to the biblical mandate to label (if there is one?), but based on a reliance upon their cultural bias (being raised and taught within a modernistic culture). The follow up question is then obvious. . . what is the purpose of a label? . . . and what label are important (fundamentalist, baptist, evangelical, reformed, new-fundamentalist)? Love to hear your thoughts!


Justin said...

Labels give a sense of identity. They also help us live within a comfort zone. They allow us not to think for ourselves. They also in way help us live a life of discrimination and bigotry. For instance! Members of the Iowa Association of Regular Baptist Churches have chosen not to fellowship with a church plant of a fellow association church. Why? Because they do not have "Baptist" in their name. Where does this spill over into? Not only fellowship but teaching. Why teaching? This same church plant can not send counselors to the Association Camp, Iowa Regular Baptist Camp.

Now explain to me how a group of churches and a bunch members on a board at a camp would say such a thing and institute such a harsh shunning of a church plant 1)was planted by a fellow BAPTIST church and 2) believes everything doctrinally the association and the camp stands for. This just seems silly to me.

To further muddy the waters, what does Faith Baptist Theological Seminary have to say about Bob Jones University that has Presbyterian pastors and Bible church pastors regularly preach from their pulpits, serve on their boards, teach at their schools and allow the students to attend their churches. Faith and the IARBC need to look at who they are going to fellowship with again because even BJU (a more conservative school) at least sees past the BAPTIST segregation.

Ben Eilers (SBC) said...

Justin, I am familiar with this church plant and have even experienced this phenomenon myself as I am a student at FBTS and the pastor of Shiloh Bible Church. When we remove all the peripheral issues involved (politics) the issue seems to boil down to the word (or label -- in our case "baptist"). If the doctrine is similar -- or better yet, identical -- then the only difference is the label. Why then hold to the label? You make an excellent point regarding BJU and even Dr. Kevin Bauder (whom I respect much more than the combined faculty at BJU) has spoken at commencement ceremonies for a reformed school!

We feel the pressure from these "leaders" within the movement to include the labels. The question we must ask ourselves is why??? Have these older fundamentalists sold out to the culture of modernity with all its labels. If so, then they are removed from a solid position in Christ and have placed their hope solidly in a "name" -- or better in the ideals of modernity which has since passed us all by.

On the other side, can one go to far? Is it possible that we as a younger generation can commit the same error for which we react here in our adherence to the post-modern anti-label stance? This is my fear as we pursue a Christ-centered view of ministry.

tie.crawler said...

We have labels so that we know who to separate from. Labels are convenient, they help us out so we don't have to think or have discernment, we can just write people off because they go to a "wrong label" church or believe "wrong label".

It's been interesting at DTS to get to know people before I read their labels. I've made some good friends that I would've written off (due to my FBBC heritage) if I'd know their label ahead of time.

lilrabbi said...


Labeling and organizing is nothing new. It is the mark of a healthy culture and of a good wife (both of which are to be desired!). The pre-modern medievals were avid orginizers and labelers. Think Thomas Aquinas.

To talk this way is very parochial. Naming and labeling is who we are as humans, it is what we do.

Ben, why do you identify your self as SBC? Why the label, eh? Just curious:)

Some people are as shallow as you guys are complaining about, but Ben's fear that this be accepted as the sum total and thus be "taken too far" is well founded.

I wonder if our movement is falling apart. I'm not sure that wouldn't be good. On second thought, I'm not sure I care so much.

I hate politics.

lilrabbi said...

For what its worth, I could care less that a church can't send counselors to camp. I would consider that church relieved of a great evil. They should praise God for it.

It would be like a monastary telling the layity: "We are keeping the works of Charles Finney for ourselves. You shall have none of him."

Big loss.

Matthew LaPine said...

I'd like to nominate this for quote of the month: It would be like a monastary telling the layity: "We are keeping the works of Charles Finney for ourselves. You shall have none of him."

Big loss.

Matthew LaPine said...

You know, I don't know how I feel about labels in all circumstances but I'd like to know who my friends are. To me that's the bottom line. It's not that I want to know who I can be friends with, but who's striving for the same things I am. I'm sure that during the civil war the men appreciated the difference between grey and blue.

Ben Eilers (SBC) said...

"lilrabbi" thought's concerning pre-modern "labeling" are good. Perhaps the difference may be in our desire, after completing the labeling process, to separate from those who do not bear our label. Another side issue. . . is the "label" turned into "meaningless statement" by our maintaining doctrinal agreement but dropping the label? Hence we agree on everything but "call it" something different. Does this then ruin the effectiveness of the label? Are we then self defeating?

We are working through "who we are and where we have come from" at SBC now. We are currently non-denom and "conservative" evangelical (perhaps even fundamental). My question then relates to how free should we be in defining ourselves when there are so many various definitions available to a given word (like "fundamental" -- which could mean keswick, mystical, arminian, or just that one holds to the fundamentals). Should our method be to define ourselves in a few "common labels" as possible and then define who we are in paragraph form and not merely one word. On our church's website we have sought to accomplish this --while it's not quite complete. It does take longer to read -- but in the end we've subtly defined (not just for ourselves but for any passer by) what we mean by the labels we choose to use for ourselves.

In this way we are able to maintain the usefulness of label's (as stated by Lapine) and removed the confusion they bring????

lilrabbi said...

That's the idea. Some people will do evil with labels just as some people will do evil with a nice sculpture.

You really do have to weigh whether a label is still what it was. The language of a people will change over time.

It is easy for me. I am not in any position of consequence, so I don't have to worry about things like this. I'm fairly free to think of it without the chains of the practical.

For my part, I'm not sure I would call myself a fundamentalist. Can I be a Machenist instead? I am definitely a baptist. Definitely a Calvinist. Probably not a Van Tillian. Yeah, in my mind, these labels are still helpful. That said - you can't control every misconception that an ill-conceiving populace may have!

I'm not sure there has ever been a fundamentalist mystic. I find that hard to believe.

Matthew LaPine said...

understand, in my comment I haven't described the teams or the battle... just a clarification of what I said earlier

Matthew LaPine said...

who wants to be a lilrabbian? :) lol

Josh Butler said...

Labels define us. I do agree that a mountain has been made out of a mole hill when it comes to "older" Fundamentalist's condemnation of those who have removed the word Baptist from their title.
I remember Bob Jones III in chapel one time suggested that with the recent Islamic Terrorist's redefining of the word Fundamentalist we should adopt a new label. It seems to me often the reason why people are removing the name Baptist from their name is because the word has been redefined if not defiled in their specific geographical area. I see a huge parallel between BJ III reasoning and these peoples reasoning. I see nothing wrong with redefining ones organization if their current label is archaic if not negative in nature.

Josh Butler said...

A wise man once said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

lilrabbi said...

we could call that group, "Lilrabies". That oozes sophistication.