The Power and Necessity of Definition

The Usefulness of Semantics

Some negate it, some exalt it, but the study of words and their meanings is paramount to one thing: communication.

If you are truly going to understand someone, or something ( as in a subject) you better be clear on the vocabulary. And that is at the base of a lot of misunderstanding.

Ryland, Again

So here we go with another of Ryland’s posts: I am willing to chalk this latest to frustration, as well as the first one…. but then it becomes a matter of intellectual laziness, if one continues to misunderstand the need to define the terms properly.

It seems that determining what is Christian is now labeled “legalistic”. Ok, Ryland, what does that mean and in whose vocabulary? Is it “legalistic” in the Christian’s vocabulary to define oneself by the Nicene Creed?

It became apparent rather early on to the Church Fathers that we needed some idea of what a Christian believed. And to decide whether a Christian acts “Christian” you pretty much have to define how that action looks as opposed to something “UnChristian” or whatever.

This is going to happen every time you try to describe any group. What is Muslim and what is not of Islam? What is a Liberal? What is a Conservative? What is Fundamental? In what context?

It is in the context of the definitions that we get the understanding of what we are really talking about….. and it ends up being very important, and especially so if one is going to answer vague accusations and mandated actions. Mandated by whom?

Although it is all very tiresome if one is not actually interested in truth …just in fueling intimidation and emotional rants and finding some handy scapegoats.

The only trouble with that is that it will eventually lead to lots of inequity.

And then some people are going to be very unhappy. And rightfully so.

So if we are going to dialog, let’s articulate the people, problems, and issues distinctly, shall we? It will call for some tiresome defining, but worth it in the long run…even if only to know your enemy, if that is what you want to make of a group of people.

It could end up with mutual understanding , toleration, and respect, though. That, surely, is worth the temporary tedium. Time when the academic is worth its salt.

To the GIST:

Is it Christian?

If it is Christian-defining to act and believe a certain way, then it would be illogical to ask one to stop believing and acting that way- as a Christian.

The very term, “legalistic” is anathema to Christian doctrine for behavior, but there are lots of ideas on what that “legalism” consists of.

It is a discussion of internal relevance to Christians in the form it seemed to be used in Ryland’s latest post. That is how I understood it, anyway.

But you have to have some sort of working sense of what a Christian is, in order to discuss the subject cogently.

So we aren’t talking about the internal disputes of sectarians, but the general sense that the world might have of what the word, ‘Christian” means. Just follower of Christ. That is pretty simple and to the point.

Then we can get on to talking about how certain behaviors are in line with specific things that Jesus taught or is not. That isn’t too hard, is it?

But necessary…

Is Ryland correct?

In what way yes and in what way no?

Ryland said:

“The legalistic side says that in order to get into Heaven, you have to follow God’s laws (ideally, as laid out in the bible, even though it’s arguably impossible to do that). The spiritual side says that the only way to get into Heaven is through accepting Christ and being reborn.”

Actually, no. Ryland was a lot closer when he was citing the faith known by its works quotation ( Jas 2:17-24). His grasp of what is legalistic is fairly accurate, though, if one is talking about earning righteousness and standing. The spiritual does say that acceptance of salvation is by faith, belief. But the case is clearly made that those who are Christs are those who do His works as He, also said:


Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

So there is a definition of good and iniquitous works. One that is not legalistic, but illuminating. The illumination will come by way of what is already revealed in scripture texts.

Fred Phelps? President Bush?

So which is Fred Phelps doing?

And which defines the supporters of President Bush? And who is right and who is wrong, in terms of following Jesus?

It matters. Especially if you are calling for corrective action. And corrective action will necessarily take place within a legal context, one of jurisdiction and right.

Is President Bush wrong in using authority? Does he abuse his authority as outlined in the presidency of the USA? If not, then you can rail all you want (freedom of speech), but it won’t make much sense to call on Christians to make a crusade of it.


“If Jesus were alive today, would he persecute gay people because they want to get married?”

I think it is safe to say that Jesus would not be found persecuting anybody. That wasn’t His business, but He did do a great deal of talking about repenting and turning back towards God.

He didn’t spend a lot of time defining sin, the Mosaic Law had done a pretty good job of that. It was now a matter of finding how to enter into relationship with God, given that we all had sin problems.

This is all I will say here, but I would like to say something more of the idea of crusades, later.

Be very careful of crusades…. in whatever context.

Extrapolating the Christian Rant and Defining It

More About Ryland and his post

At the foundation of Ryland’s comments is the question, “What is a Christian?” and the what of the expectations of how that looks in action in the real world.

How Does Love Act?

Anyone can say they love you, but you have particular ideas and concepts about how love acts and looks and whether something really qualifies. That is the same thing at work in defining “Christian”.

Along the way we get an awful lot of smoke, mirrors, and disguises. That is why we get so confused. I say we, because I have had more than a few times when what I thought was a lamb took a bite out of me.

Who Is The Silent Majority?

But on the big scale that Ryland is talking about it helps to look into some definitions of “fringe elements” and “silent majority”. What were they? What are they now? And how do they fit with “Christian” in the real sense of someone who wants to follow and obey Jesus in this hard-bitten world. Lambs among wolves, it’s been said.

What is the silent majority in the USA?

Do Christians want to hurt anybody? What are they willing to do or not to do in that context?

The Political Animal

First, I think the silent majority is no more. I think that was a reality only after the long cultural siege of the liberal politics and religionists had assassinated much of the idea of God and the old style patriotism of the fifties. The old ideas of “God and Country”. At that time there was a long silent majority of people who still held such concepts as a priority, but they held it in individual mixes.

The New Christian Politicos

I believe that that ‘majority’ broke down into the various conservatives, new-cons, Christian Conservatives, and fundamental groups of today. Maybe even some of the different sorts of liberals that you see, but that have strong ideals of religion and country.

Now such groups are aligned more along their priorities, whether political/cultural or religious. Although there are no definitive lines that you can count on.

So, I have to say you can’t really call on a movement of strongly allied ‘silent majority’ in either the cultural or the religious sense.

In fact, of the two, I think the religious community is going through some serious throes in defining their concepts and priorities.

Do Christians want to hurt anybody? What are they willing to do or not to do in that context?

The second question is one that requires more of it’s own post.

A Christian Answers: A Rant for a Rant

I read this entry-plea in the blog, a boy and his computer. I thought about commenting until I saw 57 entries were already posted. I knew two things at that point: most of those comments would be crap and I would probably end up angry, which would mess up something I wanted to say in sincerity to what I perceived to be a sincere post.

And so, here I am, making something of it on my own blog.

What response did this post evoke from me? You are welcome to read on:

The Story

Ryland starts out:
“This is a message for the Christians out there. Not the fundamentalists or the evangelicals or the “God hates fags” people; I mean the nice ones, the ones that actually listen to what Jesus said and take it heart, “

It isn’t hard to see we are in trouble here. After the fundamentalists and evangelicals are subtracted you don’t get a vast majority of people who still adhere to Christian beliefs. Not because of the labels, but because you will have a number of others who hold to similar beliefs, but aren’t named. So I am not sure which Christians are really being called upon here ….until the term:

“nice ones”

Nice ones? As in compliant and mealy mouthed ones …no, that isn’t what is meant, because it is the ones who actually listen to Jesus and take His words to heart.

Ok. I can live with that context. I wouldn’t call those the nice ones, but I would call them the real ones. No names, no labels, no markings of import, but some real-life sincere desire to be disciples of Jesus, actually following in His steps.

But does Ryland know what that looks like? I have to wonder based on his request:

“Seriously, how can you let these guys speak for you? The wackos are giving you a bad name. We non-Christians protest and argue, but they obviously aren’t going to listen to us. We aren’t Christian, and so we are less than nothing to them. I’m asking you to take some responsibility for your co-religionists. You are your brother’s keeper”

What is it to “take responsibility for ones co-religionists”? Stuff a sock in their mouths, I suppose. But you know, real gagging doesn’t look like that. It looks oppressive, it looks discriminating and cruel. It looks ugly.

And very like the thing which is wished to be shut up. Very much like …just on the other side.

And that is the problem with the worlds solutions for what one does with religionists or politicos of another color, or those who ignite our wrath, however they manage to do that. Crush the scum. Nuke ’em…and we will be on with our version of the perfect world.

But that doesn’t sound like taking Jesus to heart. Not really.

So let’s look at what might be said behind the frustration. First, I wouldn’t lump George Bush and Fred Phelps together. President Bush is an elected official with authority to lead the country. Every president is chosen by God in that sense.

The opinion would be whether that was a blessing or curse, but no one rises to leadership of a country without somehow fulfilling the will of God. Not that we understand all the purposes.

And yet the frustration that Christians are not listening… that should be changed.

Christians should listen to those like Ryland. And dialog, and allow their views to not only be presented, but examined. Let’s dialog!

…. let’s divide the questions and the answers and try to understand the reasoning and the meaning.

And yes, we are our brother’s keeper. It is our responsibility speak against the evil and uphold the good. Let’s figure out what that is. And for those who are not Christians, don’t be surprised if you then start hearing something of what Jesus teaches on that.

You could find yourself surprised.