But what about in Christian life? Is it alright for us to have labels? Labels like Baptist or Methodist, amillennial or premillennial, Calvinist or Armenian. I think the answer is yes. You'll hear people say things like, "I don't like to put labels on my beliefs." What motivates this type of statement? I think it is one of two things. First it is motivated by the division these labels can bring and rightfully so. No one likes division. Historically, where there is division in the church, labels are involved. There is healthy division (the Reformation) and there is unhealthy division (carpet color). Healthy division, though unfortunate, is necessary. Ecclesia semper reformanda est is one of the basic tenets of the protestant reformation meaning "the church must always be reforming." Usually, labels come out of healthy reform and therefore should not cause us frustration over them.
For example, early in church history we see the Creed of Nicaea which dealt with a division in the church. On one side you had the teachings of Arius who said Christ was not at creation but was a created being. On the other side you had those who believed Christ was fully God and fully man. The Creed of Nicaea stated Arianism as heresy and gave a firm definition of the Godhead. Obviously there were those who disagreed and would continue to teach Arianism but out of this division came a strengthened theology for the church as a whole. This reform, or correction of error, is one of many that has taken place throughout the history of the church and for the greater good.
There are obviously times when brothers and sisters in Christ allow labels to cause strife. This is unacceptable. Differing views on creation, atonement, etc., as long as they are not heretical, should not cause strife. Because others have become hostile over labels does not mean we should avoid them.
Second it is motivated by a lack of understanding. Simply put, if a person does not understand what a label means, they want to avoid any discussion of it. Ignorance is bliss and to live in a blissful, division free church is ideal but not reality. There are divisions in theology and those divisions are healthy as they make our faith stronger. 2 Timothy 2:15 say, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." Clearly we are charged to know the truth of God's word. It is our responsibility to know what scripture says about creation, redemption, end times, etc. When we come to our conclusions on what scripture proclaims we will find these conclusions are nothing new. Great theologians who have gone before us have come to these very same conclusions. These conclusions have a label tagged to them simply because the dead guy wrote about it first. So if your findings in scripture line up with Luther and people call you a Lutheran, there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is something to be proud of.
The broadest form of label would have to be denominations; churches who historically have stood on particular beliefs. A person will most likely join a church that holds similar beliefs. The beauty of any denomination is there are numerous beliefs inside them. This is nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of or something to cause strife. I would argue that denominations are a healthy form of Ecclesia semper reformanda est.
To conclude this post I would like to address two final thoughts on labels. First, I don't think they are something to avoid or be ashamed of because we see them in scripture. John the Baptist, John the son of Zebedee, Herod the tetrarch, and Jesus the Messiah. All were significant to tell who the person was. More specifically though we see labels used as warning markers against false teachings. Philippians 3:2-3, Acts 15:10-11, Galatians 2:12, Ephesians 2:11-12. If anything, even in scripture, we see labels bringing clarity to the truth.
Finally, the greatest label we carry is that of Christian. The name Christian means "little Christ." Our ultimate objective as the redeemed is to adhere to that label. If we love any other label more than the label of Christ, we are walking down a slippery slope. Never should we desire to see more Calvinist or more Baptist. Our ultimate agenda is to see lost found in Christ. The banner we wave is that of Christ and Christ alone. Let us all strive to fall more in love with him every day. If we pick a few labels on the way, good.