I do not like it when people use labels for other people. I understand the usefulness of them in describing a set of characteristics, beliefs, points of view, or praxis. I also understand the abuse of them when people use them against other people.
I’m okay with calling myself a centrist, and am about to explain why and what that means to me.
But, as a general rule, labels divide. Labels allow one to classify a group of individual people and assign to them a set of characteristics or beliefs or practices to which perhaps only some of them adhere.
Labels allow one to be crass and insulting toward a whole group of people and therefore avoid the stigma of being crass and insulting toward just one person.
Labels aren’t always accurate by common definition. What may constitute “conservative” and “liberal” to one person may be wholly different from the way another person defines the terms.
These things are true whether you’re discussing esoteric theories or politics or religion or Christianity.
I suspect I would be described as “liberal” by many of the people in the fellowship of Christianity where I identify myself. I suspect I would be described as “conservative” by a lot of other people who think of themselves as Christians.
So what am I?
I’ve decided I am a centrist.
I seek to be centered on Jesus Christ.
Everything else is peripheral. That’s not to say that everything else is unimportant. But if any facet of “everything else” does not have its roots in Christ, its trunk in Christ, its lifesap and its branches and twigs and leaves and fruit in Christ – it’s fit for nothing more than to be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10).
If any instruction of Christ is being neglected and withering on the vine, it needs to be tended and watered and nurtured and grown.
If your view of a certain doctrine or mine, whether considered liberal or conservative, does not bear good fruit, it cannot be of Christ and it needs to be pruned out.
There were plenty of doctrines in century one that were not of God through Christ and His Spirit, but of man. Of one of them – circumcision required in order to become a Christian – Paul wrote:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.~ Galatians 5:6
Responding to the teachings that Jesus was either man or God but not both, John wrote:
Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. ~ 1 John 2:22-23
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. ~ 1 John 4:2-3
On the subject of taking up labels – even self-applied ones – Paul said:
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into[b] the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ~ 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Notice what’s important in these citations: Who Jesus is. What He teaches. What He does.
Notice what’s not important: What man teaches about how man sees things.
Notice what’s even less important than Christ: baptism. Yes, even baptism takes a back seat to the gospel. Because if the gospel is preached – if the Story of Jesus is told – then it becomes obvious that baptism is one of the important ways God wants for us to have a new life and become a part of His kingdom. Baptism is rooted, trunked, branched, twigged, leafed and fruited in Christ.
So it cannot be the center of the gospel.
Neither can any of the other essentials of faith. Neither can any of the peripherals of faith. And certainly, neither can any of the matters which are of a faith that is not centered in Christ.
If I teach anything, say anything, write anything, do anything that is not centered in Christ, I beg you to call me on the carpet. It’s not just important to me. It is the single most important aspect of the way I live my life.
I hope to take your correction humbly, positively and penitently if found true and valid. I hope you will permit me the same grace if I feel compelled to challenge the way you view or practice your life in Christ. I believe there is divine wisdom in the fact that God puts us, the lonely, in His family in order to encourage and edify each other.
That is part of faith expressing itself in love. That is the very nature of Jesus, the Christ.
And nothing else counts.
The Bible tells me so.