It was interesting to read Jody's recent post in which she was musing about how some consider her a feminist. It would seem that it is difficult to hold positions about women being in leadership roles in the church without some thinking that you are a feminist. The problem is the term 'feminist' is very secular.
When Christians speak of mutuality and service through giftings, terms like egalitarian can also muddy the waters because it is then wondered if we hold to any differences between men and women, which I do and I also understand God's plan to create us as complementary to one another.
From Bondage to Blessing by Dee Alei explores the difficulties for women finding a voice in the debate that doesn't cause them to be too easily boxed-in and labeled.
Labels very rarely help to clarify our position.
At other times they are necessary. I was asked last night by some visitors who are fast becoming friends (their label is that they are pentecostals) how I would describe my Christianity, convinced they were that Anglican was not enough, or at least did not help them to get to know what I am like spiritually. So I said I was a charismatic evangelical. I forgot about the 'open' bit and I also wondered whether I am charismatic evangelical or evangelical charismatic and then I realsied how ridiculous I was being and just answered their question. My husband rather put me to shame by declaring that he was simply a Christian. But my explanation helped my friends. They said that at one time they had known a lot of charismatic Anglicans but we are fast becoming a dying breed.
This caused me to wonder whether I am therefore holding on to a very out-dated term. I am wrestling at the moment with the term charismatic. Part of me thinks that the term shouldn't be necessary because experiences of the Holy Spirit, are, from a New Testament perspective, a completely normal and expected experience of living a daily Christian life. On the other hand, there does seem to be a marked difference between those churches which are charismatic and those which are not (I've been church-hopping). In the more charismatic churches there seems to be more urgency and expectation, more waiting on God and more openness to the Holy Spirit, dare I say it, more joy. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is something we are encouraged to continually seek. And so in some ways, it is a helpful label when people ask you about your Christianity and what you expect to see God doing amongst his people. But it is also a shame that it has to be used and it does leave you feeling responsible for the inevitable conclusions drawn so that you want to immediately qualify it with lots of details about your faith in verbal footnotes.
Some are now describing themselves as post-charismatic not because they are not charismatic but because the term is again failing to fully explain what they are experiencing God doing. Rob McAlpine explores this in his book. Some are reluctant to use the term charismatic because it conjures up stories of supposed revival which ended badly or it even reminds them of spiritually abusive situations which they have been in or witnessed.
The term evangelical seems to be shifting too in its meaning, as is lamented particularly at the moment by John Richardson. Of course, in the days of the New Testament, people were disciples or followers of 'the Way'. The term Christian hadn't even really been invented. Paul referred to all believers as 'saints', which has come to mean something very different today. if I described myself as a saint, people would think me highly arrogant. Having said that, I think it is apparent that we all need to be aware of our 'reader response-orientated', post-modern culture and that the terms that we use to describe ourselves might be causing our hearers to think the very strangest things about us, not what we are intending to communicate about ourselves at all. Ultimately, perhaps the fewer words we use to describe ourselves, the better, when the inner life might shine through our actions and the reason for the hope that lies within us might actually speak for itself. If in doubt, pehaps describing ourselves as saints might not be such a bad idea after all, at least the reaction would give us cause to explain that it is not a label that we have invented but that God has given to us, for no reason of our own creation but his having chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be his people. It would give us a good opportunity for proclaiming the outrageousness of the gospel once the outrage of our hearers has abated!