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Mar 03 2010

Theological Terms

Debate

Debating the frivolous

I recently witnessed a debate on the use of theological terms.  I honestly did not know that this would be a debatable topic within Christendom.  I am constantly surprised at what Christians will debate among themselves though I guess I shouldn’t be.

A theological term is merely a term we have assigned to describe a concept in scripture.  For instance, theophany is the term we use to denote the appearance of God to man.  It is not a word that will be found in scripture.  Trinity is the word we use to describe God’s triune being though it certainly is not a word that we find in God’s Word. 

Several people took the position that sins of omission is not a sin.  The position was that the term “sin of omission” cannot be found in scripture and that because one of the debaters had not heard that term in his many years as a Christian, it was a man-made doctrine and Christians were creating law that.  First, it is true, it is not a term found in scripture.  It was explained that “sins of omission” was the term used to denote failure to obey a “thou shall” command.  That’s all it means.  Nothing more and nothing less.  It is not adding to the Word of God nor taking away from the Word of God.  It is simply a phrase that describes a failure to obey one of God’s “thou shall” command or failure to do what a Christian knows is the right thing to do.

I am perplexed at what Christians will find to debate.  It was a waste of time to spend time debating whether or not terms in theology are valid because the word of phrase used to describe a concept is not found in God’s Word.  Christian culture is walking a very frivolous road.  How silly is that?

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  1. Loren

    I have heard a similar objection to the teaching of the “Rapture.” The reason for words like “Trinity” and “Rapture” not appearing in Scripture is because they are Latin based words, not Greek (which is, of course, the language that the New Testament was originally written in.)

    They were Latin terms assigned to theological concepts since Latin, not Greek, was the language of the church since the early Middle Ages. To argue that a concept is invalid because a foreign word is used to describe it doesn’t make sense at all. We should remember that we use English words to describe ALL of our own doctrines and none of these English words appear in the original Scriptures either.

    There are definitely a whole lot of frivolous arguments going on within the Church, but that has always been the case. We get focused on things that really don’t matter at all. In the Middle Ages, solemn monks would zealously debate how many angels could fit on the head of a pin while a lost and hurting world died apart from Christ outside the walls of their monasteries. What we do is really not so different.

    Incidentally, while the specific phrase “sins of omission” does not appear in Scripture, the concept certainly does:

    “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

    Great post, thanks.

    In Christ,

    Loren

    1. Doulos Christou

      Excellent reply Loren. I would add that if Christians developed a robust sense of church history it would aid them immeasurably in understanding the ebb and flow of the modern Church. They would learn, for example, that the idea of a Rapture (as it is often described today) is a relatively recent addition.

    2. Tishrei

      In the Middle Ages, solemn monks would zealously debate how many angels could fit on the head of a pin while a lost and hurting world died apart from Christ outside the walls of their monasteries.

      Oh brother! That takes the cake.

  2. Repent Harlequin

    Blog Lady T.,

    “Knucklehead” is also not found in Scripture, but there you go…

    I was thinking of ‘love your neighbor as yourself’, something found twice in Scripture, once in the OT and again in the NT. I thought of this as I was doing something recently for someone that at first I didn’t feel like doing, but then felt the nudge. It seems to me that ignoring that nudge would be a sin of omission because I was disobeying the command to love my neighbor.

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Kent,

      True. If we don’t do something we know we’re supposed to do, that’s a sin of omission. So I really didn’t see the big deal or why it was debated that sin of omission was “‘not a sin.” It was a silly debate and in my opinion, a waste of time.

      BLT

  3. Daredevil

    It’s me Tron4JC, from Zolaboard.

    I think a large part of the time folks object to the term Trinity it’s meant to discredit the view altogether. I agree that it is pure intellectual laziness to resort to that. But hey, it’s win at all costs mindset that rules some folks in how they debate or try to refute that position or any other position.

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Tron4JC,

      You are correct, it’s a win at all costs mindset. When any of us ever take that position, that is we are going to win at all costs, we basically shut down ourselves to learning something we didn’t know. And that’s why I don’t like debating God’s Word.

  4. Doulos Christou

    The problem you’re describing doesn’t appear to have been framed correctly by the debaters and is endemic within the Church. The root problem is that many Christians lack a theological method in which to understand discussions such you describe. While the term/phrase ‘sin of omission’ does not appear in Bible that does not mean that not living up to the greater demands of the gospel and the piety demanded by God is not a sin. Should I “forget” to love my neighbor as myself (because I have allowed myself to become self-centered) I am as culpable before God as if I hated my neighbor.

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Doulos Christou,

      That’s it — we are commanded to live up to the demands of the gospel. To not do so is a sin. It’s called the sin of omission and all that means is omitting to do what we know we’re supposed to do.

      It wasn’t so much that the debater framed it incorrectly, he just had not heard that term and based on his lack of hearing it, he deemed it to be man creating an extra law for himself. I can understand now knowing something but when the phrase was explained, he still held his position. He was going to be right at all costs. It was silly.

  5. Margaret

    Tishrei,

    My only objection is to the flaunting of theological terms….. I’ve seen some people trying to act superior to honest Christians, who do not have training in a theological school of any sort….. Quite frankly, I’ve seen a great strength of faith in the so-called uneducated Christian’s life — and, the weak and wandering faith of the seminary trained theologian….. Faith is not a matter of specialized words.

    God cares about what is in the heart, so that even the faith of a small child is precious in His sight….. Theological terms might simplify discussions amongst theologians, but they are not useful to those without a seminary education….. Specialized terminology does not make one a better Christian.

    Margaret

    1. Loren

      Nicely put, Margaret!

      So many people have tried to make knowing God an academic pursuit rather than a spiritual. They prefer to substitute flowery, grandiloquent language for genuine faith, concealing their own lack of intimate knowledge of God behind pretentious terminology.

      At risk of generalizing and stereotyping, I can honestly say that I personally have learned far more spiritual truths from “laymen” than I ever have from Theologians and scholars. It is the “untrained” who have had a far greater impact on my growth than those with a whole lot of diplomas on their walls and letters behind their names.

      This is not to say that there are not those who have been trained in Seminaries who are genuine persons of faith, as well. But whenever I hear a person “flaunting” this training, arrogantly and patronizingly speaking with condescension to others, I know that there is likely little real substance behind their message.

    2. Tishrei

      Hi Margaret,

      Boy are you right — I too have learned more from lay people than scholars. Just discussing the scripture with one another has been an incredible blessing.

      Most of us lay folks do use theological terms — we may not realize it but we do. Trinity is one that we all use and it’s a theological term. When I first came to faith, unbelievably I did not know what that meant. My point in my post was just because we may not have heard of something does not mean it is invalid. I was just rather taken back at what Christians will find to debate. There’s just so much more important things to discuss than whether or not theological terms are valid.

  6. Daredevil

    “But whenever I hear a person “flaunting” this training, arrogantly and patronizingly speaking with condescension to others, I know that there is likely little real substance behind their message.”

    It works both ways. Plenty of folks who are anti-intellectuals do flaunt their lack of theology training and do speak at times arrogantly, in patronozing tons, and condescending attitudes to others, too. Plenty of jerks exist in all camps, intellectuals or otherwise.

    The fact is Christians of both types should not be hating on each other. They are both necessarily. The intellectuals to teach us the meanings, for example, of words in Hebrew and Greek so we get better understanding of the faith. The ones who are simple minded are necessarily to keep us in perspective in focusing on Christ and daily things, not just theology.

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Daredevil,

      “But whenever I hear a person “flaunting” this training, arrogantly and patronizingly speaking with condescension to others, I know that there is likely little real substance behind their message.”

      And those are the folks that I won’t talk to. I have little patience for arrogance.

  7. Margaret

    Loren & Daredevil,

    I didn’t mean to put down theologians in general….. Every person is different….. And, no matter what our station in life, we all need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling….. I wasn’t thinking about Christians hating each other — just acting superior — and it can be a two way street….. God gave everyone different talents and we all need each other….. No part of the body can say it does not need another part.

    Margaret

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Margaret,

      I know you didn’t direct this at me but I do want to say that I did NOT take your post as putting down theologians.

      I understand that some Christians act superior. I tend to stay clear of arrogant people whether they are theologians or not. Nothing can be gained from discussions with arrogant folks except a lot of frustration.

  8. Loren

    Oh, mercy me! I wasn’t trying to start a controversy :(

    Margaret, like Tishrei, I didn’t think you were trying to put down theologians in general, just ones who behave a certain way. Dr. Harry Ironside was a very gifted and learned theologian, but he once remarked that:

    “When a preacher preaches, he should be sure to put the cookies down on the bottom shelf where even the little kiddies can reach them.”

    In other words, he recognized that couching God’s truth in bombastic theological jargon might make the preacher feel intellectually superior, but it doesn’t do a bit of good for most of his congregation. We shouldn’t “put the cookies on the top shelf” just because we can reach it, we should keep them down where everybody else can.

  9. Repent Harlequin

    It is the dichotomy between simple faith and intellectualism. It is more akin to anti-intellectualism vs. intellection moronicism.

    Personally, I enjoy intellectual pursuits and the Bible is a treasure trove for the renewing of our minds. It’s contributions to literature, which are impressive, notwithstanding, we can spend our lifetimes as many have studying its contents. Theological terms aid in that study in the form of being able to communicate concepts that everyone can understand because they are conveyed using agreed up definitions.

    But I don’t think this is the what my favorite blogger Tishrei’s article is about. If I may be so blunt, even vulgar, it is about what is technically referred to as “stupid discussions.”

    These take the form of: the phrase ‘sins of omission are not in the Bible’, therefore it is not a sin to opass a bleeding man on the side of the road because I have somewhere else to go, like church. Oh wait, that sounds like the parable of the good Samaritan. Never mind.

    A few years ago when I was still participating in that intellectual cesspool we all remember fondly as MSN Communities, I heard this one” Since the Bible says “While were yet sinners Christ died for us” and since “were” is in the past tense and “were yet” is so obviously referring to a condition present before He died for us, we are no longer sinners. This is what happens when people lose the ability to read.

    I agree with Margaret that there are many people out of seminary who are clueless. I’ve met many and I am also familiar with several seminaries that seemingly have a mission statement to produce atheists, or at best intellectual morons. But the problem is a problem of faith. The ultra-smart and the embicile will be equally distributed in Heaven and Hell.

    That’s one of the many things I love about our faith. Intellectual giants are humbled by God’s wondrous grace, and a person with Down Syndrome can meet Jesus and be told He loves her.

    Of course, the term “Down Syndrome” is not in the Bible.

    1. Repent Harlequin

      The first sentence should read: It is NOT the dichotomy between simple faith and intellectualism

    2. Tishrei

      Hi Kent,

      That’s exactly what I was trying to get across in my post — that is there’s nothing wrong with theological terms. I wasn’t talking about intellectualism in any way. I’m about as far as one can get from intellectualism but I certainly use theological terms to describe concepts that are in the bible. Actually, so do all Christians whether they realize it or not. The word “trinity” is one of the most widely and commonly used theological terms.

      I must have missed that MSN dicussion and I’m glad I did, LOL. Would have made me nuts but then most of what happened there made me nuts. I wonder if they disbanded when MSN communities closed. I hope they did — that group could give an aspirin a headache. I think my favorite nutty discussion was that God flew around on wings. OY!

      In the end, my post was about what crazy topics Christians choose to debate among themselves. Like Loren pointed out, back in the middle ages, some monks would debate how many angels could fit on the head of a pin while there was a whole wide world of lost people. Who cares? So what? But then, there’s nothing new under the sun and Christians are still doing it. Oh well.

  10. Repent Harlequin

    Tishrei,

    I believe alot of the groups went over to Multiply. I briefly considered moving our group there at the time, but saw no point. There was something insidious about the MSN groups, no one was ever happy it seemed unless they were able to attack each other.

    The incident I related above took place on one of the spin off groups (these happened two or more people gathered in the name of being angry with the main group) where I was invited (begged, really) to come. It was, to say the least, a rather dark place.

    I’ve always considered those groups a hot bed of heresy.

    1. Tishrei

      Kent,

      That’s exactly what was the problem — no one was happy unless they were attacking someone.

      I learned that I don’t like discussion groups. I’ve joined a few since then and really, there’s something about discussion groups that brings out the “let’s fight each other.” There’s enough going on in real life that I don’t need to go on the internet and look for fights.

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