Bishop Don Shafer originally wrote this article for the newsletter of the Upland, California, Brethren in Christ church. Used by permission.


Two recent experiences cause me to write of a haunting suspicion I have that we humans like to hide behind words. The one experience was reading heavy and heady required theological essays in preparation for writing a dissertation. The other experience was reading an article in Christianity Today on philosophy.

Now I know, and am very much aware, that each profession has its jargon peculiar to its tradition and practice. Theologians use Hebrew and Greek and philosophical terms. Doctors use Latin and a host of medical terms. Lawyers and insurance executives use legal and technical terminology. Has anyone asked why we do this?

I guess it irritates me to hear someone talk about "epistemology" and "ecclesiology" when he can say "meaning" and "church" and most people will understand what he is talking about. Why do some have to "snow" people with academic words that sound unusual but that are unclear to everyone, including the people using them? I suspect that when we face up to real issues and have to deal with the real world, it is a comfort to slip off into a philosophical world and talk about theory instead of reality. To hide behind words is an escape from communication. And to fog communication is to strain or break relationships.

The Bible is written in a language that communicates. Jesus told stories (parables) so people could hear. Even then, some could not understand. Jesus was not a professional, philosophical academician. He was the Word made flesh! And those of us in the pastoral ministry need to remember that we have been made to communicate. If we are willing to share with others our own needs, struggles, temptations, hurts, joys, et cetera, then we will be amazed how many will hear and respond. But if we are fearful and unwilling to be vulnerable, then we may take the option of hiding behind words.

I think it is at least sick, if not sinful, to get embroiled in a hassle over the authority of the Scriptures as to whether they are "inerrant" or "infallible" (whatever those words mean) when the Scriptures themselves say "The word of God is living and active ... It penetrates ... it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Heb. 4:12, N.I.V.).*

That is just one example of how we would rather talk about the Word of God than be and do what we already know is truth. I thought it peculiar that a philosophy professor would write at great length to attempt to say the root question on inerrancy is not moral but philosophical. (I refer to the May 20, 1977, issue of Christianity Today, pp. 8-12.)

I am inclined to agree with the apostle Paul, "I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue" (1 Cor. 14:19, N.I.V.). Speaking in "tongues," I believe, can be both ecstatic and academic. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 2:7, N.I.V.). And, "for crying out loud," don't hide behind words!


* Texts credited to N.I.V. are from The Holy Bible, New International Version, The New Testament. Copyright by New York Bible Society International. Published by the Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Bishop Don Shafer originally wrote this article for the newsletter of the Upland, California, Brethren in Christ church. Used by permission.

December 1978

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