I must be obsolete, because I like labels. After I became a Christian, through my early associations and through study, I decided that what I believed put me in the Baptist category. I’ve also belonged to churches that were known as Community Church, Presbyterian Church and Covenant Church. So if you want to put me in a category, you can call me a Baptist. But if you believe the Bible, in the born-again experience, in the need to obey God in living a holy life through Jesus, then you are my brother or sister, no matter what label you may choose.
Back in the late sixties and early seventies, I discovered the value of labels. We wanted to make a statement that we belonged to Jesus, and we came up with the slogan, Jews for Jesus.” At public demonstrations, we carried placards that said, “Jews for Jesus.”
Young people wore denim jackets, sometimes to match their jeans, sometimes to look like a cowboy. These denim jackets lent themselves to being embroidered. We could put “Jews for Jesus” in inch-high letters over the front pocket. Then someone made a great discovery: you could put much bigger letters on the back. At the time, I was only a 48 inch chest. That made for a pretty big jacket. But imagine if I did it later when my chest was 68 inches!
Now, we weren’t thinking so much about making a fashion statement, but identifying ourselves. Then we started using vans—we always had people and stuff to haul. The vans provided the surface for even bigger signs. Sometimes, when we were on the road, people would make friendly gestures. Some were not so friendly. But we were making a statement.
One thing that has saddened me is the way that some churches want to obscure their denomination in identifying themselves. So many have replaced the name of their denomination with words “Community,” “Bible,” “Fellowship,” “Temple,” and they don’t mean Jewish.
There is nothing wrong with any of those words. But I still like labels. When I’m in a van that says “Jews for Jesus,” sometimes people approach me in a parking lot or gas station because they want to know more, and it’s an opportunity to talk to them. Sometimes they already know us, and they just want to bless us by saying that their hearts are with us.
Labels help. You wouldn’t want to take all the labels off of your cans in the closet and guess. You wouldn’t take the labels off of your medicine bottles. And when you buy clothes, it’s good to have a label that tells you how to care for your garment.
I’ve seldom been away from home when I wasn’t either preaching in a church, or familiar enough with the city to choose a church where I could worship. Yet on rare occasions I’ve had to consult newspaper ads or phonebooks to help me decide where to worship. I remember the choice I had in one small city where two churches labeled themselves very differently. One said, “The friendliest church in town,” and the other said, “We preach Christ crucified, risen, and coming again.”
I don’t know about you, but I have enough friends already. And even though I already knew about Jesus’ death and resurrection, the church that labeled itself that way let me know that they were the kind of people I wanted to be with.
I noticed another value to labels. When I was driving a van with “Jews for Jesus” lettering on it I was much more careful to yield the right of way, and to live up to the Name that I was trying to exalt. Can you imagine if you had “Jesus” in big letters on what you wear? I think there are some places that you might avoid, not because the people there would hurt you, but because you wouldn’t want to admit that you had such interests. Maybe all of us would keep ourselves a little cleaner and treat each other a little more kindly if others could see our “Jesus” label.
I like labels. They not only tell the public an important fact about you, but they give you something that you want to live up to.