James 4:11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
Let’s Label. That’s a favorite parlor game among Christians. The rules are easy to remember. Any number can play. But it’s especially appealing to those who are given to oversimplification and making categorical comments. Name-droppers thrive on this game. And it helps if you speak with a measure of authority . . . looking somewhat pious and pronouncing your words very distinctly, very dogmatically. You’ll gain stature in the group if you look down and frown a little as you affix the label to the person in question.
Labels vary. There are “temperament” labels. “She’s a choleric, poor thing . . . married to a melancholic!”
These are akin to “emotional” labels. “Well, you know her—she’s nervous” . . . or “He’s a classic neurotic, a perfectionist to the core.”
Of course, “doctrinal” labels are most popular among evangelicals. One guy is tagged a liberal, another neo-evangelical . . . and still others conservative—with a host of in-between shades. If a person mentions the sovereignty of God too much, we label the jar Calvinist. If he seems uneasy regarding local church organization, Plymouth Brethren is the tag. If she’s convinced that God’s future program is clearly spelled out in Daniel and Revelation, we brand her premillenialist. If one thinks that the Bible sets forth distinct eras during which humanity’s relationship with God has unique characteristics, the label is dispensationalist, a sinister-sounding term very few people even understand! Another label that’s now on the scene is neo-fundamentalism . . . a title that includes basic tenets and life outlooks that, in the mind of the “labeler,” are unrelated to the fundamentals of the faith.
Now then, to be completely honest about it, it is occasionally helpful to lick a label and stick it on. It saves a bundle of time and it can communicate a fairly clear mental picture. However—it is important that we guard against using a wrong label, thus damaging that individual’s true image or position in others’ eyes. That is the main danger in playing Let’s Label. It often means you set yourself up as judge and jury, declaring information that is exaggerated or thirdhand or just plain untrue. When that happens, we have stopped playing a game and started to slander.
Being alert and discerning, basing one’s opinion on the absolute truth, is a sign of maturity, a mark of excellence in a life. But pasting labels on people and churches and schools with only partial facts, feelings, and opinions to back those statements up is worse than unfair . . . it’s un-Christian.