By Bruce Edwards, Jr.
Among the intelligensia of the modern denominational world there have rarely been those who seriously questioned as improper their usage of such Biblical terms as “fellowship,” “pastor,” “church,” etc. Such terminology is employed frequently by Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals, et at., without the slightest consideration as to their proper scriptural application. “Fellowship” may be anything from a wiener roast to a ping-pong tournament; a “pastor” is anything from a supreme lord to an errand boy; and the 14 church,” of course, is some mystical representation of “true believers” from “all denominations,” which may or may not (according to one’s particular misinterpretation) “reign a thousand years upon the earth with Jesus.” Obviously such careless and incorrect usage is reprehensible and sinful. Yet, the denominationalists have no premium upon the misuse of scriptural terminology; the Lord’s people must also beware the possibility and probability of such error.
We have come to a point in time, which is not uncommon in the chronicle of the called out body of God. Members among us are guilty of the same error of which sectarians have been accused. History is replete with examples of men who chose to wander precariously far from proper diction with regard to the word of God and fulfilled their destiny in an apostate body. Such men are with us still, Those who utter such epithets as “keepers of orthodoxy,” or “brotherhood watchdog” at the expression of concern for their views; those who, with a gnostic arrogance, ridicule sermons on the “language of Ashdod” as obsolete, irrelevant, or unnecessary; those who would super-piously “wink” with contempt to a like-minded comrade upon hearing a lesson on the true I church; these are the harbingers for a generation of audacious, presumptuous recantation of the revealed truth.
The fact that the Lord’s people today, as they have been historically accustomed to do, “looked upon the other kingdoms about them” and desired their monstrous ecclesiastical superstructure, their high television ratings in the markets of the major cities, their magnificent “cathedrals,” and their freewheeling, ” Key ’73 ” ecumenicism is no surprise in light of their capricious concept of Scriptural diction. Whereas Paul and Silas passed the “Scriptural test” of the Bereans who searched the Scriptures to see if their doctrine was true, our modern day “apostles” would miserably fail. With the advent of the modern speech translation and the widespread acceptance of its corrupt text, there is no exegetical bridge that can span the abyss between what God said and what these “versions” purport Him to have said.
Perhaps there is no better example of a distorted usage of a Biblical word than the term “Christian.” Found but three times in the New Testament, one is yet inundated with rash, careless employment of this noun. Indeed it is significant that in The Random House Dictionary of the English Language that “Christian” is listed first as an adjective and then a noun! Hence, we have “Christian scholarship… Christian campuses,” “Christian publications,” “Christian ministries,” and most absurd of all “Christian churches.” It is no wonder, in lieu of its perverted presence upon the lips of so many, that its true meaning, so full of deep significance and beauty, is lost in a maelstrom of sectarian usage. “Christian” is lent to every needy cause, every praiseworthy organization, yet this writer must hold to the old maxim, “If you can’t baptize it, you can’t call it Christian! ” We hear much of “accommodating language;” “Churches of Christ minister,” “Christendom,” even “church of Christ Church (!),” are familiar terms to all, descriptive perhaps, convenient perhaps, but Scriptural? Hardly.
We are witnessing a time when many utter a cry for unity but really speak of union. We see a period in which many enunciate fellowship, but really mouth ecumenism. We hear exhortations of love, but the admonition is really compromise. We encounter those who claim they offer understanding, compassion, and concern, but truly they countenance error, duplicity, and infidelity. Such semantic somersaulting and theological term switching is reminiscent of our modern cults, but no less indicative of the drift of so-called brethren.
Any fledgling restoration effort is doomed from the outset lest it determine beforehand to employ consistently and conscientiously God’s word in God’s words. Let all those who disparage the usage of labels such as “liberal,” “sound,” or “orthodoxy,” consider the accuracy of their own vocabulary. Let those wise in their own conceit ponder the exhortation of the God Of the universe, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” Let those who so often deny to anyone “a perfect understanding of the Scriptures,” yet claim the ability themselves through their words and deeds, hear the admonition of Paul, “Wherefore let him who thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” We need not shrink from “calling Bible things by Bible names,” nor timidly refrain from “speaking where the Bible speaks and remaining silent where the Bible is silent,” because of the apostate wails of a few. But, we must deeply fear to pervert Scriptural terminology to suit our own peculiar concepts of what a Christian or the blood-bought body of Christ really is.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 34, pp. 12-13
June 28, 1973