The Power of Labels


This post is a review of John C. Carroll’s book, Are You A Christian? Redefining Apostolic.

Update: you can order the book in paperback for $15+$2.50 S&H. Order by sending check made out to Word of Truth Ministries to 5017 Overton Ridge Circle apt. 1312 Ft. Worth TX 76132 c/o John Carroll.

Unlike many in my church movement, I don’t have a problem with the word “religion.” Religion is important:

  • Christian religion sets out true beliefs based on the Bible and the ways that those beliefs are observed.
  • It involves traditions, which I believe are a strong part of the fabric of our families, communities, and nation.
  • For these reasons, religion is a source of stability, which people in this day and age sorely need.
  • Religion becomes an issue when it is an observance by rote, a practice of obligation, a substitute for sincerity, and a replacement for relationship with Jesus and one another. “Religion” is blamed for many ills of the world exactly because of those things it has become that it should not be.

    Hatred of religion runs deep. Opponents of the Christian religion go all the way back to the Crusades and the Inquisition to support their spurn; even though those horrible examples were more about nationalism than religion, how can skeptics err in labeling “religion” as the issue when the very perpetrators did these things in the name of Religion?

    The claim of Christianity has been diminished in the church and the society for a while, not because religious belief is flawed, but because religious behavior is.

    In my own spiritual heritage, this has resulted in obscuring the origin of the term “Christian” into an early 1st century slur, large scale abandonment of the term, and replacement with other labels like Apostolic. I am glad to say that there is a book available now that helps to untangle the idea of labels and put perspective on what it means to be a Christian.

    John C. Carroll takes on many of the issues I have raised with heart and intellect in his book, Are You A Christian? Redefining Apostolic. The question in the title begs an answer of those that claim to be Christians. In short, to be a Christian is to be a “follower of Christ,” and the outgrowth of thought and discussion from this point is crucial for Apostolic Pentecostals and anyone who claims to be a Christian.

    The discussion of labels in this book and their effect on believers and churches is particularly informative and thought-provoking. People argue, fight, deride, defame, and determine their focus of hatred based on the labels they assign to one another and embrace for themselves. Shall we speak of the labels used in the last presidential campaign (Bro. Carroll does)? Liberal and conservative, independent, Republican and Democrat mean something to each of us. I discovered how relative these labels can be in a Twitter chat that referenced politics in the UK, where liberals are deemed the ones who are shrinking government services. Not the case here. This kind of relativity makes many of the feuds that rise up among us nonsensical.

    Bro. Carroll addresses the issue of labeling others and the relativity of labels, but also brings to the front another danger of labels: “Too often the term ‘apostolic’ is used as a psychotropic med to control and manipulate thinking and behavior.” Assigning a label to our personal beliefs or convictions, and excluding others whose beliefs do not “measure up” to the label, is a grave manipulation and potentially a killer of hurting souls. Bro. Carroll provides many examples of issues that have been labeled as “apostolic” that have no basis in scripture. Such labeling is therefore divorced from the true doctrine of the Apostles and can only be divisive and hurtful.

    “As Apostolic Pentecostals, we sometimes reject calling ourselves Christians,” Bro. Carroll comments. In reality, being Apostolic should lead us to being stronger Christians- followers of Jesus Christ.

    And as I think about this, it occurs to me that a division based on labels is one that will prove hollow and pointless in the end. I want to embrace and rely on Christ’s Truth only to guide my choices and define my identity!

    (The above link is not an affiliate link and I make no profit from readers’ clicks or purchases.)

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