Writing to the evangelist Timothy the apostle Paul said, "Hold fast the form of sound words" (2 Tim. 1:13). The apostle Peter said, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11).
God thought it so important that those who made known his will should do so just as it was given, that he did not permit them to speak except by a direct revelation from him. Before leaving this earth Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth, and hold them that when they were brought before the judges of this earth to "take no thought of what ye shall speak: for it shall be given unto you that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you" (Matt. 10:18-20). Just before his ascension he told his disciples to tarry in Jerusalem "until ye be endued with power from on high." Ten days thereafter he sent the Holy Spirit upon them, "And they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." Jesus did not want them to deviate in the least from what he told them to speak. We do not wonder then that the apostles urged their readers to hold fast the form of "sound words," and to speak "as the oracles of God" directed. If they were living on the earth today and were to listen to the babble of tongues in this so-called "Christian world" they would be astonished to know how little their admonition had been heeded.
Time does not permit me to call attention to the many terms that are used now almost daily by the religious world which are wholly foreign to the word of God. Any effort to do so would be almost equivalent to compiling a dictionary. I do want to suggest a few terms however which are in common use, contrary to the "sound words" of the New Testament.
I call attention first to the many high sounding titles which the religious teachers have arrogated to themselves. These are so numerous that I could not mention all of them if I tried. Some of the more common terms are reverend, doctor, father, and such like. Let no one think that I have a prejudice against these terms. This is not my reason for disdaining them. My objection is that they are never used in the word of God to designate religious teachers. I cannot so use such terms and still "hold fast the form of sound words;" nor can I do so and yet speak "as the oracles of God." Of course, I would like to be reverend and consecrated in my life and practice. Indeed, I try to show reverence for God in all that I do. But for me to assume the title of reverend, a term which is applied exclusively to God in the Holy Scriptures (Ps. 111:9), would be presumptuous. I would be afraid to do so, no matter how much I might desire it. Furthermore, I cannot conscientiously apply this term to any other man of this earth. In Matt. 23:8-12 we hear Jesus saying, "But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father which is in heaven. Neither be ye called master: for one is your master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." I simply cannot fly in the face of this language uttered by the Son of God and call any man on earth by these terms, religiously.
There can be but one reason for men arrogating to themselves so many different titles of honor: they love the praises of men. At no time did any of the apostles ever begin a letter by such terms as "The Reverend Peter," or "Doctor Paul," or any other title of a similar nature. Instead, they always began by saying, "Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ," or "Simon Peter, a bondservant of Jesus Christ." Even James and Jude, who were half brothers to our Lord, according to the flesh, began their letters by using the same manner of address. They never arrogated to themselves any worldly honor because of their blood relationship to Christ; neither did they adopt any flattering titles for use in courting the favors of men. Instead, they both spoke of themselves as "bondservants of Jesus Christ."
Furthermore, the Bible never refers to the man who preaches for a particular congregation as "the pastor." In fact the New Testament never uses the term "pastor" in the singular number. It is a term used to designate the bishops or elders of a congregation. Here it will be necessary to explain that in the New Testament the bishops, elders, and pastors were the same men. This will be clearly seen by a casual reading of Acts 20. In verse seventeen we read that Paul sent for the "elders of the church" at Ephesus to come down to Miletus. When they arrived he said to them, "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood" (vs. 28). Here he addresses the elders as the bishops, and tells them to "feed the flock." The expression "feed" is a term which literally means "to be shepherds" to the flock, or "to be pastors" of the flock. Hence, the elders, bishops and pastors were the same men in Paul's time. Each congregation had a plurality of such men who served as the overseers of the congregation. There was no such thing as one pastor over one congregation, with one elder over a large number of congregations, and one bishop over a still larger number of congregations. We are certainly not holding to the "form of sound words" when we set up a system of this kind.
Almost every day I receive letters addressed to "the pastor" of the Denver Heights Church of Christ; or to "Reverend Wilson;" or to "Doctor Wilson." Very naturally I do not become offended at those who thus address me. Indeed they do not mean to offend me, but rather to flatter me. They have been taught that this is the proper manner in which they should refer to a preacher of the gospel. The fact however that people seek to do me such honor does not excuse me before God for accepting it without any effort to teach them better. I am sure that those who have been listening to these broadcasts have noticed that the announcer always refers to me as "L. R. Wilson," or "Mr. Wilson." This is because I have asked him to speak of me in this manner. This places me on a common level with all the rest of you. I have no desire to place myself on a pedestal above anyone else. If you want to call me your brother I feel complimented and grateful to you for so doing. But if you had rather call me "Mister," or if you prefer to use no term whatever, other than my name, that is perfectly all right with me. My only desire is to live a humble, devoted Christian life, striving to render the greatest service I possibly can. I am not the "pastor" of the Denver Heights Church of Christ. I am not even one of the pastors. I am a minister of the congregation, but I am not "the" minister. The word minister signifies servant; and this is what I am. However, I am only one of the servants of the congregation. There are others beside myself who are trying also to serve God and the congregation.
Another instance of our loose manner of speech is that of the special dates and events observed by the religious world. The apostle Paul warned the Galatian Christians against the observance of any special days, saying, "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain" (Gal. 4:10-11). We have come to observe so many days in honor of men and events that we have lost sight of the real significance of the Lord's day. In the time of the apostles not one Lord's day had any significance over the other. Each Lord's day was a monument to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Since this is the greatest event in all history we should never lose sight of its significance. Let me further remind you that the Lord's day was never called the Christian sabbath. It was always spoken of as the Lord's day or the first day of the week. If we hold fast the form of "sound words" we will speak of it in the same way.
So many "holy days" have been created by men in recent years that it is difficult for the average person to keep up with them. I have no desire to become a "grouch," or a misfit in society. Indeed, I would much prefer to be on the popular side of every question; but I cannot conscientiously plead for a return to the Bible as an infallible guide in matters of religion without calling attention to the numerous departures that have grown up since the time of the apostles. From the ado we make about "Easter Sunday" it would appear that God has laid upon us special requirements and obligations for its observance. The Bible knows no more about Easter Sunday or Mothers' Day than it does the Fourth of July. It is unfortunate that the translators of the King James Version gave us the term Easter one time when they should have rendered it Passover. Fortunately the American Standard Version has corrected this error, so that no one need be misled by it. Everyone knows that Easter grew out of a combination of traditions which were held in the early centuries of our present era. I am glad, of course, to see everybody attend church, at least once a year, but it would be so much better if they would make on honest, sincere effort to attend every Lord's day in the year. We might succeed better in accomplishing this purpose if we would stress the importance of attending every service rather than on special occasions.
While calling your attention to our loose speech, which has resulted in a great deal of loose practice, it may be well to call attention to such expressions as "get religion" and "join the church." We hear these terms used so often that one would think they can be read on almost every page of the Bible, if he did not actually know better. No inspired writer ever used either of these terms. The apostles and evangelists of the New Testament talked about obedience to the gospel and being added to the church. They did not encourage the idea of trying to "got" something and then picking out something to "join." Instead, they stressed the importance of doing something and leaving it with the Lord to put us into what he thought best.
Sometimes I am reminded that we are not under any obligation to observe the "letter of the law," as long as we observe the spirit of it. I am told that it does not matter so much about what we believe or practice just so our heart is right. The trouble with such sophistry is that one's heart is not right when he refuses to comply with the will of God. When the inspired writers admonish us to hold fast to the form of "sound words," and to speak as the "oracles of God," and we give no heed whatever to such, our hearts are not right with God. Do not think I am your enemy because I call your attention to these matters. I am not trying to stir up trouble for anybody. I am merely stressing the need of loyalty to Christ and his word.
-The Bible Banner, April, 1944