Christian, Protestant, Reformed, Evangelical: The Need for Labels

By Andrew McDonald - Posted at The Protestant Standard:

For approximately two millennia the followers of Jesus Christ have been known as Christians. Acts 11:26 tell us that 'the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch', the name being given to them as a result of their adherence to the teachings of Christ. Since that time other names have been given to various grouping within the broad spectrum of Christianity. The east/west schism of 1054 divided the Christian church into its Roman and Orthodox branches, both describing themselves as Christian but using more specific terms to distinguish themselves one from another. At the Diet of Speyer in 1529 the term Protestant was attributed to princes and rulers who protested against the decisions of the Diet, and since that time those who have opposed the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church have generally been known as Protestant. As the centuries have advanced further labels have been added to the various branches of Christian belief; reformed, evangelical, Calvinist, Baptist, Presbyterian and more, highlighting the particular theological viewpoint or denominational affiliation of those concerned, and distinguishing them from other Christians. There are some today who would reject such labels; they do not like the term Protestant, but prefer simply to be known as a Christian. Is this a reasonable view to take, and should believers reject the supposedly divisive denominational and theological labels which set them apart from others who likewise identify as Christian?

There can be no argument that it is the term Christian which gives us our most vital definition; we are followers of Christ. To identify ourselves as Christian declares that the object of our faith is not a church or a creed, but Jesus Christ. The word Christian literally means anointed ones, and it is only those who have been born again by the Spirit of God who can truly be called Christians. The true Protestant must be a Christian. The true Calvinist must be a Christian. The true evangelical must be a Christian. Whenever we add a label such as Protestant we are not rejecting our identification as Christian, but rather we are seeking to more accurately define what we believe a Christian to be, and to set ourselves apart from those falsely apply that name to themselves.