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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's not the Word but the Meaning that Matters?

Following on from yesterday's post on words and the way they are understood (or misunderstood) in different contexts, Shannon posted this comment:

While I think that many "Christian" terms can alienate people, I also believe that traditional Christian language must be, to some capacity, preserved. I think in any discussion with a non-believer when we use words like, saved, born-again and such it becomes our responsibility to teach them what these terms mean and represent.
I agree with Shannon - and obviously it is important, if we are to understand each other and are able to communicate with others in a meaningful way, we have to have our own vocabulary. Spiritual/theological words are important. But I think there is something even more important - and that is the meaning behind these words. And in many instances this is something on which even many Christians can't agree.

What is "salvation"? Is it something Jesus does for us on His own or is it something we have a hand in? Does "Spirit Filled" mean a life controlled and governed by the Holy Spirit or does it mean the ability to speak in tongues and exercise other charismatic gifts? And I could go on.

So is it really the words or phrases alone that hold all the importance, or is meaning (and taking it one step further) context also an important part of the deal? How do we get around the clear differences of opinion that exist within the church over the meaning of theological words? How can we communicate meaning to non-believers when we can't even agree on meaning ourselves?


Shannon said...

hmmm...need time to think on this. lol Great questions! I'm not sure there is definitive response however but I think you already know that. :-)

The Creature said...

Maybe there isn't a definitive response. But I do think it is something we need to think about.

Back in the early days the church held councils to sort this sort of thing out. We don't have the luxury of this nowadays. There are too many voices.

So who does decide on things like "spirit filled" and is it even important to worry about it?

I think it probably is.


Shannon said...


No doubt things like this are important in the Christian life. You're exactly right in that you said, "There are too many voices." That is the struggle we're against. The truth of the matter is "somebody" has to interpret the Bible. My 2 children are too young to interpret what the Bible says so I have to do that for them. When they are older, they will have to choose whether or not my interpretation is there own or not. The Bible is meant to be interpreted. Who decides? Well, basically, it depends on whose interpretation you believe that is closet to your own beliefs. Everyone accepts the teachings of another to some degree or another and they claim that "teaching" as their own. The fact that there are many voices out there isn’t really anything new. The early church contended with the same thing. As you, I'm sure; I hold that the Bible is the ultimate voice. Having said that, I know that brings me back to square 1 on the issue. However, the interpretation I hold of it may differ from that of another but I think on most major issues, salvation, Holy Spirit, Resurrection, etc...Most would be able to come to a place of common ground. I definitely have a view of how Salvation is granted and received and what "Spirit Filled" looks like and so forth. I think if views on major theological questions are Biblically sound, it really doesn't matter what anyone says, me or whoever. God has spoken and the rest is just commentary, right?

The Creature said...

Shannon wrote:

I think if views on major theological questions are Biblically sound, it really doesn't matter what anyone says, me or whoever. God has spoken and the rest is just commentary, right?

Yeah - and I guess this is what it comes back to - at least for me. THat doesn't mean I don't still struggle with some pretty big questions.

Just thinking about it now though - I guess most of these questions come back to the big question "in this situation/theology/conflict, Christ central or is the situation etc. being put over Christ and His work." If it is being put over or adding to the sufficiency of Christ then it is a problem - see 1 Cor. 10:13 and on. But then there is also a sense in which, Paul esp., tells us to avoid bad doctrine, false teaching etc. because these things distract us (Hebrew's 6:1). So while Christ must always be central and sufficient of Himself to save us, we also need to understand doctrine in order to keep Christ central.

And I guess this is where the debate comes into its own. Because phrases like "spirit filled" and the operation of things like the charasmatic gifts, the definition of prophecy, (and many other things - I am picking these because they are points of struggle for me) end up meaning different things for different people, but I don't think this is healthy.

How do we get around this without just completely ignoring the issues. Because that seems to be, generally what we have done for the last 100 or so years at least. Either that or attacked and slandered people who think differently to us.

Perhaps we need to re-establish dialogue on some of these things - a 21st Century council of Nicea or similar. Perhaps that is what we are trying to do in blogging about the emergent church?huypkd

The Creature said...

Here's a link to a post on Backyard Missionary that is kind related to the direction this discussion is taking - I think.

Soft Unity

Ignore my garbled comment! I wrote it at work when I was in a hurry. But I knew what I meant! :)