5 Most Abused Christian Terms
It is a general rule of life that the more important or valuable something is, the more chances are it will be abused and misused. The greater something is, the more it will be attacked and slandered and misrepresented. So we would expect that Christianity would receive such treatment on a regular basis – and it does.
The Christian faith is regularly abused and misused, as are key Christian terms and concepts. And sadly this is not just being done by non-Christians, but by believers as well. We have managed to mangle and manhandle basic Christian truth and doctrines time and time again.
So let me offer five key terms and words of the Christian faith which are being abused every day. Sure, there would be other such terms we could add to the list, but certainly these five would be leading contenders on any thinking Christian’s list.
Jesus. It goes without saying that Christianity is Christ, so if you want to abuse and misuse the faith, then you begin with the person. Jesus has got to be the most misrepresented and most misunderstood person around. And of course behind all these faulty portraits of Jesus is Satan himself, who desperately does not want anyone to know the real Jesus.
So he gets atheists, secular humanists, leftists, religionists, New Agers, and uninformed Christians to present a plethora of images of Jesus – none of them representing the real Jesus of Scripture. Thus we have the hippy Jesus, the socialist Jesus, the greenie Jesus, the New Age Jesus, the syrupy sentimental Jesus, and so on.
Anything but the real Jesus. Anything but the creator and judge of the world who is fully God and fully man, the second person of the Trinity, and the one who has dealt with the sin issue so that we might get right with God the Father.
Instead, create a fake Jesus and offer him around to the masses, and you have basically destroyed biblical Christianity. That is why we see this all the time. Satan does not want us to know the real Jesus so he has become expert at creating millions of counterfeit and fraudulent Jesuses.
And far too many Christians have done exactly the same. We have a Jesus who is all about love, who would never harm a fly, and would never speak ill of anyone or anything. The Jesus of the book of Revelation is entirely absent, as is much of the Jesus of the gospels, including the table-throwing Jesus.
I speak more to this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2014/10/04/which-jesus/
Love. Speaking of love, this is another biblical word absolutely gutted of its scriptural content, and filled with every sort of dopey and humanistic foolishness imaginable. Love is now almost entirely viewed as emotion, as feelings, as mushy sentiment.
But biblical love is always about willing the highest good for the other person. True love wants the best for the other person. And that best is of course God’s best. Thus if you really love a person, you will want them to have all that God wants for them: a relationship with himself, sins forgiven, bondages broken, lives transformed, etc.
And the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. If you genuinely love someone, you care deeply about them and are concerned about their welfare – spiritual and otherwise. Indifference and apathy are the opposites to love. But real love involves hate.
If you love God, you will love what he loves and hate what he hates. God hates sin, and so should we. God hates that which prevents people from knowing him, and so should we. To love a drug addict means hating the drugs which are destroying him.
To love your wife means hating that which would cause her harm, or puts her in danger. Thus human love, like divine love, is a jealous love, rightly understood. Such love cares enough about the individual to strongly oppose that which would harm that person. It certainly is not about tolerating everything and putting up with anything.
I speak more to this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/08/12/on-biblical-love/
Judge. This of course is one of the most abused words of our time. In fact, Matthew 7:1 is perhaps the most abused verse in the entire Bible. The idea that Christians should never judge is as unbiblical as you can get. Everywhere Scripture commands us to judge, to discern, to assess, and to make moral pronouncements and judgments.
Not to do so is a sign of disobedience and rebellion. All that Jesus warned about in the Matt. 7 passage was hypocritical judging: attacking someone else when you are doing the same thing. That of course is wrong, but biblical judging is never wrong.
You cannot live the Christian life if you do not judge. Paul even tells us that one day we will judge the angels, so we had better get to it now in this life. But the worldly notions of tolerance and acceptance have so seeped into the churches today that we actually think we must not judge.
That is a recipe for disaster, and that is why the Christian faith in the West is so anaemic and sickly. We refuse to judge sin in the camp, false doctrine, false prophets, and so on. Instead we just put up with all this. That is a sure-fire way to shipwreck our faith and destroy the church.
I speak more to this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/10/08/thou-shalt-judge/
Sin. As already mentioned, a faulty understanding of who Jesus is and why he came will also involve a faulty understanding of sin. Indeed, one of our big problems here is that we simply no longer even talk about sin. Not only does the surrounding pagan culture have no concept of sin, but so too do most believers.
Go to any church service today and you will be hard-pressed to hear much about sin, and the corollary doctrines such as the holiness of God, the wrath of God, judgment to come, hell, the cross, and repentance. All these key biblical truths are being heard less and less in too many churches today.
We no longer take sin seriously today because we no longer take God seriously. Instead of a holy and righteous God who hates sin and detests iniquity, we have a namby-pamby God who is simply a celestial butler here to do our every bidding.
We hang on to a faulty understanding of divine love while we jettison all the other key components and attributes of God. So of course sin gets downplayed and ignored in such a situation. And then sin becomes simply whatever the world says it is: eg, being intolerant, judgemental, non-inclusive, etc.
I speak more to this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/14/on-sin/
Heresy. This may seem like a surprise inclusion to my list, but I hear this term thrown around every day, and mostly it is being grossly misused and abused. The sad truth is, far too many believers will call someone a heretic or label their beliefs heresy simply if they happen to differ from their own points of view.
Guess what folks? Someone is not a heretic if he happens to have a different slant on eschatology, or ecclesiology, or church government, or worship, or a million other secondary matters. A person is not a heretic if he happens to have a different view on the end times, be it premillennialism, postmillennialism, the rapture theory, and so on.
I am not a heretic if I support a SDA candidate for POTUS such as Ben Carson. I am not a heretic if I think we can work together with others on a temporary basis as cobelligerents to deal with things like abortion or the attacks on marriage.
I am not a heretic if I like the writings of those of other faith traditions, such as a Chesterton or a Tolkien. I am not a heretic if I find some biblical truth in aspects of Calvinism, and Arminianism, and so on. I am not a heretic if I have a glass of wine, enjoy eating meat, or listen to B.B. King once in a while.
I am a heretic if I deny the historic core beliefs of biblical Christianity, such as the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and so on. If one denies the content of the great historic creeds, such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, then yes, we can start talking heresy. But please spare me when you attack another believer as a heretic for simply having a differing view on some secondary matters of the faith.
I speak more to this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2014/04/09/on-heresy-hunters/
One can easily come up with another five such terms, even another 25. So more articles may be forthcoming on this theme. But these five will do for a start. Let us resolve to not be guilty of such abuse and misuse of core biblical terms.
11 Replies to “5 Most Abused Christian Terms”
I agree with you on this. The only thing I look at is, are they truly living the way they say are their beliefs. If they have truly asked GOD to forgive all their sins, are truly doing all GOD tells them to do and truly living the way GOD would have them live, I will see them in HEAVEN.
Jesus and heresy – John Calvin summed up Biblical truth saying “For how comes it that we are carried about with so many strange doctrines (Hebrews 13:9) but because the excellence of Christ is not perceived by us? For Christ alone makes all other things suddenly vanish.”
This is test for doctrine and indeed the way we live our lives!
The words you have said Bill, are so true. Most Christian don’t even know what biblical vernacular is. Neither do they try to find out. Many of times they only repeat what they have heard throughout their lives. Not really realizing what they have heard is always the meaning of what they thought it meant.
And error always begets error.
I’ve not led a sheltered life, Bill, so imagine my shock when I first went of FB and found people calling each other heretics over secondary or peripheral issues. I expected the other 4 terms to get a lot of attention, as there are many, many Liberation Theology and Emergent types online. But people telling each other they’re deceived or a part of the endtime delusion because they differ on prophetic interpretations? And the whole Calvinism v. Arminianism business is deeply disturbing. I know some who are new to the faith and are now terrified they’re not really Christians because they answered an altar call or they didn’t answer an altar call….they said a Sinner’s Prayer or they didn’t say one…the Truth came softly and over time into their spirit so they can’t give you what day they knew they truly repented and believed. We all must examine ourselves from time to time to be certain we are “in the faith,” but I think this scaring baby believers half to death over this ridiculous and useless battle is downright mean. I’m very glad you addressed this. Thank you.
A good example of misrepresenting Jesus our Lord-
On Q&A the other night (yes, I do watch it- it helps keep my blood pressure from getting too low) a “Christian theologian”, while he was illustrating his lack of understanding of elementary logic in discussing baking cakes for gay weddings and gangsters, gave the argument that because Jesus didn’t mention homosexual behaviour in the New Testament, it must be OK.
The topic was same-sex marriage (what else?) and he of course failed to point out while he had the floor that Jesus is recorded as defining marriage as a union of a man and woman. There were five people on the panel, one not in favour of gay marriage but against “discrimination” against homosexuals, three in favour and one who was not asked his opinion. The “theologian” had his chance and blew it. If I ever see his old shoes on a second-hand stall I won’t buy them no matter how well they fit.
As for the ABC…no, Christians should control their language.
Many thanks for this most helpful post.
I do struggle, however, in categorising worship as a secondary issue. Primarily, this is because some attitudes to worship include a desire to attract unbelievers on their terms by proof of cultural relevance. So this brings us into the realm of conforming to this world.
Certain worship styles could also be described as a pleasing of the flesh, and so cannot not be termed a matter of indifference for this reason.
I offer these thoughts courteously and with no desire to be controversial. Many thanks again for very perceptive comments.
In Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares, He says that it was “while men slept” that the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat…
The Asian church at Sardis had a name for being alive, but was, in fact, dead. Our Lord sent them a wake-up call.
It seems the Church in Western countries is perhaps not as awake as she thinks she is!
I was bemused to learn recently that the common meaning of the word Heresy is not the only one. The one used here is in line with that which is understood by most people, i.e. “Heresy is any provocative belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs” – Wikipedia
In the Bible it is used only once, in the KJV in Acts 24:14 but the New KJV uses the word Sect as, “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.”
According to Strong’s Concordance the meaning is of a choice to form a special party and disunite. So it seems that the Biblical meaning is to divide the body of Christ over doctrinal differences rather than having doctrinal differences. So then maybe a sect in this sense is not so much about a group with erroneous beliefs but a group who divides itself from others who are Christians on the basis if differences of conscience.
The relevance here is that Bill is urging us (among other things) to not divide among true Christians even though some of the issues may be significant. Something to talk about at your next denominational meeting anyway.
What absolute nonsense. The division is caused by the wrong doctrine. Christians are actually called to be separate.
I’m very glad people are holding on to the basic, original text and meanings. It’s a tough job to maintain not only the meaning of the term, but the weight of Scripture on each term, explained across 3000 years and 66 books. Such a consistent meaning shows and proves God’s sovereign living person, and His eagerness for us to know Him. It is also confused by each major denominations and outlying groups’ desire to make a Bible translation to suit their own doctine emphasis. In my first year in seminary, I found most useful, the Englishman’s guide to the Greek literal translation, which translates only the core word-for-word term. You may be surprised at the paucity of words actually used. By contrast, the later translations of the 20th and 21st century seem to fixated on the Qumram (Dead Sea scroll discovery in the 1940-1950s). That’s sort of sad for two reasons: It waits for archeology to clarify the Word of the Living God, and gives every translation unparalled permission to use a thesaurus of synonyms to embellish a core word. I like to think that God is NOT biting his nails, worried about how man will change his Spirit. I also don’t believe that the rapture will happen anytime soon; it could be thousands of years from now, b/c it will come ‘unexpectedly, as a thief in the night’. Therefore we wait expectedly with our bags packed everyday, for as long as He tarries. 🙂
Your website has just been pointed out to me and I rejoice at finding that someone is pointing out the discrepencies between Christian practice and Biblical teaching.
I’d like to offer another topic, that of the misuse of ‘wives obey your husbands’ or submit to your husbands: and ‘husbands love your wives, Ephesians 5:22, 28.
I submit that these were words offered direct to wives as advice about helping their marriages work well, not to husbands for the purpose of controlling their wives. I further submit that it is out of place in the marriage service to promise to obey a husband (and all his whims), as no husband who is not Jesus Himself is proof from misusing such a promise and more often than not it turns out as a form of abuse of his wife. No more should he abuse this scripture, than should a wife abuse the scripture by saying ‘If you loved me you would ………….., buy me a … do this, do that, take me here etc.
There is tremendous misuse of this scripture within the church itself. Many women do their best to keep their marriage vow and some even become sick in the process of long term abuse because love is absent. Men suffer from the creeping presence of the overpowering feminist whose line starts from ‘My rights are … ‘ Both are abuses of Paul’s instructions.
I’d really love to see some strong teaching on correct interpretation of these scriptures.
I believe Paul gave an excellent teaching to women to be strongly supportive of their men and put their strength and wisdom behind him, and that he gave a very cluey instruction to men as to how to keep their wives happy. After all, the ancient Jews thought it so important for a man to learn to please his wife that they gave exemption from martial duties for one year after a marriage for that very purpose, so that right attitudes and habits could be established between the newly married couple from the beginning, Deut 24:5.
It’s not about what they can get from each other, but about what they can offer to each other. Men want support, respect, encouragement: women want love, security, family.
Thank you, and bless you for this site.