In Plain Words – Redefining Christian Terminology
Next time a fellow Christian nods his head in agreement with you over a common Christian term it may surprise you to know that what that person understands of the term may be different to yours. We have been experiencing a gradual dilution of absolutes and the death of plain speech for decades now; don’t be surprised if it gathers pace in these perilous times, in the secular world and in the church.
We are all aware of scripture mangling and truth distortions from modern pulpits but it is the most fundamental Christian terms that are under threat of being redefined. Does this sound too dramatic? Ask an average Christian to give you a basic definition of what the Gospel means and you may just see how biblically illiterate Christianity has become. If that does not convince try and find out how many new words and terms have been introduced into evangelical Christianity in the modern era; there are many. Under closer scrutiny the majority of these are dishonest terms with dishonest meanings. The obvious question is; what do we need all these new terms for? If that still does not convince you try and find out where these new terms are derived from; many of them are influenced by other, non-Christian worldviews and “isms”.
Common honesty and transparency has reached its lowest point in our secular world, this has long spilled over into the church. One would think that the church is a place of refuge, where we have shelter from the world and its political correctness, political terms that few can decipher, the misuse of words like “tolerance” and “discrimination”, and our de-sensitisation to clear thought by all the modern platitudes. You would think that in church we can speak freely without fear of being called “legalistic”, “hypocritical”, “rebellious”, or even a “literalist”…In fact the place where one needs to be the most sober is inside the church. Let me go one step further and warn that where even a single, established Christian term is redefined or where a new one is introduced, you are not far from a rebellious.
Try and write about a woman’s role from a biblical standpoint without having someone call you a “sexist” or making a comment about a leader of a different race without being called “racist”. We constantly trod into this barrage of ambiguity with terms like “level the playing field” or “celebrating diversity”. What happened to plain language? What happened to commonly accepted values? No, everything has to be changed; it’s become the modern mantra. People will ultimately get the change they want and the change of language and definitions is nothing more than the fruit of man’s wickedness. It is the consequence of man’s rebellion to God’s statutes.
The more dulled the conscience the more deceitful and twisted the language.
Nowadays the most statistically dangerous place for an unborn child to be in is in the mother’s womb, is it any wonder the ‘safety’ of the church is equally hazardous? Our language has become so convoluted that the inevitable consequence is that established Christian truths and definitions will be also be casualties. This does not mean we have to become casualties.
Redefining terms has always with us but churches that don’t necessarily belong to any particular movement, cult or sect are not exempt. Standard Christian terms are used but there is a gradual change of meanings to take the sharp edge off of it. Some simple examples of this is calling “adultery” an “affair” or calling “sin” a “mistake”.
I visited a church recently where I had to endure a really, really badly exegesis on a sermon about the “Kingdom of God”, it was fraught with biblical inaccuracies and conjecture. What really startled me was the teacher’s definition of “repentance”. According to him it meant “changing your mind”, that’s it, no more. And that is where the definition ended.
The Greek translation from the word metanoia mean changing your mind and heart about something, but the whole context that the passage is written in adds weight to the meaning. The classic definition of repentance is probably closer to “Remorse or contrition for past conduct or sin”. By using the whole context – as well as the whole counsel of God – one would draw the same conclusion as the more classic definition. In short, it’s not that the preacher said anything particularly or blatantly wrong, it’s what he didn’t say that destroyed the integrity of the meaning.
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
Well, does this matter? At least he mentioned ‘repentance’ right? No; true, biblical repentance is a prerequisite for salvation – the step before one puts his total trust in the completed work of the cross where Jesus Christ our Lord fully paid for our debt of sin. Only Godly sorrow leads to repentance (it is a gift of God), by diluting the meaning the impact is lost. The Holy Spirit is not at work here, it is man’s wisdom.
We all have sinned against God and have to turn away from our sins and throw ourselves at his mercy. Anything less is making the forgiveness of sins into an on/off switch. To the unregenerate sinner and hearer ‘changing your mind’ is simply making a decision to accept forgiveness, this is not biblical salvation – it is more like ticking off the YES/NO in the ‘I want this eternal insurance package’.
…and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)
“Intimacy”, as in “intimacy with God” is another term that is loaded with misapplications. It seems to have become quite a popular term in recent years. Used in an innocent context it is calm, but stretch the meaning just a little and it agitates all the wrong senses. Why not just stick with the biblical terms like ‘Fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ” and “drawing closer to God…” as a term? These two biblical terms suffice; they also preserve a reverence for God.
“Intimacy” is a carnal term that should really be used in the context of a man and a woman; we should not confuse the spiritual and the natural. Add the over spiritualization of the Songs of Solomon into the mix and I have a very uncomfortable time during that sermon…and may I say that I am not the only one.
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:8)
“A relationship with God” is another Christian clichÃ© that I have personally never used. There is nothing particularly wrong with it, it is not unbiblical so to speak but it is quite imposing. Let me explain; it should not be used on an unbeliever because it masks the true meaning of our salvation. We should rather say that we are sinners saved by grace, restored to fellowship with God because of his son Jesus Christ. Muslims can also claim “a relationship with their god”, so can Hindus. What’s the difference then? Well, the term is flexible enough to become quite universal and non-exclusive…I don’t find that the term carries with it the biblical integrity that it should.
The fear of the Lord has departed from our Christian language.
Another casualty is the term “Holy” or “Holiness”. It means being set apart to God. This may sound simple but it carries many implications for conduct, thought and state of one’s heart. Now watch how Rob Bell defines holiness:
If you belong to a Dominionist youth boot camp being holy probably means going to a ‘signs and wonders’ meeting and convulsing for a few hours under the power of the ‘spirit’. A private, subjective experience in no way produces holiness. Besides, some of the Christians that come out of these experiences think they are superior Christians because God has selected them as some kind of elite. Yet that arrogant attitude resonates more with that of a very different spirit than that of the Holy Spirit. The 7th fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control. One would think that rolling around drunk in church and manifesting weird behaviours is the opposite to the character of the Holy Spirit…just a hint.
If it’s not some of the ridiculous lyrics in modern day praise and worship songs it is in CCM (contemporary Christian music). You will find lyrics such as “lord, save me from myself” (author note: whaaaaat?) and “love lifted me up” (author note: what in God’s green earth does that mean?). You will find that the songs are more notable for the catchy tunes than their biblical content, they have a flavour of some biblical truths but usually the Theology is pretty bad. But if you survive the barrage of songs you still have pop psychology to deal with in modern sermons. Here’s a common one; ‘you need to forgive yourself’. Really? David said ‘against thee (that would be God) only have I sinned…I will stop there.
We have been bombarded with emerging trends, new evangelical fads and competing ideas. All of these are in fact nothing more than the serpent’s ‘Yay, did god really mean that?’
God did really say and Yay God really meant, as children of God we should speak with the same certainty and accuracy so that our speech is blameless.
When you hear double speak and long grandiose words and concepts that mean nothing or then the exact opposite of what they sound like – watch the people that adapt the same language. It’s the blind leading the blind. The very deceitful language they have created is the very language that will further deceive them and trap them in their own wiles. God is not mocked.
May we grow and learn, and use plain speech and words that honour God.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” (John 1:47)