Karl Vaters: 5 Terms Christians Need to Stop Misusing

The mission comes first.


Ahead of my ideas, my preferences and my well-worn, dearly-loved terminology.

Because of that, whenever an extra-biblical idea or turn of phrase is anything but clear in the way it advances the message, we need to find and use a better manner of communication.

The Right Words At The Right Time

Every area of human interest has its own language. And rightly so. If a doctor had to use non-medical words during a delicate surgery, the loss of time and accuracy would cost lives.

It’s the same in the church. We have theological terms for good reasons. Among those who have a theological education, words like “eschatology”, “cessationism” and “ecumenism” act like shorthand to make theological conversations possible.

But there are places and times where insider lingo is appropriate and places where it is not. For a surgeon, medical terms are helpful during surgery, but they’re confusing and scary when talking to a worried family after the procedure is over.

In the church, we’ve been using some terms in ways that not only aren’t helpful to newcomers and nonbelievers, they are actually causing confusion among long-time Christians.

Here are 5 terms with common usages that we need to reconsider. Now.

1. “Pulpit” as a synonym for “preaching”

No, there’s nothing wrong with using a pulpit to hold your sermon notes. And calling it a pulpit is fine in some contexts, too. But we need to stop using the word as a synonym for the act of preaching.

When church folks say things like “that church has always had a great pulpit” they don’t mean the physical wooden lectern (usually), they mean the preaching that comes from the person standing behind it. So that’s the term we need to use.

If “that church has always had great preaching” is what we mean, that’s what we need to say.

When we use the word pulpit as a substitute for preaching we unintentionally give too much significance to the piece of furniture sitting on the platform.

As Thom S. Rainer points out in his book Who Moved My Pulpit?, some church members “see the pulpit as something sacred in itself” (pg 22)I’m convinced that using “pulpit” as a synonym for great preaching is one of the reasons for such misplaced values.

No piece of furniture is sacred. Neither is the preacher. Only the message is.

2. “Altar” as a substitute for “being more prayerful”

When we say our churches need to “get back to the altar” what we mean is that we should be putting a greater emphasis on prayer. But as we’ve seen with the pulpit, when we use the word altar as a synonym for prayer, we can inadvertently give more credit to the wooden kneeling bench than to the act of prayer itself.

If we want our church members to pray more, we need to emphasize prayer, not the physical structure we call an altar. After all, it doesn’t matter where we pray, it matters that we pray.

3. “Revival” when we mean “bringing in a preacher from out of town”

True revival is a state of the heart and the spirit, not a series of meetings featuring an out-of-town preacher. It’s something we can prepare our hearts for, but it’s not something we can schedule.

Revival is an act of God, not an event on the calendar.

When we use the term “revival” to describe an upcoming series of meetings, we risk watering down the meaning of the term when true revival actually breaks out.

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Source: Christianity Today