We use words to compartmentalize, categorize, and define.
For example, I would define my Christian theology (or spirituality) as a Protestant Evangelical Reformed Charismatic Episcopal/Anglican Christian. Each of these words brings a certain characteristic or understanding to what kind of Christian I am.
Historians and sociologists use stereotypes to categorize groups of people together in order to make sense of the world. For the good or the bad some people are similar to other people and are placed in a category.
Of course, in our day and age of post-modern individualism the current trend is to stop (or at the very least resist) the over-use of compartmentalization. When we are placed in a category (i.e. Charismatic) we tend to want resist being defined by that group (i.e. everything that falls under the umbrella of Charismatic).
However, it seems to me that compartmentalization has many positive attributes. For example, learning concepts and ideas would be much more difficult if we did not lump similar things together. Understanding differences between people groups is much easier when we can place like-mindedness in the same category.
Categories also help us define who we are. In my above example you can better understand my theological leanings because of my use of Christian categories.
Nevertheless, I sympathize with the modern push against compartmentalization. We are individuals and we are all different. Just because one leans one way on a subject does not mean the person will be the same on a different subject.
In the Christian world we use all sorts of words to define different groups. Some of these words can bring division (even if this outcome is unintended). Some examples of these words/categories include:
Spirit-filled – This word is used to categorize people who understand the Holy Spirit in a Pentecostal/Charismatic way. That is they speak in tongues, believe and practice praying for miracles, and live out a life full of the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power. People may use it by asking, “Is that a Spirit-filled church?” The intention is to define the style and belief in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
However, the usage of this phrase can lead to division in the Church. One may appropriately ask, “If they are not Spirit-filled then what are they filled with?” The Spirit is present in every believer. Distinguishing between who is “filled-with-the-Spirit” and who is not creates two classes of Christians: the ho-hum ones and the powerful ones. I don’t believe this is helpful in the Church and would suggest using different language (i.e. Charismatic, Pentecostal, etc.).
“Cradle” Lutheran or “Cradle” Episcopalian (etc.) – These phrases are used to describe someone who was born into a particular denomination and never really left the church at any point in their life. People may use them to express that they understand why and/or how something is done in the church because they are a “cradle” Anglican. The intention is to express their deep knowledge of the denominational faith because they have been around for so long.
However, this usage can lead to division in the church or parish. It can come across as arrogant or very possibly making the church members who are not “cradle” Anglicans feel like they are secondary or worse that they don’t belong. I don’t believe that this is helpful in the church and would suggest using a different phrase (i.e. “From what I understand, this has been the practice of the Anglican Communion…”).
Even the words Reformed, Evangelical, Charismatic, etc. can bring division depending on how they are used.
In your Christian journey what words or phrases have you come across that when used a certain way have brought division or at the very least tension?