Be CAREFUL Christians! – Words Matter!

I’ve been noticing something lately that is quite disturbing to me.  It’s subtle, hard to pick up on, and difficult to quantify, but once you do, you see it everywhere.  What is it that I’m noticing?

People nowadays are not respecting the importance and meaning of WORDS!

What do I mean by that?  It would probably do best if I just give you some examples.

One that readily comes to mind is a few years back when our President at the time was being investigated for perjury (lying to a Congressional committee).  He had already testified that, “There’s nothing going on between us…” in reference to an extra-maritial relationship with one of his interns.  When asked a very direct question about that statement, his response was, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement….Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

What????!!!???!! (I know what he meant, but…) more importantly, “What is he DOING in talking this way?”

He’s intentionally twisting and contorting the real meaning of words to make them support his own interest.  That’s NOT what words are for… that’s not how they work.  He KNEW what he was being asked and in a slippery and deceitful way tried to evade an honest answer.  I’ll give you another, more recent example.

I’ve been reading a book by a well-known leader of a HUGE para-church organization.  The book advocates women holding positions of primary leadership within the church.  (I’m not going to say the name of the book or the author because I’m VERY embarrassed for him… it’s not a very convincing or scholarly book on many different levels).  In an attempt to make his case he appeals to a scriptural concept (a very good and legitimate tactic).  But in doing so he too twists the REAL meaning of words to try to support his case.  He says this…

“What is modeled for us in the Godhead between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?  Equality.  There is no hierarchy in the Trinity, only absolute equality.”

Did you catch it?  He made the word “equality” and the word “hierarchy” mutually exclusive, when in fact they are not.  Being equal DOES NOT demand that there can be no roles of leader/follower, etc.  In fact in the example of the Trinity I would agree with this writer that the members of the Trinity are equal.  But regarding whether or not there is hierarchy within the Trinity, we see Jesus REPEATEDLY telling His hearers that He was in submission to the Father, He had come in the Father’s name, that the Father directed Him in what to do, that the Father had prerogatives that He did not have. (John 5:43, John 10:18, John 5:19)  The roles within the Trinity ARE hierarchical, there’s NO WAY to legitimately deny that.  As I read the statement made by this author to “support” his claim of equality in roles for men and women, I found that it was a foolish, unBiblical, twisted statement.

An example from daily life might help.  My children are completely equal with me in value, but they are not equal with me in terms of role – therefore there is a proper sense of hierarchy in our relationship.  I am Dad, they are not… yet we are equal in value.  (I’m NOT equating women with “children” and men with “parents” – that would be twisting my words into something I didn’t say.)

Christians, we MUST be very careful in the way we use words.  Integrity is at stake.  Honesty is at stake.  The reputation of our Lord is at stake.  We cannot manipulate and twist the true meaning of words to mean what we WANT them to mean just to prove our pet point.  We have to be honest with the prescribed meanings of words so that our arguments can be taken seriously.  I believe that it’s either flat out dishonest or incredibly ignorant for the afforementioned author to do what he did with the meanings of words.  And I believe that it HURTS his cause rather than help it.  And ultimately, it will hurt the cause of Christ.

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4 thoughts on “Be CAREFUL Christians! – Words Matter!

  1. You spend much time denouncing others for twisting words, then intentionally bring an example that distorts. Are you seriously saying that the parent-child hierarchy is of two beings of equal essence? Is that hierarchy not in place because the parent is superior to the child in wisdom? Using that as an example to show equality and hierarchy in the Trinity entails just a bit of logic twisting. Hierarchy involves an authority-subordination construct based on inequality of essence. As Christ became man, he willingly gave up certain functions that defined his deity (e.g., omniscience). Without omniscience, he submitted himself to the Father’s will because of his perfect faith and understanding of God. No egalitarian argues with this–that a temporary hierarchy endured relative to Jesus’ humanity. However, the difference between egalitarians and hierarchical complementarians concerns not a temporary subordination, but the eternal subordination of the Son. God is defined by terms such as omnipotent, sovereign, and infinite–all terms expressing the lack of limitation. Subordination, however, (eternally mandated) is an eternal limitation that violates the very definition of God. Those, therefore, who call for a hierarchy in the Trinity are the ones playing with words, arguing incoherently for different a status of essence in the Godhead while somehow claiming an equality of essence.

    Hierarchy necessarily implies subordination of the will to that of another. Can you actually be promoting the idea that Christ in his infinite and perfect omniscience could possibly have a different will from the Father in his infinite and perfect omniscience? That is logically impossible. Therefore, any call for an eternal subordination of Jesus to the Father smacks of the Arian heresy that denied the oneness of essence and the full deity of the Son.

  2. Hi Dan, thanks for participating…

    Equal in essence means equal in value, importance, worth – the “essence” of who the person IS. It does NOT mean equal in attributes and abilties (wisdom, as you mentioned is one of those). So yes, I do believe the parent/child anaology is accurate as parents and children are equal in essence as I’ve defined it.

    When you say that Jesus willingly gave up functions that defined His deity, you cite omniscience. Yet we see many examples of Jesus displaying that very quality while He was one earth (John 1:47, Mark 3:1-5, John 6:64, John 16:30 – and many others). So it seems to me that your fundamental paradigm is off the mark. Jesus’ “giving up” was that of divine prerogative for the time being, not attributes.

    You say that subordination is an eternal limitation that therefore violates the very definition of God. What I believe you are missing is the issue of “willingness.” In Jesus’ case it’s a self-imposed limitation to the will of another, not in respect to abilities. He has eternally CHOSEN, as the Son, to be submissive to the Father’s will. It is a perfect cooperation and submissiveness that could ONLY happen within the Trinity. We see it in that He was “sent” by the Father (the sender naturally has authority over the one sent) and in that He will one day return all authority He’s been given to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:21-28).

    And one other thing – to paint complementarians as “Arian” is akin to calling a dog a cat. Arius taught that Jesus was NOT divine and NOT one with the Father. No complementarian says that – in fact, they say the exact opposite of those statements. Like the title of the original post says, “Be careful Christians – words matter!”

  3. Carey,
    Thanks for your reply. And thanks for answering in so good-tempered a tone. After rereading what I had sent, I was somewhat embarrassed at the abrupt sound of my remarks. I apologize for that, and appreciate all the more the graciousness of your reply.

    I would still have to argue that the classical, philosophical definition of essence relates to essential being and not merely worth (value). Essence is said to be that whereby a thing is what it is. Thus, the essence of God includes those things that define the who of his being (e.g., love, power, etc. all to their infinite levels). Also, God is the only being whose existence equals his essence. Thus, for example, he both is love and acts in love. Therefore, my criticism of your example is that the Son and the Father are equal in essence, including things such as wisdom. The parent and child are not equal in essence (including wisdom), and it is precisely because of the inequality in wisdom that the parent has hierarchical authority over the child.

    The divine prerogative of temporarily limiting himself in omniscience (certainly at birth, in his questioning in the temple, by his statements of not knowing the hour, etc.) attest to Christ’s temporary subordination, requiring him to perform the human requirements of perfect submission to the Father in obedience. Thus, in regard to his humanity, most evangelical egalitarians agree to a subordination, albeit a temporary one. My point in arguing against eternal subordination was that the inequality of Christ to the Father in those essential elements was not an eternal inequality. But Christ in his deity of unlimited knowledge, wisdom, and perfection could not possibly have a will opposing the unlimited knowledge, wisdom, and perfection if the Father. Unlimited knowledge, wisdom, and perfection would lead to the exact same will (especially since the essence of Christ is one with the Father). Therefore, to say that the Son somehow eternally submits his will (as if it were different) to the Father’s is incoherent.

    And that is why I brought up Arianism. In being careful Christians with our words, we must also be careful not to read into the words of others that which is not there. I did not and would not “paint” hierarchical complementarians as Arian since I know for certain both the statements and the honest character of so many of them. But the idea of eternal subordination does “smack” of (or give rise to thoughts of) Arianism because of the incoherence of beings of equal will hierarchically structured that one will submits to the other (and same) will. In order to form coherence, either the eternal subordination idea has to be dropped or the equal essence has to be removed (Arianism). So, I’m not arguing that hierarchical complementarians are Arian heretics. I’m simply saying that their argument seems to me to be incoherent, and a drive toward coherence could lead to Arianism.

  4. Hi again Dan,

    This is probably my last post as I’m swamped today. And thanks for your kind remarks.

    One of my big problems with your argument is that you are insisting that in order to submit to the will of another, the one submitting must be capable of having a will opposite of the one being submitted to. I would suggest that this does not have to be the case. Submission is as much an attitude as it is an action. A willing, humble attitude of following another’s lead, even if it is the same as what I would choose – is still submission to that person’s lead. Therefore I agree with you that Christ’s will and the Father’s are identical, but disagree that it precludes any notion of voluntary submission – even eternally. If Jesus was able to do so even temporarily as you claim He did when coming to earth – He could do so eternally. Afterall, He is God.

    Finally, the passage I refered to in 1 Corinthians 15 is what cleared all this up for me. There we read… “21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”

    Verses 27 and 28 make it clear to me that Christ WAS submitted to the Father in eternity past (The Father was the Authority Who put everything under Christ in the first place), and WILL BE submitted to the Father in eternity future (will be made subject to Him who put everything under Him). It seems that Paul explained it as clearly as he was able, which doesn’t satisfy us all the time. I think it’s an example of where we can’t “logic” everything out perfectly. We must allow room for the mysterious counsels of God to BE the mysterious counsels of God

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