When the believers in Antioch were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26) it was a label that was meant to describe their most notable attributes. By their words and deeds, they were “Little Christs”. While this should still be the most important label for any disciple of Jesus (as this morning’s tweet from John Piper reminds us), Christians have taken on many more labels over the last 2,000 years. What do these labels say about us?
While I agree with Piper that denominational affiliation is one of the least important labels for a Christian (for instance, I share more doctrinal similarities with some from other denominations than I do with many Baptists), it is interesting to see what different denominations say about themselves by virtue of how they have labeled themselves. What was the distinguishing feature about each sect of Christianity that led to its name? Does this feature reflect what is most important to its adherents now?
Let’s take a look (some denominations will fit in more than one category):
- Roman Catholic — The word “catholic” means universal; Catholics believe they are the one true body of Christ
- Church of Christ — While beliefs vary widely between individual congregations, many Churches of Christ teach that they are the Church; believers must be baptized into the Church of Christ to be saved
- Roman Catholic — Catholics believe that Christ made Peter the first Pope, and that the bishop of Rome is still the earthly head of the Church
- Anglican — The Church of England
- Southern Baptist — Initially, Southern Baptists split from other Baptists over the right to own slaves
- Lutheran — Named after Martin Luther
- Wesleyan — Named after John Wesley
- Mennonite — Named after Menno Simons
- Presbyterian — Governed by a group of ordained elders and ministers known as a presbytery
- Episcopal — Parishes are grouped into dioceses, each of which is overseen by a bishop (episkopos is the Greek word for bishop)
- Congregationalist — Churches are locally autonomous and individually governed by the congregation
- Baptist — Named for their beliefs about the doctrine of baptism
- Reformed Church — Named for their reformed/Calvinistic soteriology
- Free Will churches — Named for their Arminian soteriology
- Pentecostal — Named for their emphasis on the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit
- Seventh Day Adventist — Named for their beliefs about the timing of the Sabbath and the imminent second advent of Christ
- Methodist — Named after a particular method of evangelism based on the ministry of John Wesley
- Puritan/Separatist — Kept themselves “pure” by separating themselves from “the world”
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. What would you add?
Here’s a helpful graphic (click to enlarge), courtesy of Wikipedia: