OceanSide church of Christ
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SAME TERMS; DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS
Victor M. Eskew
Every child of God needs to be involved in several serious religious discussions with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. As we conduct these discussions, it is imperative that we keep our language as simple as possible. This does not mean that we should not use Biblical terminology. In fact, that is precisely what we “must” use. Peter exhorts us, saying: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…” What this does mean, however, is that when we talk to others, we must be careful to define our terms. It is possible for us to use words that we think other people understand, but their perceptions of those words are much different than ours. Let’s examine a few examples of this in this article.
In our discussions, the subject of baptism will arise. When we think of baptism, we think of immersion, that is, a complete covering up in water. We do this because this is the very definition of the Greek word “baptizo.” We do this because the Bible pictures baptism as a burial in Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12. We do this because those who were baptized in the first century went down into the water and came up out of the water (Acts 8:36-39). Many, however, do not think of baptism as immersion. They think of baptism as sprinkling or pouring. If you were simply ask someone: “Have you been baptized?” They might answer: “Yes.” Later, though, you learn that they have never been immersed. Instead, they were sprinkled when they were little babies. Defining baptism is an absolute must for proper understanding of the Scriptures.
The word “church” is another word that most do not comprehend. We think of church in the manner in which it has been revealed in the New Testament. We see it as being part of the eternal plan of God (Eph. 3:8-11). We understand that the church was built by Jesus (Matt. 16:18) and was purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28). We know that the saved are added by the Lord to the church (Acts 2:47). We are convinced that there is only one church that is acceptable to the God because the Bible teaches there is one body (Eph. 4:4) and the body is the church (Eph. 1:22-23). These concepts are foreign to most people. The church is viewed by them in two ways. First, they see the church as their local denominational group. They do not believe this denomination is involved in their salvation. They do not believe that which church one is a member of is that important. One church is just as good as another in their mind. Second, they see the church in a universal sense. This church is composed of all the denominations. These individuals have never stopped to consider the fact that this is not the church presented in the pages of the New Testament. The church of the New Testament could not be the conglomeration of all the denominations because the denominations did not exist. Again, we see the importance of defining our terms.
The word “pastor” is another term that carries a different definition to our denominational friends than it does to us. We have studied and learned that the English word “pastor” is only found one time in our Bible in Ephesians 4:11. We have also learned that the word means “to feed” or “to shepherd.” In fact, the word could be translated “shepherd.” Shepherding is the responsibility of a group of man called elders in the Bible (Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:1-3). These men are the overseers of the church. They must meet certain qualifications (I Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). In every church in the New Testament, there was a plurality of these men who oversaw the local congregation (Acts 14:23). These men held a different position than the preacher, the minister, or the evangelist. In Bible times, a preacher was never considered “the pastor.” Now, this is how the majority of those in the denominational world view the preacher. They all call him “the pastor.” He is viewed as the spiritual shepherd of the flock. Elders are seldom found in most denominations. The preacher has assumed this role. Once more, we see there is a definite need to define our terms.
Even a phrase as simple as “the Son of God” might need to be defined. We believe that Jesus was both God and man (John 1:1, 18). We believe He is one of the three members of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is not how everyone views Jesus. The Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not think of Jesus as an eternal being. They believe that He was created. The Oneness Pentecostals also perceive of Jesus differently than we do. They believe that He is divine, but they believe that He is one of three manifestations of the same being. They do not believe that three distinct personalities are God. They believe that only one being is God. This one being, they say, displays Himself, in three different ways to man.
Defining our terms is an absolute must in our Bible studies with others. If we do not, we may think someone understands what we are teaching when they really do not. We may think that they are on the same page with us when they are not. In preacher training school, we were told: “Never underestimate the ignorance of your audience.” This was not meant to be a slap to our students. It was meant as a precaution to the teacher. Our students might be ignorant of our definition of terms. If we do not consider this, we may never teach the individual properly. We need to make certain that everyone is on the same wave length.
Let’s close with one more example. The Bible often makes this statement: “And whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13). Most define the word “call” as some audible statement that is to be made to the heavenly Father. Some say that is means to “ask Jesus into your heart.” Others tell us that it refers to saying “the sinner’s prayer.” When this author uses this phrase, he uses it in none of these ways. I use it the way it is found in Acts 22:16. Ananias told Saul of Tarsus: “And now why tarriest thou, arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Calling on the name of the Lord is not an audible call from one’s mouth. It is the action of obedience to the command to be baptized for the remission of sins. This definition is not accepted by most. Note, however, that this is the divinely inspired definition. The other is man-made. I prefer the definition God has given the phrase. Which do you prefer?