Words form our language and language is the primary way we communicate. It was through the spoken and written word that God chose to perpetuate his truth. So Paul insists that Timothy, the young preacher, "hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1:13).
Brethren, we are not doing this. You may call a cow a horse or a horse a cow for a generation, but the result eventually will be that no one will know the difference between a horse and a cow. Holding fast the doctrine of sound words is fast becoming a thing of the past. Without sound words there is no sound doctrine. Is this drastic or overdrawn? Let's put some basic words to the test.
What does the word "church" mean? We who have objected so strenuously to the term "joining the church" have far less grounds to use any of the following statements. Have you ever read in the New Testament such terms as "going to church," "beginning church," "sleeping in church," "the church burned down," or '"can't we have the announcements sometimes other than during church"? These unscriptural terms lead to a completely false concept of the church.
Here again is the same type of error: "Begin the worship,'' "end the worship," "our next worship service will be...", "is the worship over," "would everyone be quiet, we are trying to start our worship." These are unbiblical uses of the term, leading to concepts and definitions that are equally unbiblical. It makes worship a thing to be done, rather than a life to be lived. True, there are some things we are to do when we "assemble" or "when the whole church is gathered together"; and we do sing because we are happy, pray because of our needs, grow in our study, and reflect in communing. Yet when these are done we do not stop worshipping God or serving Christ.
The Bible states we are priests of God (1 Peter 2:5) offering sacrifices to God (Rom. 12:1,2) all the time. Breaking bread on the table of the Lord is no more a praise to God than breaking stones in a quarry, when done in the service of God. True, they are not equivalent, for one is commanded and one is not, yet both are done by a believer, as a praise to God. Paul writes,
Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters...in singleness of heart, as unto Christ; not with eye service, as men pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart (Eph. 6:5,6).
It is little wonder that our Sunday "worship service" is so empty, when our daily "work service" is also without heart.
Our present idea of elders only faintly resembles the biblical concept. What image do you have when this word is used? What is your definition? Try using another equally biblical word, shepherds, which is far more penetrating and descriptive of the work. Elder means older, but shepherd surely means far more. They tend to the fold and in particular the sheep. They watch for the very lives of the lambs. They would "lay down their necks" for the ones they have been charged to keep.
What if Christians everywhere were banned from using these three terms, "church," "worship," and "elders"? No longer would we use the term "church" but we would substitute for it the term "family." We would speak of the church as the family of God, and each member as brother and sister (1 Tim. 3:15). What new vision would you see? What powerful change would be wrought in your thoughts and words? But the words "church" and "family" both refer to God's children, you say! They did in biblical times, but they do not any more. We have changed the word "church" by changing the concept. The concept advocated today is that of an institution, a functional unit separate and distinct from the people. This is the basic error.
No more could we speak of "worship" as if it is exelusively conducted on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and on Wednesday night. Call these meetings "the assembly." Clean up our erroneous concepts and we can recognize that we are to worship God at all times as Paul would say,
And whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him (Col. 3:17).
So as a priest of God we offer ourselves continuously in worship to God.
We could not call certain leaders "elders," as if they held some sort of office with a title. Rather, these experienced, mature men would be truly "shepherds" working in and among the flock and not in front of the flock. They would be spiritual examples and not "lords over" the rest of the sheep. They would ever guide us in the ways of right and be the spiritual guide and not a glorified finance committee spending most of their time on budgets and buildings. These shepherds would pattern their lives after the Chief Shepherd, and that in itself should bring to them a sense of humility and concern. The emphasis would be on the spiritual and not on the material.
Sound words are necessary to sound doctrine, for that's the stuff that doctrine is made of. What a change would be wrought among us if three words, "Church," "worship'' and "elders" were changed to "family," "assembly," and "shepherds."
Try it and if nothing else happens you'll get some funny looks from others.