So, Krissi and I were talking about being popular the other day... How if you're the popular one, it's easy to look down on those who aren't; and if you're not the popular one, it's easy to look down on those who are. Silly, but true. And that's a whole 'nother issue. But I've been thinking about the church, and how we sort of do the same thing. Not with popularity (although unfortunately sometimes that happens, too), but with knowledge.
Some people like to talk about faith intellectually and philosophize and search after more and more knowledge; some people don't. Those who do usually have a hard time understanding those who don't, and vice versa. Those of us who like the intellectual stuff can turn into big fat snobs about all our knowledge, and discuss it in ways that alienate those who don't think the way we do. For those who don't get into all that, there is always the risk of seeing snobbery where it isn't, and being too accepting of what others claim is true.
Historically, Christians have always swung between these two extremes. Sometimes the pendulum swings too far in favor of scholasticism, bringing with it influences which are not godly and not committed to orthodoxy (in its basic sense, meaning right belief). The opposite is just as dangerous, and a spirit of anti-intellectualism sometimes still reigns in our churches.
We must guard against both kinds of error. Jesus himself said that the greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. If we run away from knowledge and study, we are not using our minds to glorify God. If we consider knowledge as an end in itself and beat people over the head with it, we are still not using our minds to glorify God and are certainly not loving our neighbors!
To use some theological words… sometimes it seems to be a battle between right belief (orthodoxy) and right practice (orthopraxy). We either focus on knowing all the right things and do nothing, or cling to our practices and works and forget about the doctrines behind them. These things are not mutually exclusive!!
One of the things that frustrated me about some small parts of my seminary experience was how some students and professors seemed to use the big theological words as a sort of password into a secret club. It felt very exclusive, as if systematic theology and its vocabulary were a mysterious code or an inside joke. I have big problems with this, not the least of which stemmed from my not knowing what some of the big words meant, either! What I have come to realize for myself is that the big words are a kind of shorthand. They encompass big concepts that would otherwise take a lot more words and time to explain, so we use them with other people who know what they mean. However, we should never assume that other people know what they mean; or, worse, assume a superior attitude because we know and others don't. It's an old joke, but whoever came up with the idea that to assume is to make an ass out of u and me had it just about right.
We must commit ourselves to right doctrine, to finding the truth and allowing it to set us free. We cannot absolve ourselves of the responsibility to teach truth in our churches, to search for it as for hidden treasure. We cannot take the easy way out and find ourselves on the bandwagons of ignorance and prejudice. We will not do what is right unless we know what is right, and Who.
But we cannot ignore the fact that not everyone is the same. Those who like big books and big words must find ways to be in the church with those who would rather all those things were a lot smaller and easier to digest. God has created us to work together (gee, I think I read somewhere that there are many different gifts, but the same Spirit…). We need each other.
Another thing: the church should be a place where we can ask questions and look for the answers. If we don't provide that kind of atmosphere, those asking the questions will go elsewhere and find answers that may not be true or helpful. We cannot be afraid to ask hard questions and dig deeply (God can handle it!); but somehow we have to learn to do it in a way that doesn't alienate those who aren't asking the same questions we are. Let's work on being clear and concise without quarreling over words, and doctrinally sound without lording it over others.
This has all tumbled out faster and more jumbled than I intended it to. Being the kind of person who enjoys the intellectual stuff (obviously!), I have to remind myself that
This means excellence. But it's for God, not for us.
Originally Posted at 7/21/2006 3:59:46 PM