The are many labels that we give ourselves (or are given to us) for various reasons, either to stand apart or to be identified within a specific group. Sometimes these labels are helpful and useful, but in some cases it becomes the very thing that causes conflict or drives wedges between people. Many have taken to condemning or ridiculing fellow Christians based on their identity. Partiality by identity, it seems, is becoming one of the most encouraged and most excused sin of our time.
When applying for a job they require particular information about you that isn’t necessarily relevant to the position you’re seeking. These include gender, age, ethnicity, disability, and/or veteran status. In many ways giving this information is harmless but on occasion these identifiable characteristics might be used against you. While there are laws against discrimination when hiring, one cannot help but wonder how much one’s identify influences a decision for hire. To ignore this fact is to be naive about human nature and this is in fact the kind of partiality that I am referring to.
I identify myself as a Reformed Christian, and one might ask for what reason and is it helpful to put the qualifier “Reformed” before Christian? I would say that it helps distinguish myself among the vast group of people who claim that title, however in doing so there are some implications. By identifying myself as Reformed I am putting myself into a group that others don’t identify with. To give a better example, I could just label myself Presbyterian (PCA), but that might hinder me from an opportunity of fellowship with some Particular Baptists or others who don’t like Presby’s. Labels can be helpful but anytime you are identified by one or more category distinctions you run the risk of dividing yourself from other people within broader groups.
So what if I identified myself as a White Christian? I could claim that I am proud of my multi-cultural/multi-ethnic European background and want everyone to know that I am not ashamed of being a mutt. However, in doing so I’ve just given myself a narrow identity that either makes me a target for opposition or separated myself from others within the broader category of Christian by an unhelpful distinction, in this case ethnicity. I don’t want to be lumped into this group and I don’t want to be seen as distinct from my fellow Christians based on my heritage or skin color.
Now what if I identified myself as an adulterer (or just Carnal) Christian? I struggle with lust, lust is essentially adultery, so why shouldn’t I claim this label for myself? While this is can be another topic entirely, I want to point out this sort of identification and the labels we give ourselves or others is dangerous. It is one thing to say that I am a Christian who struggles with particular sins, it is another thing entirely to identify myself by that sin. It also goes the same for identifying our fellow brethren by their sins either to encourage or admonish them for it.
With the exception of identifying by ones sin, labels can be helpful in distinguishing ourselves from others. But in today’s grievance culture and identity politics we have to be mindful as to what labels we give ourselves and others. As Christians we ought to be first and foremost known by our identity in Christ, and not use unhelpful distinctions to divide ourselves.