Prefer to listen? Listen here!
The way we communicate is always evolving. This evolution seen throughout history is attributed to the change in people’s lives, experiences, and cultures. There are words that may have meant a particular thing in one generation that may mean a different thing in another. How does this affect how we communicate biblical truths in our ever-changing culture? Should we adapt and change the words the scriptures use to coincide with the changes we see in culture? Especially a culture that is increasingly anti-truth? I think the bible is clear. God’s word is eternal. The words in scripture don’t need to change, it is always us that needs to conform to what the scriptures say.
There are currently 171,146 words in the English language according to the Oxford dictionary and we use these words to express a variety of things from emotions to our ideologies. Words are so powerful that the Bible goes as far as saying that death and life are held in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). We cannot be careless with what we say, especially when we are expressing truth from the bible. Whilst we want to engage with the culture that we find ourselves in, we cannot and should not distort the truth to make it more acceptable. We also shouldn’t be ambiguous with the language we use to express a particular truth either. An essential component of being a Christian is being a truth-teller and an essential part of being a truth-teller is being clear.
The Problem with Ambiguity
In Ephesians 4, Paul outlines the work of the Spirit within the body of Christ and declares that God has appointed specific positions for the building and unity of the Church (Ephesians 4:11-12). Now depending on your theological position, some view what is commonly referred to as the ‘five-fold ministry’, as still in operation; while others view some positions as now obsolete. What can become an issue of ambiguity is when the positions outlined in Ephesians 4 are no longer defined by how scripture or church history has understood them but now becomes a matter of personal perception. For example, let’s take the position of an apostle.
The term ‘apostle’ comes from the Greek word Apostolos which means a messenger or one sent on a mission. This definition seems simple enough, and by basic definition, one could argue that Christians are ‘apostles’ in the sense that we are sent by Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit to be ambassadors of God (1 Corinthians 5:11-21, 1 Peter 2:9). However, of the 79 times that the noun form of Apostolos is found in the New Testament, 68 of these times, it is used to refer to the men that were appointed by Christ for the particular function of an Apostle in the Church. These commissioned men not only were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus, but they were also specifically called and empowered by Jesus to preach the gospel to all nations (Acts 1:21-22, Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16, Acts 9:15-17). What was associated with the New Testament apostleship was primarily direct knowledge of the Incarnate Word, which was accompanied by signs and wonders; with much of the new testament being written by Apostles (e.g. Paul, James, John, etc). So the question one must ask is, ‘Is it acceptable to use the term apostle to address present-day church leaders?’. According to the New Testament view of apostleship, one would disagree.
Is The Language We Use Helpful?
This article is not to attack those with the title of apostle, the purpose of this article is to provoke us to think about the language we use to express theological truths. Does the person you call an apostle fit the criteria that is outlined in scripture? Does the way that you proclaim the gospel match the way you see it expressed in the epistles? When you have theological conversations with people do they make much of your intellect or much of Jesus? The words we use matter. To quote theologian and apologist Lisa Fields, “it can make sense, connect with you emotionally, confirm what you always thought, and STILL not be true”. When expressing theological truths how we feel seldom matters, especially if how we feel will lead us to oppose what scripture says. Every careless word we speak, we will give an account before God for, even if we had good intentions (Matthew 12:36). So how can we be clear with our theological positions? Allow me to offer some suggestions.
1. Avoid trying to be clever or quirky when delivering the truth. Don’t compromise the truth because you want to be seen as cool.
2. Make sure you understand the truth that you’re proclaiming. As I was told at university, if you can’t explain your point to a 10-year-old, you probably don’t understand it yourself.
3. Pray. How often do we see this as a last resort? Pray before you speak. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your words that you will speak in such a way that will glorify God and not the depth of your vocabulary.
4. Read. I cannot stress this point enough. It is painfully obvious when people speak on things that they know little about. Take your time and read a wide variety of credible resources on any given topic to ensure a fuller, more robust understanding of the subject.
Finally, clarity in speech does not mean you will be accepted. After all, Jesus spoke clearly, and He was rejected. What it does mean is that when we speak people will listen. Whatever subject we speak on we want people to listen, all the more when we are proclaiming the gospel. So let us be people that endeavour to speak well, speak clearly, and speak truthfully.