Have you ever stopped to consider how many “church words” we use that aren’t found anywhere in the Bible? I’m going to share with you a partial list of terms that Christians say all the time, that you will NOT find in the Word of God. I concede that SOME of these principles are rooted in the teachings of the Bible, the terms, however, are not. MANY of the concepts are not at all supported by the teachings of Scripture, but are, in fact, simply man-made traditions. Man-made tradition isn’t always bad, but when it is elevated to the same level as the teachings of God’s Word, it will inevitably lead to Phariseeism, formalism and pious dogmatism.
I understand that asking us to question some of these terms and concepts (to see if they are, in fact, rooted in Biblical commands) will be unsettling to some. I think it is important, at times, to make us uncomfortable as we examine our practices to ensure that they we are not just living out a man-made religion, in the name of Christ.
For your consideration, I humbly suggest that the following terms (or phrases) are NOT found anywhere in the Bible (this may surprise you):
- Pope, Monk, Cardinal, Friar, Nun
- Pastor (okay, it appears once in the NT) ______
- Senior Pastor
- Associate Pastor
- Worship Pastor
- Youth Group
- Sunday School
- Special Music
- Worship Team / Praise Band
- Eternal Security
- Accepting Jesus as personal savior
- Sinner’s Prayer
- Spiritual Retreat
- Statement of Faith
- Offering Plate
- Choir Robes
- Church (as a building)
- Small Group
- Life Group
- Slain in the Spirit
- Church Board
- Altar Call
- Building Fund
- Spare the rod, spoil the child
- God helps those who help themselves
- Cleanliness is next to godliness
- Closing eyes to pray
- Church Service or Worship Service
- Children’s Church
- Carry-in-Dinner (Potluck)
- Fellowship Meal
- Ash Wednesday
- Praying a Hedge of Protection
- Seed Faith
- Prayer Warrior / Prayer Partner
- Accountability Partner
- Prayer Chain
- Prayer Request
- Traveling Mercies
- Clerical Collar
- Prayer Covering
- Spiritual Covering
- Session (of Elders)
- Quiet Time
- Family Altar
- Social Justice
- Immaculate Conception
- Once Saved, Always Saved
- Ask Jesus into Your Heart
- Name it and Claim It
- Prosperity Gospel
- Christianity …do we have anything left to talk about?!
Again, I am not saying that none of these concepts are supported by principles contained in Scripture, or that all of these ideas (even if they are simply man-made traditions) are necessarily bad or morally wrong. However, I do want to encourage us to think carefully about what we promote as being of Christ, and make sure that we are clear in our own minds about what is truly in the Bible, and what is not. (See Mark 7:3-8 & Gal. 1:14)
As a kind of fun challenge, I dare you to go a month using only Biblical terminology to discuss church life. Okay…a week! 😉
Israel Wayne is an Author and Conference Speaker. He is the Director of Family Renewal and Site Editor for www.ChristianWorldview.net.
Good article. Dead on.
Great point! People really are unaware of many things not mentioned in the Bible. The word Trinity is probably the greatest surprise to most folks. I did however think the word backsliding was in the Bible. I found it in Hosea 4:6.
I assume you mean none of these american words were listed or were translated as such. If you were to go back to the old testament we would say we don’t use a lot of those words. Maybe I don’t see the needful point of bringing up this particular group of words. Where does it say we are only to speak words found in the bible? Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Thank God for the new testament church!,,,,
I’m trying to get us to stop and think about our practices. Are we truly following the teachings of Jesus and Apostles, or merely blindly following American culture, under the guise of Biblical Christianity? This is important for us to consider.
I think what Gene is trying to say here, (I’m sorry if this is not, Gene.) is that many words have been incorporated into the English-language, that have no, have never had, and very possibly will never have, direct translations to the Hebrew-language.
And now some time for my own thoughts:
Catholicism is not mentioned in the bible, but we can either call them ‘Catholics’, or ‘those people who pray using a rosary (but that is not in the bible either, so lets just call them ‘those people who use beaded strings, with crosses on them that help them to pray their prayers, that are not mentioned in the bible’)’, and I don’t think that the latter would be a very efficient way of describing someone. And I would suppose that would be the same with “worship pastors”, “small groups”, “world view”, and even the “trinity”. Just because they are not found in the bible, does not mean that it is improper to use those terms. Should we not have names for people who coordinate music? Or should we just not have them? And should we not name our views on the world, or just not have any altogether?
So in conclusion, my own opinion on the subject, is that I don’t think that most of these DO need to be questioned, but I agree that we should never blindly accept anyone else’s view on the bible. But rather, we should look into the bible ourselves, and decide what we believe is truth, instead of believing everything that we hear.
Thanks for your time,
Terms are like handles that help us to get ahold of an idea and easily carry it around. It’s so much easier to say, I’m a Calvinist or I’m a Pentecostal (etc.), than to have to explain in detail exactly what we mean by that. I use most of these terms in my list all the time, and I’m not suggesting that we should not. I’m just wanting us to think critically about the words we use, and more importantly the practices we embrace. If you are a Calvinist, can you explain what that means? What if you had to describe the nature of God without resorting to using the term Trinity? Could you do it? And many of these concepts, like “Youth Pastor” are simply not even remotely Biblical ideas in any way, yet Christians defend them as though they are. In many ways we have invented an American version of Christianity that simply can’t be found in the Bible. I think that is troubling.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
This is an interesting discussion. Just the other day, a very respected person I know, was discussing terms like this. At the end of the day, we seriously disagree about the use of one term. Its not that we disagree about the content, history, or meaning. The difference lies in the audience. For me, I use this term among my audience, other believers. She chooses not to use this term, because part of her audience, one of the legs of the government, views this term very negatively and would judge and her organization negatively if she used it. In a very real sense it is a clash of cultures. The term, is Christianity. The government is the state of Israel and her organization is a Bible Believing organization that teaches about the Messiahship of Jesus. If they were to refer to themselves as “Christians” or even use the term in any of its variations in their publications, then a particular government office would make their situation much worse.
How culture in the American church really is American culture? I would say, quite a bit. I have been to Church services in other cultures, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Russian etc… There are elements that are the same and elements that are different. Having said that, in most cases, they have elements that resemble the American Church. They all have a sermon, although how they preach will vary. They all have music although durations vary, styles vary and who leads varies. All this is still far afield from the fellowship of the first century church, where pastors were not paid, people met in homes, people prayed for hours at a time and they sang worship songs for an unknown period. Those who preached, did so unplanned and as the Lord led them.
There are so many hurdles that the Christian Church in America still needs to deal with, like anti-Semitism in the writings of the church fathers, that shapes core theology of most pastors, and in most cases they are completely unaware of it. Most Cultural Christians or immature Christians are completely unaware that God actually has a plan for the Jewish people. They are ignorant that the importance of the Jewish people in God’s plan was intentional wiped out of Christianity by some of the early church fathers. They are unaware of the fact that the first church council was organized by a heathen, Emperor Constantine, who intentionally dictated some of the conclusions of the council and intentional did not invite any of the Jewish Bishops. Most Christians are unaware or simply dismiss as irrelevant the conclusions of that council in regards to the Jewish identity of Christianity. Up until that time, Christianity was considered a part of Judaism, but after the council it became a new religion, a Gentile Religion.
My point is simple, the cultural problems in Christianity stem form the fact that the true culture of Christianity was actually stripped from it. Its true that American culture has invaded churches to some degree, but the greater problem is that Christianity is rooted in the Jewish culture and much of that culture has been lost, or stolen.
A simple example, is James. James isn’t a Jewish name. Jacob is the name found in the New Testament in every other language. How many kids have been names James after that Great Church leader? But the fact is that his name was Jacob and the KJV of the Bible changed all of the Jacob(s) to James. If something this obvious escapes the view of most Americans how much really important information is missing in the American Christian church.
“What if you had to describe the nature of God without resorting to using the term Trinity? Could you do it?”
I would have no trouble doing so. No description of יהוה in scripture includes the term trinity. Deut 6:4 does a fine job. Hear Israel יהוה our God יהוה one.
“Traveling mercies” drives me nuts!
Yes! “Traveling Mercies” is one of the most annoying entries in the church-people lexicon.
Its fascinating from a cultural perspective the phrase, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” The Hebrew of Proverbs 13:24 actually says, ~ he who spares the rod HATES his son. But he who loves him seeks his rebuke (my translation). Even our Bible verses become more politically correct over time in America. Its really quite a shame.
As someone who speaks in churches often, I find it interesting just how much culture I must navigate in some churches: American culture, denominational culture, regional culture. Often I find it quite fun, since i love different cultures, but sometimes, I certainly can be a bad navigator.
I love this. It really is an issue of culture, not sin or morality. Back when I started my first church, we adopted a ton of the ‘seeker’ ideas, (although we were not technically a seeker church) such as not using church words and using culturally relevant music styles.
I did the same thing when I went to a traditional church to be the pastor. It was amazing how the ‘church’ people were upset by things such as not having a ‘call to worship’ or a ‘benediction’, or having childcare instead of a nursery. When we went from an acoustic guitar that was miked to an electric guitar, it was amazing how the worship wars started.
This is basic in missions. As a missionary, I seek to put the truth of God into the words and styles of the CURRENT culture that I am reaching. However, in the North American church, we seem to think that the only Biblical Culture was that of the 1950’s or earlier. I just do not understand it.
Your article is well-written and your point is abundantly clear. Yet, based on the comments, it seems some of your readers totally missed it.
Many years ago, when I finally started reading the Bible for myself, I kept noticing that a great many of the things I was taught in Sunday School could not be found in scripture. I also discovered that when I tried to talk about those things, no one wanted to hear it.
Eventually, I came to the understanding that Christianity has only a weak association with scripture. Mostly, Christianity is Pagan beliefs that have been assimilated into what had once been a scriptural belief system.
It’s not the specific words, “trinity, easter, christmas,” that are the problem. It’s the concepts behind them that have little or no scriptural support.
Are you familiar with the expression, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water?” You can’t reject all of Christianity simply because you find a few flaws. Trust me, anything our human nature touches is bound to have flaws. The whole point of sanctification is to redeem the imperfect. And yes, sanctification is a perfectly good word in Biblical Hebrew.
We were refreshed by you two in Anaheim. Thank you! I haven’t found many like minded people, in regard to applying the Bible to life, here in the Mojave Desert.
Thank you, Donnie! We enjoyed the event as well. If you didn’t get a chance to at the conference, please sign up on our mailing list here:
I just wish church people would speak in normal, everyday language like you would with a friend at a baseball game and quit doing this:
“I jist, jist, jist, jist want to say jist that the Lord has laid a heavy burden on my heart and moved me to…”
This nonsensical way of talking in southern churches sounds like something siphoned up from the bottom of a mud puddle and sounds like fingernails on a blackboard. Jist, jist, jist—quit it!!!!!
What about the words Sermons, follow-up, deputation work and furloughs? Can you find those for me?
Sometimes they seem more like “cotton candy”, “foul-up”, “tactful/dishonest begging”…
Hey Israel, a lot of those words don’t show up in English Bibles, but they are in Bibles in other languages. An English Bible is going to have the word “shepherd” where a Latin Bible would have the word “pastor.” The same for the English “brother” and the Latin “friar.” This matters because there is such a reaction against “tradition” in the church today. Identify Biblical words as “mere tradition” and people are going to get rid of them and the things they represent with glee.
I appreciate this. It’s a good reminder that language and cultural norms/standards change. The Truth doesn’t. This post reminds me of a story I heard about a local church telling a foreign exchange student that she shouldn’t wear traditional clothing when she goes back to her home country because…well…of course Jesus would wear jeans or something… It’s too easy to substitute leftover church tradition from by-gone and best forgotten eras of church history or our current cultural norms for Gospel truth and orthodox behavior.
In Sunday School, our 5-yr-old daughter was invited to color a picture of a “Christmas angel.” When the teacher commented, “She a pretty angel, isn’t she?” our daughter replied, “She’s pretty, but she isn’t an angel. All the angels in the Bible appeared as men.” The teacher said, “Of course there are lady angels! Both men and women die and go to heaven!” Our 5-yr-old said, “They do, but not as angels. Angels were created as angels. When we die, we’re something different.” Flabbergasted, her teacher asked, “Where did you get such ideas?!?” and our daughter said, “From my Mommy.” The teacher said, “Well, I believe your Mommy is mistaken!” And our pert 5-yr-old said sweetly, “I believe she’s not.” 😉
Cultural appropriated words sometimes carry mistaken theological concepts with them. It’s quite possible to grow up believing things that are simply unbiblical. Does it affect our salvation? I don’t know, but I do wonder how many of us will arrive in Heaven and be absolutely shocked to meet a Savior who bears little resemblance to what our culture taught us.
Sunday (The days were numerical, counting down(up?) to the Sabbath.)
Elder (as a job title rather than a class people who are senior in age “older”)
Closing a prayer with: “In Jesus Name”
Reverend. That word is in the Bible.
“He sent redemption unto his people:
he hath commanded his covenant for ever:
holy and REVEREND is his name.” Psalm 111:9 KJV
I LOVE this !!! The words we use do our thinking for us. Words have so many built-in pre-suppositions and preconceptions that it is good to define (or avoid) our terms. The fleet of vehicles used for taking people to the gas chamber in 1930s Germany was called “The Charitable Transportation Co. for the Sick.”