Ecclesiastical Pigeonry

I don’t think I’d have made a very good pigeon. For one, I have a keen dislike for tiny little boxes, especially when someone else picks one for me, puts me in it, and expects me to stay put.

I never liked being tagged a Baby-Boomer. My birthday is near the end of that part of the timeline someone labelled “Baby Boomers”. In some ways I think more like the Baby-Busters. “I wore Buster Brown shirts as a kid, can I be a Buster instead? ”
“When’s your birthday, son? ____ Nope, Boomer. Almost, though, nice try.” I hated that.
So I’m wondering now, do Gen-Xers like the name? Would Post-moderns pick a different name if they had the chance? Who picked that name anyway? I wouldn’t want to be post-anything; would you?

I remember how awkward it was when we talked about faith things at school. John Seely and I used to talk about spiritual things in the lunch line. We were in 5th grade, and apparently thought each other mischievous enough the other needed the Lord, so were trying to win each other to Christ. He could not figure out who or what I was. “Christian” was too broad a term to describe me, I had no denominational allegiances (still don’t, actually), so none of those helped. Everything he knew about religious pigeon holes as a ten or eleven-year old didn’t fit me. And when I said “I believe what the Bible says and try to live it,” it about drove him nuts! That wasn’t explanation enough for him; he needed a box to put me in and I kept crawling out of it.

Even today, with more “-isms” in the world than there are types of amphibians, I’m not about to let anyone fold my wings against me and pigeon-hole me in some –ism, even one with fundamental-something in it, though I’m rock solid on the fundamentals of the faith! There’s only one reason for that, but it’s huge.

When someone picks a one-word label to categorize me, I am at that point defined by what that individual believes to be true about the pigeon-hole they’ve parked me in, even if it’s inaccurate!

When I find myself in a box, the first thing I want is out. When I’m pressed into picking a pigeon hole so someone else can pretend to understand me, I want just one thing. Out.

It’s especially true of religious categories; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I’m ____(a denomination)___ but…” They don’t want what I think about their church’s affiliation to adversely affect how I think about them as a brother in Christ. How many are there who name the name of Christ but continue to worship and serve in a church while their understanding deepens, though for a time it means they belong to a denomination they only partially agree with. Do they chafe under the name? I would. Some of my friends at work do. What about those who find themselves challenging the truths they grew up with as they learn more and more about who God really is and what He really wants… do they wish the boxes would just go away? I know some who do.

I wonder sometimes if John and Martin look over Heaven’s wall at what’s going on down here, say to each other “Oh-good-grief. Let’s go worship some more.” and walk off together. You know the two; John Calvin, Martin Luther. Ever heard of them? From what I read of their writings, they’re BOTH in glory now. For all I know, they could be next door neighbors in a Heaven-built condo! Luther and Calvin didn’t start the arguments that have continued on for centuries now; their followers did. Isn’t that just like us?

So I can’t help but wonder —and this is all along the same line of thinking— would it help if conservatives, traditionals, blended and contemporaries just scrapped labels altogether? I followed Doug Lawrence’s lead and did just that about fifteen years ago and I have to tell you, it was freeing. I began using adjectives to describe the worship in my church instead of categories or genres. “You know, we really don’t fit in a box, you should come see,” is a pleasant invitation and avoids being pigeon-holed against your will.

Similarly, I wonder if Christ-followers tagged emerging and emergent, either of their own volition or by an observer, will become fed up with all the arguing about their motives, methods and theology —or lack thereof— and say “That’s enough. We’re changing our name. You can argue about what we used to be called.”

Paul got after some folks in a church early-on for this internal bickering, remember? Only theirs were self-chosen pigeon-holes. I am of Paul! (see the membership pin?) I am of Apollos (spoken eloquently and with fervor, as Apollos did). And the Pharisaical (only they weren’t Pharisees) I… am of Christ!

Paul said basically, “KNOCK IT OFF!”


I started this post about a month ago and have put it away half a dozen times. But I can’t sit on this another day. Friends,I would like to suggest a possible reason for all this quarreling and scrapping – across the board– something that may seem rather out of the box at first. (But then that would be consistent with me, wouldn’t it? OK, here goes).

James said it best, I think, when he said

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? [2] You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can’t possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them… (Js. 4.1-2)

Dr. Howard Hendricks —I admire his candor!— said (this is a near-quote)

Every conflict I’ve seen in the church, small or large, widespread or local, comes down to this: Who has the power? And who wants it?

Who’s getting all the attention? I want to be interviewed on TV!
Who’s got… a), b), c) ? I want some.
Who’s known for being right? I want to be right.
Who’s getting their way? I want to get MY way once.
Who’s calling the plays? I want to call the plays.
Who’s setting the direction? I want to.
Brothers like to scrap, I guess — until we’re attacked from outside. Then we rally and defend each other. Maybe we’re due for a good stiff dose of first-century persecution — for unity’s sake. It’s high time we revisit Jesus’ words to Peter, “… what is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21.22) Conflict isn’t going to go away. We’re 21 centuries into the church and it’s still here. But we don’t HAVE to play by those selfish, prideful, power-hungry rules. We don’t have to climb at others’ expense. We can treat each other the way our Leader wants us to, even though we disagree with each other. And we have, we do and we will again.
James wrote to his readers – the very end of his letter.

My dear brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back again, [20] you can be sure that the one who brings that person back will save that sinner from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20

I love this. Go get him. Go get her. Don’t scare him, don’t frighten her, endear and correct, return and restore if your brother is wrong. Just be sure before you begin (Matthew 7 is still pretty clear) and stay gentle (so is Matthew 18) .

I know this much for sure. Bringing someone back only happens by talking to them, never by picking them apart, talking about them on the radio, blasting them on TV, preaching against and writing about them. Trouble is, it’s easier to sit on the church roof and lob things at people than to discuss it across the table. This spring my church was blasted in the local conservative media for a four-minute segment of one of our Sunday morning services. They decided, though they weren’t there, that we had abandoned the faith, turned our back on Jesus Christ, and fallen into apostasy. We were blogged about, things went out over the radio and TV –all part of a national network– without so much as a phone call, Email or face to face conversation about the matter in question. Our leaders decided there was no reason to honor that onslaught with a response. Soft answers and no-answers turn away wrath and let the fire go out. I admire them for it. We’d rather spend the energy caring for the people we baptize each month, nurturing the baby Christians we have in our church because people share their faith in the everyday world, and helping people grow up in Christ. It hurt that no one called or stopped by. It really hurt; because we share the same Savior. But sniper-fire from the belfry is easier than conversation, I guess. For some, taking aim at brothers in the faith and squeezing off a round is their idea of fun. It’s sick, I know, but it is. (See Gal 6.1,2, Luke 15’s stories, 2 Tim. 3.1 – 4.8 and others for more to think about along these lines.)

There IS a paragraph that tells us how we might want to play this inning, and I personally believe we could be in the bottom of the ninth so far as the church-age is concerned. We don’t have time to be wrestling around and punching each other in the dugout. Paul wrote it:

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ?
Any comfort from his love?
Any fellowship together in the Spirit?
Are your hearts tender and sympathetic?
[2] Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one heart and purpose.

[3] Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others.
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself.
[4] Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing.

[5] Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had.
[6] Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God.
[7] He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave
and appeared in human form.
[8] And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.
Philip. 2:1-8

That’s How-to. Sure beats a scolding, doesn’t it?

God loved. So God gave. Pretty simple. We cling to a lot of rights and privileges we call rights nowadays. We don’t have any rights. Not really. Every good and perfect gift is from above. We just want the power. We like the taste when power is close enough we can taste it. But power isn’t what God had in mind. I’m sure of that. Not ours. It’s not the box he intended we roost in. He wants us to live in HIS power, HIS freedom, His understanding, His peace. I think I remember Him telling his disciples how the world would know they (we) belonged to Him… something about love? It’s in John 13.34-35.

OK, it’s late (for me anyway). I’m going to tuck my head under my wing and go to sleep. Not in a box, though, not in a pigeon-hole. I’ll sleep on the roof-ridge if you don’t mind. Or maybe on my hero’s shoulder on the statue in town square. That way if something startles us I can take flight without having to first wriggle out of a pigeon-hole.

Nope, I’d have been a poor excuse for a pigeon. I’m sure of it.

2 Replies to “Ecclesiastical Pigeonry”

  1. Jared

    I think it’s true that denominations are a problem, not in the sense that we need to get rid of them and become a Catholic (big C) church again, but in the way that we hold too tightly to these religious identities and not enough to the person of Christ. Have you ever noticed that at a Christian conference with cross denominational people gathering, one of the first questions you get asked is, “so what [denomination] are you?” and the sad thing is that this one question shapes our entire conversation, perception of the other person, and future relationship. We stand judging each other by which religious practices we follow.

    I too hate being labeled, must run in the family, but I also long to have a definitive belief system, a striving that I am trying to shape into a lifelong drive to learn and dive into Christ and the Word. While we must know what we believe and try to understand more deeply why we believe these things. I recently was asked to lead worship for a church plant while visiting friends up in Traverse City. The message was on the identity of the church. Through what the speaker was saying I learned a lot about what being a southern Baptist means to a southern Baptist. And I am slowly coming to the conclusion that denominations should be less about doctrine and more about mission. Let me clarify this, the southern Baptist denomination started because they were likeminded people that had a passion for cross-cultural missions. So through this common passion they formed a coalition and a board to support these missionaries in the best way possible. It is through this common passion that they have accomplished great things. The sad part is when all these different denominations start to segregate themselves from one another. They see this group of likeminded people working together and say to themselves, that’s not our passion, and so they don’t talk. When churches stop talking or stop watching each other that is when bad things happen. We can fall into false teaching, because no one else is watching or caring what we are doing. For example, near my home town there is a church that has been in a very self destructive cycle for many years, this church is full of division and dissention. I am hard pressed to think of a leader/pastor that would be able to handle the situation that this congregation has created for itself. But the saddest thing about this situation, to me at least, is that no other church in the area has stepped in and said “KNOCK IT OFF”. There has been very little done, by other churches in the area, to help them rid themselves of this sin and step into the great light that is truth and love in Christ Jesus. I can only ask why. Why is it that no one has come in and tried to help? Dog Gone, if we are the body of Christ and if we aren’t going to help each other who in this fallen world is!?!? I apologize but I am very passionate about this. We need to get past these petty differences and see that what we have in common, CHRIST, is so much greater than what we don’t have in common. If there are doctrinal differences talk them out, listen to what the other side has to say. To think that one denomination has it all figured out is naïve. It’s like saying that cotton has cornered the market on shirts. Silk shirts and wool shirts, and hemp shirts, and polyester shirts all have absolutely no right to call themselves shirts and they must find a way to make themselves as much like cotton as they can. Sounds ridiculous right? Good, because it is.

    I can see how much my generation dislikes trying to fit our broad and eclectic beliefs into a denominational title, and so can you. Go on Facebook, if you can, and look at the religious beliefs of most Christian students. It will most likely say something to the effect of “Christ follower”. Society has labeled Christians as Fundamentalist bigots. One man said it great: “I am a traditional fundamentalist. But I never want to be ONE OF THOSE traditional fundamentalists.” How true of my generation. We hold to the fundamental truths of the Bible, but we don’t add on legalistic rules that only hinder our walk with Christ. We want to actually be more like Christ, and to try to follow him and not some man-made plan for how to be holy. But to follow him well we must know him.

    One of the things that bothers me a little bit is when churches don’t teach about Jesus. Granted, that all scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching and instruction. But when we are the body of Christ, professing to be his disciples and trying to follow his teachings how can we not know what he teaches. I think this is where the church gathering and small group gatherings can help a lot. And not in the way you might think. I think that we should reserve most of the teaching about revelation and things not taught by Jesus to the small groups, and we should be teaching Jesus in the larger gatherings. The teachings of Christ change lives, I don’t think many would dispute that. How many times have you heard a lesson on the end times and had it change the way you look at life, my guess not that often. I was visiting a church recently and I heard a sermon on the end times. Initially my ears perked up and I became, to my shame, critical. The message however was quite good and very skillfully thought out. But in the end it mainly related to how the church is the Bride of CHRIST and how that should affect how we are living today. Don’t get me wrong I love learning about ALL scripture, I just don’t think it’s always effective in the large setting, where some people don’t even know who Jesus is, and if we are teaching Him to those who visit, then how will they know. I’m not advocating an alter call every time there is a service that includes announcements and an offering, but I do think that we should be more Christ centered in the house of the Lord when the Body of Christ gathers to worship Him.

    Know and follow hard after HIM.


  2. Phil

    “Yeah! What HE said!”
    I guess since I’m fifty I should calm down and say “Amen” hmm?

    I’ve held for a long time, though it’s not made me very popular, that most of the lines that divide us were drawn by men. And we’re all fallible. Every last one of us.

    Words fitly spoken, Jared. I know there are a lot of demands on your time right now; so THANK YOU for taking the time. Man, I like the way you think.


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