What’s in a Word? (And a Book Recommendation)


Back in the 1970’s, writer and television personality Steve Allen, put together a TV show called “Meeting of Minds.” The idea was to bring figures from various points in history together to discuss ideas. So one show I watched brought Augustine, Empress Theodora, Thomas Jefferson and Bertrand Russell together to discuss religion. It was great.

I thought of that show often and thought if I were to host such a program, I would begin each segment with the directive: “Gentlemen, define your terms.” If participants in any dialog do not mean the same thing by the words they use, no true discussion actually occurs. And this is no less true when it comes to the Bible and theological terminology.

Every field of study has its own vocabulary. Mechanics talk about toe, caster and camber. Podiatrists talk about toe too, but these 2 are NOT talking about the same thing. Horticulturists have their words as do Mathematicians, Engineers, Artists – you name it. If it is a field of study, it has its own vocabulary. And so does the Bible. So that Paul can write to Timothy in ​1 Timothy 4:6 “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.”

There are “words of the faith.” Words the Bible, as inspired by God’s own Spirit use one way, which we often co-opt but infuse with very different meanings. When we do this, we in fact can make the Bible say or teach things it really doesn’t. And one prime example of that is the way the word “spiritual” is used in popular discourse, and even errantly by Christians.

In our present culture, people often refer to being spiritual as opposed to being religious or part of organized religion. So their so-called spirituality may take almost any form imaginable. It may mean they are people who have some belief system, whether it is well formed, historical or completely ad hoc and self-created. Maybe they mean mystical in some way, or simply empathetic, in touch with nature, into crystals, Druidism, mere positivity or who knows what? All of this ignoring that the Bible uses the term very specifically. Those who are spiritual according to Scripture are those, and only those, indwelt by the Spirit of God and living under His influence. Being spiritual is the sole domain of those born again. Of new creatures in Christ. Of those who have owned their sin and condemnation before God, looked to the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross as their only means of reconciliation to God, and whose lives are now lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Everything else, anything else, is not truly spiritual no matter how it sounds.

Now this is the chief concern of Vaughan Roberts’ wonderful book, “Authentic Church: True Spirituality in a Culture of Counterfeits.” And as a small group study, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a brisk but powerfully poignant walk through the book of 1 Corinthians. A letter written by the Apostle Paul to a group of people who prided themselves on their spirituality, but were anything but – spiritual.

The chapters run as follows:

1. True spirituality focuses on Christ’s cross, not on human wisdom

2. True spirituality respects faithful leaders, not flashy ones

3. True spirituality demands holiness, not moral permissiveness

4. True spirituality affirms both marriage and singleness, but not asceticism

5. True spirituality promotes spiritual concern, not unfettered freedom

6. True spirituality affirms gender differences, but not social divisions

7. True spirituality prioritizes love, not spiritual gifts

8. True spirituality focuses on a physical future, not just the spiritual present

A wonderful way to capture 8 core concepts regarding genuine, Biblical spirituality.

Each chapter not only works through the passages clearly, with sound exegesis and pointed applications – they conclude with suggestions for further Bible study, a series of terrific follow up questions and points for discussion.

A small group would find this an invaluable resource.

Let me close my thoughts and my recommendation with these 2 quotes from the book:

“The authentic work of the Spirit is seen, not when people get excited by some new message or miracle, but rather when their eyes are opened and their hearts filled with an ever-deepening appreciation of the Bible’s teaching about what God has done for them in Christ and a growing longing to live in the light of all they have received from him.”

And 2nd: “If you want to find a Spirit-filled church, look for one which takes the Bible very seriously and gives time to hearing God speak through it. That will be a church where the sermon is central to its meeting and not a platform for the preachers to put forward their own ideas, but rather a faithful exposition of the truth of Scripture.”

That’s good stuff!

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