Use Biblical Terms but Define Them
Created by Jon Taylor - Saturday 11 Feb 2017
Jon Taylor
Some of us have been attending church services and mid-week services for decades and so we are familiar with Christian vocabulary. Sometimes we need to be reminded that for the unchurched this can be both a confusing and bewildering experience, so we need to present and communicate the gospel in a way that can be understood by everyone present.
As a child I sang tremendous hymns that were frequently long without understanding much of their content. Now I really enjoy them, though I wish they had been explained to me simply so I could have grasped their meaning.

The problems with updating vocabulary
There have been efforts to address this in some churches by changing vocabulary to ensure newcomers know clearly what we mean. This is usually well-intended but short-sighted and often disastrous. I was looking at a mission statement on a church website that was explaining the statement of faith that had replaced ‘sin’ with the ‘mistakes’ that we make. Not surprisingly an inadequate summary of the gospel was provided and it was evident that the summary failed to state the seriousness of sin or even consider original sin either.
Churches should have a statement of faith or something to that effect on their website to make it clear to everyone what they believe. If there isn’t one, then there is usually a lack of clarity and there may well be doctrinal compromise. However, even when people do use or identify with certain terms or biblical vocabulary, it is possible to use that vocabulary in a non-biblical way.
For example when speaking to someone who holds either New Age beliefs or from particular Eastern religions their concept of being ‘born again’ will probably be closer to reincarnation than regeneration. Ask twenty people on the street what their definition of faith is and you will probably receive more than a handful of varied responses. If that question were to be directed toward the Bible believing Christian, they could appeal not to their personal opinion but to Hebrews 11:1, ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ The chapter continues to expound that and provides evidence and examples of godly individuals living out their faith. Faith requires knowledge, belief and action expressed in obedience which is the exercising or the outworking of faith. For the Christian, the God of the Bible is the object of our faith.
It is also apparent that there are popular emergent church leaders that are ironically defined by their lack of clarity and if asked what they believe, it is as if they are playing the yes or no game and refuse to commit to absolute statements particularly concerning the nature of God or the sinfulness of mankind. Confusingly, there are others from the same ilk who would affirm a sound statement of faith but if you held a sensible discussion with them for longer than five minutes, it would become all too obvious that their understanding of that statement of faith is more closely aligned with early church heresy dressed up in postmodern psychobabble rather than systematic theology.

The need to use Biblical terms and define them
If we use biblical or theological language but fail to explain clearly to the hearers what we mean, we are making the essential message unnecessarily inaccessible. If we use contemporary or simplified terms to replace biblical terms, we are at risk of inaccurately communicating truth or presenting timeless revelation within the limits of the meanings of terms within our immediate location or current paradigm.
So we must use biblical vocabulary but try to limit our ‘Christianese’ (culturally loaded church terms) i.e. ‘giving your heart to the Lord’ is not really a helpful term since it doesn’t convey God’s sovereignty or initiative in our salvation and that without Him we can nothing and that ‘He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself according to the good pleasure of His will (Eph. 1:4-5).’
Paul was commissioned to preach to the Gentiles, Kings and Children of Israel (Acts 9:15). He tailored his approach carefully, faithfully and thoughtfully to the respective audiences so that his message was clear, uncompromising and understandable. Our challenge is to be mindful and to make the effort to communicate the eternal truths contained in the Bible in a biblical way and in a manner that can be understood by everyone.
Lastly and most importantly though, unless the Spirit of God is at work in someone’s life people may hear but remain unmoved or unchanged. We are absolutely reliant upon God for everything and we need to pray for His help in communicating His Word so that the God who was with Moses’ and Jeremiah’s mouths (Exod. 4:12; Jer. 1:9) will be with us also and teach us what to say.
Saturday 11 Feb 2017