MALAPROPISMS AND THINKING ABOUT THE CHURCH
Likely, I should be among the last to write under the above heading. I did not grow up in a family that always used correct grammar or that always used a word in the right sense. All who speak and write are susceptible of inadvertently using the wrong word, to being “off” in their thinking, and to not expressing themselves either orally or in writing as clearly as they might like. Yet, those of us who speak and write to advance the cause of Christ should strive for accuracy—in our thinking, in our speaking, and in our writing.
A malapropism is “misusing words, especially by the confusion of words that are similar in sound.” Many years ago in Clarksville, Tennessee I was preaching on the Lord’s Supper and made mention of a congregation that had two large silver “gobblers” from which the fruit of the vine was served—one for each side of the two sections of pews in the auditorium! I, of course, meant two large silver goblets.
I once read an article in a brotherhood publication in which the writer, an able preacher of the gospel, spoke of “sclerosis” of the liver. I think he meant “cirrhosis” of the liver. Too, it was ten lepers that Jesus healed, not ten leopards, as I once heard a fellow say.
In a book I recently read the author (with a Ph.D. from a large and reputable midwestern state university and an advanced degree from Harvard Divinity School), spoke of his “fraternal” grandparents. We have “paternal” grandparents (our father’s family) and “maternal” grandparents (our mother’s family),” but not “fraternal” (relating to brothers) grandparents!
The same person referenced in the preceding paragraph recently sent me an email in which he said I had provided good “antidotal” evidence of a particular matter about which I was writing. He, of course, meant “anecdotal” evidence. While “antidote” is a word, it has nothing to do with “anecdote,” and there is no such word as “antidotal.”
A fellow in Alabama was explaining to his preacher why he and his wife were not in church the previous Sunday. He said they had gone to Birmingham to visit his niece who had had major surgery. He said, “Yeah, she had to have a complete ‘histerectum.’ They took out ‘everthang’—‘ovals’ and all!” Even a preacher has to be pretty straight-laced not to completely explode with laughter at such mis-use of words.
Now let’s think about the church—how we speak and write about it. In reading the New Testament, I have never found an English translation that capitalizes the word “church.” The reason for this is easy enough to understand—it is not a proper name, but one of several terms employed in scripture to refer to those redeemed from their sins by the blood of Christ. Other terms used to refer to the same people are “body of Christ,” “kingdom of God,” “kingdom of heaven,” “temple of God,” and “family of God.” “Body,” “kingdom,” “temple,” and “family” are not capitalized for the same reason that “church” is not capitalized.
God’s people have no one, exclusive, patented name. “Church of Christ” is not the name of the New Testament church, as a cursory reading of the New Testament so clearly reveals. When the church is spoken of in either its general, universal sense, or with reference to a particular geographical location, the word “church” is always spelled with a lower case “c.” Yet, because the Lord’s church exists in a denominational climate, it is hard for many members not to be influenced by denominational thinking and to speak and write of it with a kind of denominational consciousness.
I am not “Church of Christ” in my religious affiliation as opposed to being Baptist or Methodist. I am not a “Church of Christ” preacher and I do not belong to a “Church of Christ” congregation (which is the same as saying a “Church of Christ” church). There are no such things as “Church of Christ” colleges and “Church of Christ” periodicals. Only those who have not taken the time or made the effort to “think through” these matters and to see the church from a purely New Testament perspective speak and write in such a fashion.
At the same time, a local church of Christ may certainly be a legal, incorporated entity in order to own property, etc. In this case, it is proper to write of it as, for example, the “Westside Church of Christ.” Here we are talking about a legal entity that has identified itself with a proper name, and correct grammar requires the capitalization of “Church” since it is a part of the proper name of the legal entity. The same would be true of any signage in front of the meeting place. Yet, in an effort to appear not to be using the word “church” in a denominational sense, I often see it written as the “Westside church of Christ.” This, no doubt, is a reaction to what I have earlier said about capitalizing the word “church,” but in this case capitalization is not only in order, it is the grammatically correct thing to do.
Please be assured that it has not been my purpose in this essay to be hypercritical or nit-picky. These are not matters over which we should draw lines of fellowship. On the other hand, they do involve matters greatly affecting our effectiveness in advancing New Testament Christianity in its purity and simplicity. All Christians need to strive to have a clear, biblical concept of the church. We need to be clear in our thinking, clear in our speaking, and clear in our writing. And rather than passing lightly over these matters or becoming defensive about them, we need to be willing to take the time to study and think through these things. All of us probably have something to learn about these matters. We therefore need to have a humble and teachable attitude.
Of Paul and Barnabas it is said that they “so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1, emphasis mine). Let those of us who preach, teach, and write for the advancement and defense of undenominational Christianity endeavor to do the same.
February 28, 2017