We Christians have sorted ourselves out by name, imaging that our names are of supreme importance and essential to our identity.
I’m a Methodist. Our tradition got its name because John Wesley and his Christian buddies at Oxford were methodical in the way they practiced their discipleship. Outsiders thought it an insult, Wesley claimed it for what became a movement. Now, too often, we have methods out the wazoo, but have left the life long behind. We look at other churches to say what we’re not.
Lots of folks around here are baptist. The baptists got their name from other Christians who were shocked that they REbaptized adults! At the beginning the focus was not on defining themselves in terms of baptism, but in terms of intentional discipleship as opposed to the nominal faith of cultural Christianity.
In the early 19th century a new movement arose – the Restorationists. These folks looked at the variety of denominations across the land and believed that just being a plain Christian was the thing to do. Instead of being a denomination, like the Methodists, the Baptists, and the Presbyterians, they’d just simply be the “Christian Church” or the “Church of Christ.” But, alas, so many even in that profoundly non-denominational movement settled for thinking that their non-denominational names named denominations.
Some might think that the thing to do is to avoid negative definitions – to stop defining ourselves over against other groups. That sounds good, but I don’t think it’s possible. Inasmuch as each of our churches are traditions, we are inevitable defined by conflict, both internal and external interpretive debates (as we see in MacIntyre’s work). If this is the case, however, my hope is that our churches will spend more time defining ourselves against non-church, non-Christian, outside movements and forces. My prayer is that we can be better at acting like we’re on the same team (even if some of our teammates may be wrong about something from time to time).