Thursday, November 01, 2007

Watch Your Language!

The first time I ever spoke to a Jehovah's Witness I came away thinking, "OK, I know we're supposed to think they're a cult and all, but what's wrong with them, exactly?" I mean, they used all the right words, like "grace" and "Jesus" and "salvation," but they meant something completely different by them than I did.

One of the most challenging aspects of dialoguing with our friends in the Federal Vision camp is evident at this very point. So much preliminary work has to be done defining terms like "faith," "imputation," and "justification" that often the dialogue never really gets off the ground, and when it does, there's lots of talking past one another.

And calm down, I'm not comparing Federal Visionists to Jehovah's Witnesses (are Jay-Dubs even allowed to have beards?)

It is at this very point that the crucial and rarely appreciated distinction between "Tradition 1" and "Tradition 0" comes into play. If I have vowed allegiance to a particular confessional tradition, then I am bound, in some sense, to play that tradition's language game. So this may mean that I agree to emply confessional terminology, even if that terminology does not arise directly from the Bible, in order to avoid causing confusion and disruption in Christ's church.

So if the Bible teaches that the elect are savingly and inseparably united with Jesus, but that reprobates may also experience something similar for a time, I'll use one term for one and another term for the other. Or, if Scripture teaches that I am justified solely on the basis of Christ's work which is imputed to me by faith alone, but that I will also stand before God on the last day to receive according to what I have done in the body, then I am not going to use the term "justification" to speak of the latter.

If there's a better example of "American individualistic Bible only-ism" than gleefully throwing off the shackles of the church for the sake of trying out the nomenclature I learned during my own private devotions, I've yet to hear it.