Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Getting our definitions straight

I’m working on a new adult instruction course and thought I’d run a few definitions by our readers, since we use these terms rather frequently in our blog discussions:
  • Christian: Professing adherence to the teaching of the apostles which centers in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God.

  • Catholic: Professing to be in communion with the One Holy Church of every time and place that has rightly confessed the apostolic teaching.

  • Roman Catholic: Professing to be in communion with and subject to the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

  • Lutheran: Professing some historic association with the Lutheran Book of Concord. (This is the tragic but realistic evolution of the name as it is used today.)

  • Confessional Lutheran: Professing adherence to the Lutheran Book of Concord as “the Scriptures rightly explained” and “the catholic faith rightly preserved.”
As you can see, I’m focusing here on a person’s profession – what he says about himself, not on his inner faith or whether or not he lives consistently with his profession.

Are these adequate/inadequate? What would you change? Keep in mind that I’m looking for simple, objective definitions. The rest of the course will flesh out the content of each.


Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

Pr. Rydecki, if you're going for "realistic" then I think you might want to rethink the definition for Lutheran, because the majority of people and churches that claim the name "Lutheran" don't associate that name at all with the Book of Concord (if they even know what that is); for them, "Lutheran" is a heritage or culture or way of doing things, and it has relatively little to do with their beliefs.

But I guess the real problem, since you're trying to present everything in terms of "profession", is that most Lutherans today really don't "profess" much of anything.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pr. Samelson,

Quite right. I was being rather generous in that definition, I suppose. I could change it to the fully developed postmodern meaning, "Lutheran: Whatever the word means to you."

Daniel Baker said...


Your tongue-in-cheek comments regarding the definition of "Lutheran" could also be applied to the term "Christian."

Realistically speaking, I think that the entire portion which states "of the apostles which centers in the life, death and resurrection" is not necessarily true for the majority of people who self-identify as "Christians".

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

That's true, of course, but here I was influenced by C.S. Lewis in the preface to Mere Christianity:

"Far deeper objections may be felt...against my use of the word 'Christian' to mean one who accepts the common doctrines of Christianity. People ask: 'Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?...' We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it...

"Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say 'deepening' the sense of the word 'Christian,' it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone...And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to be a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word 'good.' Meanwhile, the word 'Christian' will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.

"We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name 'Christian' was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to 'the disciples,' to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles...The point is not a theological, or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said."

Of course, since C.S. Lewis' day, relativism and subjectivism have emptied most words of their meanings and made them useless words, even the word "Christian." Nonetheless, we must try to arrive at a definition that has some historical meaning, or we might as well stop using language entirely.

Maybe that's the devil's aim after all - to take away the Word by taking away all words.

Daniel Baker said...

Considering how heavily it is cited, I really should get around to reading that book.

I certainly am no fan of forfeiting words to the wiles of Satan and this dark world. However, since we are making a distinction between the terms "Lutheran" and "Confessional Lutheran," it seems to me that a similar delineation could be valuable for the word "Christian."

Joe Krohn said...

It was inferred to me once that spinning on words was a bad thing since there is so much work to do in the kingdom. And yet without words and meanings, what are we teaching? (Cliche disclaimer) If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.


Vernon Knepprath said...

Perhaps it is important in attempts to define the word "Christian", to also consider the use of the terms "visible" and "invisible" church. The visible church contains true believers as well as hypocrites. We call members of the visible church Christians, even though it includes hypocrites. I think generally, people are thinking of the visible church when they talk about Christians. The invisible church consists of all true believers. Only God knows who they are. I think generally, people are not thinking of the invisible church when they are talking about Christians. But what makes a dialogue regarding Christians especially confusing is when one is talking about the visible church and the other is thinking about the invisible church.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Rydecki,

I know this has been up for while but I've been thinking about it.
I think that for an adult instruction course you could use the definitions you have and tell the student that this is the way that we understand these terms.
I think there is a lot to explain with the definitions you have and as you go through the definitions you could explain how people have hi-jacked their meanings.

For example:
"We understand Christian as someone who 'professes adherence to the teaching of the apostles which centers in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God.' So if you claim to be Christian you rely on all that Christ has done for your salvation.
Some people claim to be Christian although they do nothing of the sort and perhaps don't even believe that Jesus was God, etc."

I just think that giving them solid definitions to work with is a good baseline for showing how you express yourself clearly. You don't want to give them a bunch of "definition is relative" business because how you define them isn't relative.

John Raasch

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