Do Fences Make Good Neighbors?

The aforementioned dilemma is just one of the symptons of today’s version of evangelicalism that has some in the Church scrambling for alternative ways of understanding who we are and how we are to, as ambassadors for Christ, order our lives in ways that the Holy Spirit can draw men and women to the Living Christ.

I am not a person who believes that labeling should be tossed just to stir up drama. On the contrary, the good thing about labels is that they tell you what you’re getting into. If you attend a PCA church , you know you are going to a church rooted in Reformed, Calvinist tradition. If you embrace all the gifts of the Spirit, you will fit in a classical Pentecostal or charismatic church just fine.

The fundamental problem with labeling as I see it nowadays is that we are more attached to how we separate ourselves from the theological pack in the Church than we are to how we identify ourselves to being Christ-followers. In a nutshell, do you love your label more than your Lord?

Case in point: a church sign of a fellowship spelled out clearly that the church was a Bible-believing, Pre-millenial, King James Only, church that did not allow women to wear pants. All of this, mind you, was spelled out on that little church sign. Did I mention that the church was a Primitive Baptist church or did I get tangled up in describing all the other stuff? By the way, Christ was not referenced at all on that sign.

The sign is a perfect example of allowing your label to obscure the One who matters most and who best addresses the needs of a sin-ravaged world. Where I come from, we have a saying: “Just do you, boo.” Restated, be comfortable with who you are. But when “doing you” prevents you from recognizing the awesome redemptive work of Christ in the life of another blood-bought believer, then there is a problem.

Bottom line: I do my best to avoid fences or lines of demarcation that the finger of God has not marked out already. Denominationalism will hopefully die a cruel death, believers recognizing their unity in the Lord Jesus Christ and not in the man or woman who caught a partial truth about a great God and then decided to park there.

Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” makes the case that good fences make good neighbors. I insist, however, that fences Jesus never put up are never good.

fences too high never mend a broken heart
fences too white, too tight, never let through
the light—and too wide, never let a sinner
slide through the crack where the Son
paid to buy em back from the one who tries
to shun fun in the Son, where the gleam of
Glory rewrites your story with the blood from a
quill—never sits still when the human heart cries
out “REDEEM”…fences to high scrape outreach
reaching out, scabs, bruises, confuses, loses

(poem is that of the author)

Labels fence me in when they prevent me from reaching out the lost. Labels hinder me when defending them becomes a greater theological task than defending the faith and providing a reason to all who ask of the hope we have in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15).

Fences in the church don’t make good neighbors; they make for good competitors. One gal sneaks a peak throught the widget and sees that the grass is different and bigger but swears that her yard is better because she alone knows what the “right” fertilizer.

Fences do nothing but make pastors and church leaders territorial about their positions, their local fellowships, and their precious theological positions. Instead of helping one another and assisting struggling local fellowships, some churches opt to build bigger and better facilities with the intention drive out the “competition”. The devil is a liar and a deceiver too.

What our fences are doing is confusing the daylights out of seeking non-believers who genuinely want to know what makes a Christian a Christian. Are TULIP proponents the only “saved” saints out there? Or are folks who speak in tongues the true Christ-followers out there.

The Lord Jesus Christ makes it abundantly clear that the world would know that we were his disciples not because of our petty, finite labels but because of our love for one another (Jn. 13:35). In addition, Jesus identified another mark of our belonging to him: collective oneness in him: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 17:20-21).

No person can truly love as God loves unless he or she is in relationship with God and apprentices with him daily. In fact, our love for one another is supposed to spring forth from the agape love God has shown to us. We love others as he loves us. No wonder Jesus makes loving God and loving others as the two great commandments on which all the law and prophets are based (Matt. 22:37-39).

Love from Christ’s perspective does not start with your assessment of the other believer’s worth. Rather it begins with embracing his perspective toward that person. Christ’s love has no use for fences or labels that obscure not only who he is but also who others in him are to us.

I resonate with my man C.H. Spurgeon’s assessment of his own label: “I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living! I hope that the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ’s name last forever.” The love of God, not our love for our labels or fences must be the definitive mark by which the called out ones identify themselves by.


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