Our “woke” nation holds high moral ideals. We protest and fight for equality, justice, human rights, and economic welfare for all humanity. Those noble principles include the implicit freedom of every man and woman from imposition of values that conflict with their personal definitions of those terms. Every individual deserves unimpeded access to their own spiritual path and personal version of truth.
Our culture and media consider Christians to be in violation of that moral code because they make a truth claim and promote it against others’ wishes. Yet that indictment and their self-proclaimed “enlightenment” fail to understand that Christianity is the source of nearly all the tenets they hold dear. Jesus, His followers and His Church advocated, lived out and suffered for ideas – like love, humility, benevolence, sacrifice, servanthood, fairness, freedom, and the value of human life – that were considered radical in corrupt, hedonistic nations.
Disconnecting those high ideals from their (Christian) source enables the grand irony – using society’s claim on the high moral ground to justify rampant immorality. In the name of equality and rights, the only “sinners” are those who criticize anyone’s morality. In other words, the only moral code is that there is no moral code, except for any attempts to impose one. No one may tell anyone what to do, except that everyone must adopt the premise that there is no moral foundation – or risk being “cancelled” (which can cost Christians jobs and promotions).
All that’s required to usurp the high moral ground is to hijack terms that Christians once “owned”. Redefining and trivializing words that fundamentally undergird the Christian faith renders future use of those terms by believers effectively pointless and irrelevant. Nothing a Christian says will make sense when listeners apply new cultural definitions based on a secular world view. For example, how can we describe the sacrificial, agape love of Jesus when the world only understands the word “love” to mean romance, lust or greed? Nor is the Gospel story likely to resonate when the word “sin” has been dropped from the lexicon.
To better understand Scripture, we go back to the original Greek and Hebrew because the English words do not precisely capture the original intent. Likewise, once society redefines a biblical concept, their translation of what Christians are saying when they use those words will not reflect the intended message. Christians are speaking of the biblical definition, but non-believers interpret without that frame of reference. The conversation is rendered almost as incoherent as two individuals speaking foreign languages to one another.
Change the meaning of the words and you eliminate any chance of a connection or breakthrough. Those unwilling to confront the power of the Gospel, fearing it would mean abandoning their self-absorbed lifestyles, concocted a brilliant scheme to abscond the following biblical principles and terms:
- Truth – from God’s Word to my opinion
- Law – from guests in God’s house to owners who make the rules
- Sin – from offensive to offended
- Freedom – from (punishment for) sin to (the right to) sin
- Purpose – from joy to happiness
- Love – from Christ’s sacrifice to my satisfaction
- Justice – from what Jesus didn’t deserve to what I’m owed
- Accountability – from answering to God to true to myself
- Generosity – from investing in Kingdom to leaving a legacy
- Tolerance – from an open mind to a closed mouth
- Shame – from my mistakes to another’s insults
- Pride – from the most reviled sin to the supreme virtue
- Righteous – from a divine declaration to an inalienable self-perception
- Religion – from worship to works
- Persecution – from freedom of religion to freedom from religion
- Self-Centeredness – from shunned to praised
- Servant – from humble submission to a tacit form of slavery
- Integrity – from honesty to necessity
- Ethics – from what’s right to what’s expedient
- Compassion – from action to empathy
- Anger – from biting my tongue to venting and revenge
- Forgiveness – from unmerited grace to conditional stipulations
- Morality – from willing obedience to religious oppression
- Victim – from blatant abuse to crying foul
- Evangelism – from invitations to eternal relationship with a loving Father to imposition of conflicting values on an innocent victim by a meddling intruder
The implications of this revised and unabridged dictionary of once-biblical terms are clear. Incorrectly assume I own my own body and I can do whatever I want with it. Claim victimhood for any accusations and I have extraordinary power to label and vilify the offender publicly. Conflate servanthood or sacrifice with control or oppression and I can justify doing nothing for anyone. Prioritize fun and family over mission and ministry and I am at liberty to seek my own interests exclusively. The perpetrator in the Gospel story (mankind) now becomes the celebrated hero. Good is bad and bad is good.
Churches Adopting a Foreign Language
Culture is changing church more than churches are changing culture. To accommodate society’s new definitions, pastors have tweaked the meanings of church-related terms to ease the burden and lower the barriers to entry for an increasingly secular and skeptical marketplace. Taking a stand for the deeper, biblical intent behind these “religious” words would risk driving away church shoppers, hoppers and seekers. These new, less “churchy” definitions are not as intimidating, convicting or demanding for fickle church consumers:
- Church – from people to a place or event
- Outreach – from compassion to advertising
- Ministry – from evangelism to church chores
- Conversion – from surrender to repeating a phrase
- Worship – from a lifestyle to music
- Disciple – from obedience to belief
- Discipleship – from intensive and personal to casual small groups
- Commitment – from spiritual depth to organizational membership
- Core – from the most sold out to the most bought in
- Human Nature – from inherently sinful to essentially good (75% of evangelicals surveyed – Barna)
- Sanctification – from an arduous process to an instantaneous event
- Repentance – from an expectation to an option
- Great Commission – from a mandate to a rarity
- Holy Spirit – from filled to largely forgotten
- Hell – from a motivating reality to an unpalatable topic
- Heaven – from the focus of the faithful to a vague, distant thought
- Eternity – from emphasis on the “line” to improving the “dot” (life)
- Spiritual Warfare – from the true battleground to a surreal concept
- Prayer – from seeking God’s will to pleading for ours
- Fellowship – from brotherhood to social gatherings
- Unity – from the church universal to denominational differentiation
- Transformation – from a cleansed heart to external conformance
- Prosperity – from storing up lasting treasures to temporary comfort
- Discipline – from chastening of a loving Father to unfortunate circumstances
- Exhortation – from challenging to catering
The apostle Paul spoke in the context of the culture, but he didn’t succumb to it. Adjusting terminology to make church more attractive to a post-Christian society is a slippery slope. Jesus is unequivocally countercultural. We cannot stay relevant by compromising vernacular to make our faith more practical, beneficial or interesting for those learning revised definitions of biblical terms from a secular dictionary.
It’s Your Turn…
What other words with scriptural roots have our culture and churches adjusted to fit their narratives?