As a child I had some prototypical heroes like The Flash, Superman, and Bo Jackson, a perfect combination of the two. My biggest childhood hero, though, was someone a little different. He was 6’4” and 245 lbs. with long flowing blonde hair and extravagant robes. He was also, throughout most of my formative years, the heavyweight champion of the world, Nature Boy Ric Flair! The thing that stood out to me about him was not his wrestling or even his flamboyant lifestyle; it was the way he talked. He had an array of catchphrases that stood out when he was interviewed. He was famous for saying that he was a “wheeling dealing, kiss stealing, jet flying, limousine riding,” champion. Most notably, he ended every interview with a “WHOOOO!” These phrases jumped out and grabbed my attention as a child, but as I have grown I realize that they have no real meaning. Having said that, do not disrespect Ric Flair, or you could end up in a figure four leg lock!
I sometimes fear that our faith has also become defined by a few catchphrases that lack meaning. CNN blogger John Blake expressed the idea this way in a July 2011 post: “Have you told anyone “I’m born again?” Have you “walked the aisle” to “pray the prayer?” Did you ever “name and claim” something and, after getting it, announce, “I’m highly blessed and favored?” Many Americans are bilingual. They speak a secular language of sports talk, celebrity gossip and current events. But mention religion and some become armchair preachers who pepper their conversations with popular Christian words and trendy theological phrases. If this is you, some Christian pastors and scholars have some bad news: You may not know what you’re talking about. They say that many contemporary Christians have become pious parrots. They constantly repeat Christian phrases that they don’t understand or distort.”
As Christians the words that we use are very important; the Bible is very clear on this point (James 3:1-12; Eph. 4:29, etc.). When we discuss spiritual things, they need to be meaningful and useful to those that are hearing them. I believe there are a few things we can avoid so that we are not “Catchphrase Christians” and can grow into the mature disciples God has called us to be!
Avoid Unnecessary Eloquence
This is a tough one. From a young age we are taught that anything we present in public should be impressively worded. I think eloquence is a gift and should be counted as such. A more important, gift, however, is the ability to clearly articulate a thought. I believe that we are far too concerned with how we sound as opposed to what we are saying. When we stand before God’s people to lead a prayer or present a sermon, we should use our normal speaking voices and vocabularies. If we don’t use “thee, thou, or thy” in our normal conversations, there is no need to insert these words into the church setting. They are no more holy or spiritual than “you or your.”
Avoid Repetition in Prayer
Jesus discussed repetition during the Sermon on the Mount: “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matt. 6:7 NKJV). The ESV translates vain repetitions as “empty phrases,” and the NIV says to not “keep on babbling.” When we pray to God, it should be completely from the heart; this does not change when we lead in public assembly. We should be teaching children from a young age to not use catchphrases when going to God. I would much rather hear someone leading a prayer run out of words to say than say something that was meaningless. Paul told the Romans to not worry when they did not know exactly what to say because the Spirit makes intercession for us when cannot articulate the things we really want to express (Rom. 8:26). Let’s make a special effort to remember the “boys on foreign soil,” pray for the “sick and afflicted the world over,” and “meet back at the next appointed hour” in a genuine way that stays away from vain repetition.
Avoid Being a Sound Bite Evangelist
Preachers love to be quoted! When a church member posts an excerpt from the sermon on social media on Sunday afternoon, the preacher swells with pride because he was able to impact their thinking so much that it earned a Facebook status or tweet! It is a wonderful thing to be quoted, but hopefully it is not the singular mission of presenting a lesson. We should be preaching coherent thoughts and clear points with the understanding that the Gospel has the power to save (Rom. 1:16), and the only sound bites we need are the words of God preached in their proper context! This should also translate to the personal evangelistic work of each Christian. It is fantastic to share that we “call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways” and describe baptism as a “watery grave,” but we need to be using scripture as opposed to popular or overused catchphrases.
Avoid Using Only Proof Texts
There is a temptation when presenting lessons or studying the Bible with someone to use a proof text to make a point. Don’t get me wrong; I think there are verses that are central to the understanding of certain subjects (i.e. using Acts 2:38 to talk about baptism for the remission of sins), but it is crucial to be equipped to tell the whole story as opposed to using one text. It is simple to ignore one passage or claim that it is being used out of context, but the Bible paints the whole picture and we must share that picture to convict the hearts of those living outside of Christ!
There is nothing more important to the work of the Church than genuineness. Paul told the Corinthians “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:1-2 NKJV). The worst thing we can become is “pious parrots” spouting popular religious catchphrases. We need to quote scripture and let God’s Word do the talking!
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