The Lost Words

“The faith has a basic grammar.” – J.I. Packer

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I remember the first time I heard a pastor say that they don’t use the word, “Worship,” at their church. I was a well-intentioned worship leader, trying to fit in in a church culture that had become increasingly conjoined with popular culture. This particular church was following the widely-respected and partially helpful guidelines of Andy Stanley and his book Deep and Wide. Stanley had intimated that in order to reach the culture churches must remove all potential obstructions of coming to faith. It was, as Stanley said, hard enough already for people to come to Christ. What this translated to was the removal of any of those “churchy” words that were obviously a turn-off to non-church-goers. For example, instead of “worship,” the church used “sing.” Instead of “sermon,” the church used “message.” The word “church” was removed from the church’s name. And while I appreciate the heart of the pastors in this church, as well as the intention that they have in reaching the lost, the removal of the faith’s vocabulary became a detriment to the church cause itself.

In a recent podcast titled, “Youth in Crisis,” Michael Horton spoke about the unfortunate bi-product of removing these kinds of words from our vocabulary. Horton noted that the removal of the words not only kept the words from the seeker audience, but it also kept the words (and their meanings) from the members of the church! In this way, Horton said that we were “unchurching the church itself.” In other words, by removing the words in our faith vocabulary, the church had essentially stopped teaching its members about its own faith.

As Horton and others have suggested, by the removal of its faith vocabulary, the church has largely undermined its own ability to teach its members the core doctrines of the faith. The answer? In order to clearly communicate and instruct the church regarding the Christian faith, the church must return to the biblical language surrounding the faith and worship of God.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 says, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.”

The New Testament records how these words in Deuteronomy can be taken to a legalistic extreme, which resulted in the Pharisaical behavior in the centuries leading up to Christ. However, in today’s culture, the pendulum has surely swung to the other side, in which the specific words of Scripture have all but lost their significance in many situations. May we take as truth the exhortation in Deuteronomy 11 to diligently recall, remember, and absorb the words of God, as we seek to worship Him in the significance of their meaning.

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