There are many negative consequences when Biblical doctrine is corrupted. One of those consequences has to do with terms found in Scripture. When a word that is associated with an important Biblical teaching is, instead, associated with heretical teaching, the word itself immediately raises a red flag when mentioned in other contexts. This creates a hindrance when orthodox teachers attempt to explain the Bible. Some of those listening may already have a preconceived notion about certain terms and are less likely to receive proper teaching without being affected by the flawed instruction previously heard.

In my recent experience, I have encountered this problem several times. Take the word “headship,” for example. The concept of headship is a vital teaching in the Bible. It is used to explain the nature of the relationship between Christ and the Church in which He is the chief authority, merciful guardian, and gracious provider. The word is also used to describe the nature of the relationship between a husband and wife, which is patterned after the relationship we have with the Savior. The husband is called to relate to his wife as Christ does to the Church. With Jesus as the supreme example of headship, this means that the husband will give of himself for the good of his wife. He will count her welfare as more important than his own and, demonstrating all of the loving attributes that the Church enjoys from our Head, will lead in a way that creates a strong and honorable marriage in the sight of God.

Unbiblical teaching, however, has caused “headship” to become a suspicious word in many circles. Some churches explain the idea of headship as if it grants a detached authority to husband. He is told that it is his responsibility to rule over his wife and to instruct her to follow him as one would follow a master. This distortion ruins a wonderful Biblical concept and, at the same time, introduces significant tension into a marriage. The wife inevitably begins to feel like an unappreciated servant rather than a beloved and secure companion.

To be clear, the husband does have authority in the marriage relationship, but it is defined by the example of the Savior, not by worldly examples of despots, tyrants, egomaniacs, and self-centered fools who want to take the phrase, “a man’s home is his castle,” literally. As I indicated, a husband should be looking to Christ constantly to learn how the head of a relationship is to conduct himself.

Another word that has been terribly abused in some Christian churches is “multi-generational.” In the Bible, this term refers to the process whereby one generation declares the greatness of God to the next. (cf. Judges 6:13; Psalm 44:1; 145:4; 2 Timothy 1:5) Testimony regarding the promises of God, His mighty deeds, and His love for His people is given in this manner down through the ages as history marches on.

But in some ministries, “multi-generational” has become a buzzword that is associated with a misleading assurance of salvation for the descendants of believers. The idea is that parents must raise their child according to a particular format, which supposedly comes from the Scriptures, in order to secure salvation for that child. This all depends, therefore, on the works of the present generation.

This viewpoint comes very close to teaching that God is obligated to save our children if we perform correctly as parents. Naturally, this approach causes parents to rely on their own efforts rather than the grace of God. It also makes external matters unreasonably important in the child’s relationship with God and the Church. This perspective gives a false confidence to parents and children alike and can become a modern-day expression of Phariseeism.

In my own ministry, I have seen eyebrows raised when I’ve used this word, “multi generational,” in a sermon or discussion. I often provide a disclaimer so that it is clear that I am not repeating the disturbing interpretation to which my listeners may have been subjected previously. Understood properly, of course, this concept is wonderfully encouraging to the people of God. It declares that God has provided for us and works for our good and keeps us as His own generation after generation. The present generation praises God in the hearing of the rising generation so that it, too, will know of the wisdom, power, and mercy of God. Multi-generationalism does not emphasize our works, as if we are attempting to earn a place in God’s family. On the contrary, this Biblical teaching emphasizes the amazing and abundant grace of God in Christ Jesus our Savior.

Other terms and doctrines, such as “patriarchy” and “Christian liberty,” could be cited as examples of this problem. The ones mentioned above, however, should be sufficient to inform us and put us on guard so that we prevent the corruption of the Bible’s teaching, if possible, or be prepared to correct it as God gives us opportunity.

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