Tuesday, July 24, 2012

“Coconut & Rice Have the Right to Marry,” or “Why Definitions Are Important”

Driving down the road a few years back I saw this sign:

What’s that supposed to mean? I don’t know anybody named Coconut or Rice. If I were in San Francisco I’d be thinking it was a gay-rights issue. (Oh. Beg your pardon. An LGBT issue.) They need to give me a little more information before I can say more. The sign could certainly be used as a metaphor for the importance of defining your terms. As Christians, we sometimes suffer from our own lack of ability to ask the very Lutheran question, “What does this mean?”

Holy Scripture tells us to watch our life and doctrine closely. When we fail to ask the question “What does this mean?” we may not notice that a particular statement’s meaning is false, and end up in a sticky syncretistic mess that we should have avoided. A good example of this was the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, where the Lutheran World Federation, due to its imprecise definition of terms such as faith and sin made it appear as though Lutherans and Catholics agree on the doctrine of justification, which is patently false. Yet the damage was done, and many people have been led astray because of definitional infidelity.

Because of a lack of definitional clarity, many people consider Mormon beliefs to fall within the pale of Christianity. But Mormons believe that Jesus, as well as the rest of us, eternally existed as an “intelligence” and have been born as spirit children of God. They reject the Trinity. Their definition of Jesus, once it’s brought to light, doesn’t agree with Scripture, or the “definition” of Jesus found in the Creeds.

When we fail to ask for definitions, we miss opportunities to help others learn the correct definitions, and we run the risk of unknowingly adopting their beliefs. Eventually, definitional imprecision may lead to doctrinal error, and left unchecked, spiritual death. Watch your doctrine closely!

As it turns out, the billboard was an advertisement for a nightclub in Tacoma called 21COMMERCE. Apparently, not enough people asked of the billboard “What does this mean?” since they’re now out of business.

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