Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

What Label Would Jesus Choose?

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I never got into the WWJD craze a few years ago. I never had a bracelet or a t-shirt. At the time I thought it was a little simplistic and I never have liked the idea of commercializing parts of the Christian faith. Putting the consumeristic aspect aside, WWJD is a helpful practice. Sometimes questions arise and they deserve more thought or contemplation, but often WWJD is enough. Often all we need to do is simply ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”

This is helpful when it comes to the topic of labels. Christians love to label one another. Some of these labels begin as a derogatory term (e.g. Campbellites, Quakers, Methodists, etc.). Sometimes Christians embrace a label and proudly wear it to distinguish themselves from other Christians. There are premillennial Christians, postmillennial Christians, feminist Christians, fundamentalist Christians, and on and on it goes. There is a never ending ocean of Christian labels. This is not something new. The Christians who began the restoration movement recognized this and sought to throw off their labels and be Christians only.

So, what would Jesus do? Would Jesus welcome and embrace a label? Would Jesus call himself a ________ Christian? We get a good idea of what he would do simply by looking at the gospels and understanding a thing or two about the culture in which he lived. The Jews of Jesus’ day were just as guilty of dividing themselves and using labels as Christians are today. We read about some of these groups in the New Testament. There were Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. Jesus was aware of these groups. He interacted with them. Simon, one of his disciples, was a Zealot, but Jesus also invited Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him. Jesus did not choose sides. He did not pick one group over another. He did not identify with any of them, but instead worked to tear down the walls that divided. No one would have included a Zealot and a tax collector in the same group, but Jesus did.

There are no longer any Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes, but Christians have managed to continue this tradition of division. Two of the most popular labels used today are conservative and liberal. There were conservative and liberal Jews in Jesus’ day, but because these terms are so vague it is sometimes hard to identify exactly who they were. Most people assume the Pharisees were the conservatives since they were strict and rigid when it came to following God’s law. They went beyond the law in order not to violate it. I have also heard people make the case that the Sadducees were the conservatives since they accepted the Torah, God’s true word, and did not add anything to it. Who was really conservative and who was really liberal? It depends on who you ask. It depends on their perspective. The labels we use often cause confusion and stymie meaningful conversations.

Jesus had the opportunity to choose a label. He could have identified with one group over another, but he did not. Jesus sought out people who had been rejected by others. He challenged Jewish prejudices regarding Samaritans and Gentiles. He questioned the legalism of Pharisees, a practice that separated them from others. He defended the resurrection before Sadducees who saw it as a point of division. Jesus showed us how to follow God without labels. Instead of worrying about what to be called or what to call someone else, he was willing to talk about issues, prejudices, and beliefs that hampered a person’s relationship with God.

Some say you cannot avoid labels and that may be so, but Jesus did. He never once embraced the labels within his culture that divided so many. What label would Jesus wear? The answer is none. Jesus was neither a conservative, nor a liberal. He was not this or that. He was a follower of God and that is what we should all strive to be.

Throwing off our labels will not solve all our problems. It will not even fix all the divisions within Christianity. Christians will continue to be divided. We will continue to find things to disagree upon. Refusing to be a hyphenated Christian is not about ignoring doctrines. It is about imitating Jesus and this is what we are called to do. Instead of writing off another human being because they have been given a label we do not like, we must now get to know them. We must begin a conversation with them and hear their story from their own lips. Refusing to use labels means we give up on assumptions. We begin each introduction with a clean slate. We start each meeting with a belief that is central to Scripture. Every human being is a person created in the image of God. Everyone is somebody. Each person I meet deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, rather than just assigned a label.

What would Jesus do? I think you know. Let us throw off the labels that divide us and often get in the way. Let us refuse to label others and make assumptions about them. Instead, may we follow in the footsteps of Jesus who did not concern himself with labels or groups, but rather devoted himself to simply following God.

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2 Responses to “What Label Would Jesus Choose?”

  1. Great post! I’m a new follower, and I look forward to reading your content.

    I’m a Christian blogger as well. You can check out some of my posts at http://www.KaelinEdwards.com

  2. […] What Label Would Jesus Choose?  […]


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