In the September Issue of Think is an unfortunate article by Keith Parker (one of the board members of the magazine) titled: “Fussing And Fighting Over Words.” Having thought about the contents of the brief message, it merits a refutation. The words recorded on page 14 are both unwise and misleading; furthermore, they ignore the context of the passage in 1 Timothy 6, as well as the overall context of the Scriptures. The entire issue devoted itself to promoting unity; this article attempts to uphold that theme, but it leads instead to disharmony.
Psalm 133:1 is the Scripture quoted at the outset, and it is followed by Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17:20-23 and Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 1:10. These contain excellent truths on the importance of unity in which all Christians ought to be agreed. Then comes a one-sentence thesis: “One thing that often divides us is words, the proper or improper use of words.” So, what comes to the reader’s mind when digesting that thought?
Many will probably recall the way that false teachers change the definition of words to suit themselves and their doctrines. Grace, for example, has been redefined by some as excluding obedience, which was not the case in Genesis 6:8. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, but it included—not ignored—the concept of obedience: “Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he” (Gen. 6:22; cf. 7:5; Titus 2:11-14).
Other words have likewise been mangled by some to support strange doctrines, but the article under review did not deal with any of those matters, which is strange since the author told us that he was writing about words that often divide us. He said he memorized 1 Timothy 6:4 years ago but for a long time had no idea what it meant. He still does not. While he made an effort to get to the meaning of the verse, he neglected to look at the verse in its context. Primarily, verse 3 has a profound influence over verse 4, both of which are cited below.
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions.
Whatever the violation being discussed, it is serious and certainly not a minor disagreement. Furthermore, it cannot be saying that words and their meanings are not important. God changed the names of both Abram and Sarai for a significant reason. He changed Jacob’s name to Israel because it indicated a fundamental change in his character.
Balaam explained to a frustrated Balak that he could only speak the words that God put in his mouth. Words to the contrary God would not accept. The important doctrine of the Scriptures being inspired of God depends on the writers being given the right words and recording them faithfully. In fact, words are so important that Jesus said: “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37).
The Meaning of 1 Timothy 6:3-5
So, whatever Paul means in 1 Timothy 6:4, he is not contradicting the fact that words are important and that it really doesn’t matter what we say. What, then, is Paul’s point in 1 Timothy 6:4? First of all, Paul is talking about false teachers, something that he began commenting on in 1 Timothy 1:5-6, and which he provided examples of in 1 Timothy 1:18-20. Now he again refers to those who do not teach wholesome (healthy) words—even the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Their message is especially offensive if they teach against that which is according to godliness. Verse 5 adds that their motivation is to make money with religion.
This shameful practice totally misrepresents the life and teachings of Jesus. This controversy should not be taken lightly; it is not inconsequential. Yet Parker boils it down to: “Don’t go around looking for a fight…especially over words.” This quaint notion does not begin to cover the thought of the text; it misrepresents it entirely. It makes it sound like a minor disagreement over word usage. What comes to mind is the quip by Groucho Marx that most people have probably heard: “Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.” Obviously, he should have said, “While wearing my pajamas last night, I shot an elephant. Below is Parker’s first example of the way we should not strive about words.
Sometime ago, a lady came into my office. She told me that one of our church members had tried to get her to “join the church.” I could have picked a fight with her. I could have said, “Lady, you don’t join the church, God adds you to the church.” I didn’t. I understood what she meant. “Added” or “joined”? No big deal. Both are okay. Read Acts 5:13-14.
It is sad to have to say how incredible shallow this line of reasoning is—especially for someone who seems to be a spiritual leader in the Lord’s church! The reader has probably already thought of the points about to be made, but here they are anyway.
1. Parker indicates how weak the congregation he is associated with is. How embarrassing that members do not themselves know the difference.
2. Would Parker argue that we should leave all people in ignorance? What did he further say to her? Did he tell her she could join the church by being baptized? How did this conversation end up, and why would anyone send someone on her way without knowing the truth?
3. No one intentionally picks a fight by giving a precise answer to a question. To inform someone of the truth ought not to make them angry.
4. He understood what she meant. Did he? Does he also understand what people mean when they mistakenly call a preacher a pastor? It is not a question of, “What do people mean?” It is a matter of, “What does God mean, and how did He choose to characterize it?’ For decades faithful preachers and brethren have been explaining the difference between the denominational concept of “joining the church” and the Bible concept of obeying the gospel, yet Parker just casually shrugs his shoulders and says, “No big deal.” He is the one creating disunity in this instance.
5. As it happens, most of us have read Acts 5:13-14. The word joined in verse 13 does not refer to obeying the gospel. It means that people did not want to be associated with them or become part of the group—which would have necessitated eventually becoming baptized. Verse 14 is a more direct reference to those who had obeyed. The Lord was still adding them to the body of Christ.
Parker goes on to imply that it does not matter whether we say born again or converted. No, it does not matter to us since we know what we are talking about, but we do not live in a vacuum. Does he not know what denominational people mean by the phrase? In fact, they often ask, “Are you a born again Christian?” Does he bother to explain to them that such a phrase is redundant? Or is that something else that is “no big deal”?
He goes on to advocate for the usage of the word communion. Yes, we know that we are communing with the body and blood of Jesus, and we know to what it refers. Does that mean it is all right, however, to mislead others who have a different concept entirely? He also points out the various terms by which the church is designated in the New Testament. Has anyone actually objected to Biblical terminology? We use those designations all the time, but if we have visitors, we will clarify what we mean. If Catholics came to visit and asked if we had a bishop, we might correctly say, “We have two or three,” but would we leave them in ignorance? The same thing would occur if a denominational person asked if we had a “pastor.” Do we really want to ignore how others use terminology? This is the point of the article. These different definitions are “no big deal.” If the thrust of this article is not to leave people in ignorance, what would it take to make that point? The way false teachers succeed is by changing the definitions of words.
For years members of the church have been careful not to be tied to the denominational practice of “witnessing.” But for Parker this is just one more “no big deal.” He writes:
Does it really matter if a Christian refers to evangelism as “testifying” or “witnessing” or “soulwinning”?
Yes! One practice is Scriptural, and one is not. When denominations use witnessing and testifying, they mean that they should go forth and tell everyone else what God has done for them—all of which is subjective and incapable of being verified. What we mean by winning souls is that we present the gospel, which is objective and was verified in the first century with signs, wonders, and miracles. Is it not strange that such things must be pointed out to an alleged leader of God’s people? No wonder many do not know the difference anymore between the Lord’s church and manmade denominations. How can they not be confused when the definitions of key concepts become fuzzy and “no big deal”?
Scriptures cited to support the practice of “witnessing” are Acts 20:21 and Acts 26:22. Of course, Paul could testify and witness because he was an actual witness to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Cor. 15:8). He was doing no more than what Peter did on the day of Pentecost when he testified and exhorted the Jews to obey the gospel (Acts 2:40). Did Peter not first mention that he and the other apostles were witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 2:32)? Even if Paul and others did use the term witnessing as an equivalent of preaching (which has yet to be proven), his definition would still not have been the same as the way denominational people use the term today.
After Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and set things in order, he departed for a time from Jerusalem. Upon his return trip, he found several things that were wrong. One of them was that the Jews had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. As a result, “half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people” (Neh. 13:24). Will that not likely happen in the Lord’s church if we are not careful? Will not our children end up speaking some denominational language instead of labeling things accurately? Whatever happened to “calling Bible things by Bible names”?
Some may think this response is too harsh, but it does not even compare to what Nehemiah did: “So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair…” (Neh. 13:25). No, that won’t be happening, but brethren need to reject this Think article as one that is ill-advised and not one that promotes harmony within the body of Christ. Let us speak the way the Bible speaks and use the terminology the way God defined it. We must recognize that Satan has perverted much of God’s terminology.