When Good Words Are Ruined

While the world was mired in World War II in the 1940’s, a series of columns begin to appear in a now defunct newspaper called The Guardian. The author of this series was by C. S. Lewis of whom I read after for a number of years now. C. S. Lewis will force a man to think and even lean to the dastardly proclivity of discernment, which has been labeled as a bad thing lately. We user-friendly, password, “don’t give me a manual” type personas have some disdain for thinking. The sort of check your brains in at the door mentality has led to some grief here and there.

When one looks at history, this is not a recent development as one might want or even be inclined to think. The greatest spiritual battlefield is between our ears. It is not Hollywood, the media, the political system, or you-fill-in-the-blank that is the greatest area of spiritual warfare. All of these things have their merit in the spiritual battle but they are nothing more than accomplices to the spiritual battle that occurs in a man’s mind. Trace it out and you will find that the earliest casualty of sin was found when the doubt poisoned the mind. Once the serpent had let the venom of a lie explode in the mind of Eve all other activities of failure simply followed gravity.

Back to Lewis. . . . His little columns ended up becoming a collection of thirty-one little letters. Lewis used his imagination along with some solid Scriptural understandings and formed two characters. Wormwood and Screwtape are vividly brought to life as Lewis drags them out from under their rocks fresh from the Abyss. Wormwood is the nephew and Screwtape is the “affectionate uncle” and both are literally twisted angels, in other words, they are demons on the loose. Screwtape has decidedly determined to “school” his young protégé at how to trip up humans (or vermin) in their attempts to serve God.

At times the conversation is reminiscent of 7th grade immaturity and mirth between the two but what is so alarming about the book is that the advice being dispensed is deadly in a spiritual sense. Over the years, I periodically sit down and refresh again my thoughts of how that the enemy is still at war in very subtle but effective ways with every man who is walking this path of faith.

In the last few days, one of the methods that Screwtape “enlightens” (or should we say “de-lightens) Wormwood is by corrupting good words. Screwtape writes of the Philological Arm of Hell and how it works. In our modern era this word would probably be better interchanged with linguistics. The Philogical Arm is the study of literature and the disciplines surrounding it. While this does not make much sense that the devil would want to study literature, what does make sense is that more importantly he wants to study what words mean and then daringly but subtly change what the meaning of the word really conveys.

Screwtape informs Wormwood that he needs to take some of the great virtues and associate them with bad “feelings.” If there can be subtle but effective associations that will create bad perceptions or associations so the word can longer have any useful benefit then the job has been done effectively.

One such example that Lewis cites is the word “ascetical.” Instead of the full thought of the word being associated with the discipline that one would be submitted to as Paul infers in 2 Timothy 2, the association must be changed. Instead of it referring to a faithful teacher, focused soldier, a patient farmer, or diligent workman, this “ascetical” life now is made to look like a wild-eyed, disenchanted, crazy mad-man. Make those who are separated to the Gospel look like cult figures in Jim Jones or David Koresh caricatures. “See my dear Wormwood, while we know the great value of living under the values of godliness and righteousness, our lexicographers destroys the hopes of any wanting to pursue such a course in life. We know that this sort of focused life creates great power but by changing the association of the word, it makes it hard for many to want to buy into it. It sounds too extreme.”

As I read through Lewis’ musings it came to my mind that a whole lot of good words have been changed by association in our generation. The more I thought about it the more I understood how the greatest spiritual battlefield does indeed rest between our ears. Clearly understanding that Paul counseled that knowledge would “puffeth up,” (1 Cor. 8:1) I am also queried to balance that caution out with the demand that Paul placed on the New Testament church for discernment (Romans 12:3; Php. 1:9-10; Heb. 5:12-14, etc.).

So with those thoughts rumbling through my mind, I begin to think of some words that the lexicographers from Hell have corrupted for our generation. I pass along this rambling vocabulary for your consideration.

Preaching -- This has been corrupted in several ways. First, you will be hard pressed to find a Joe Blow on the street that has a good association with preaching. Hellish Lexicographical Association: Preaching is pushy, judgmental, harsh, demanding. Preaching is moralistic and creates a wide gulf of separation. So the good word of preaching no longer gets across that there is a life-giving strength and eternal hope spelled out in such a way as to save men from their sins. Another way that preaching has been redefined follows. Hellish Lexicographical Association: Preaching is entirely uplifting, full of blessing, and puts me on a spiritual “high” of feel-good. So the good word of preaching is reduced to warm-fuzzy stories that have been circulated widely in e-mail boxes. The good work of preaching has been diminished when context and hermeneutics have been horribly violated to “encourage” the good folk.

Holiness -- Hellish Lexicographical Association: Prudish, harsh, judgmental folk who sneer at tattoos, body-piercings, and wreckages of sin. They are funny-acting, funny-dressing, funny-talking folk who are dumb as rocks. Watch out for legalistic rule-minders who drag around yard-sticks of condemnation and are ruled by preaching (see above definition part 1) that makes God a horrible and heavy-handed dictator. Instead of allowing the real definition of holiness to be an insatiable hunger for God and the things of His Word, a greater desire to move into avenues of a depth of prayer and revelation, the new inventors make it something that we want to hold at arm’s length.

Ministry -- Hellish Lexicographical Assocation: Big barns, cool lights, nifty Powerpoints, relevance, thousand dollar wardrobes, rigged out cars, and all the other stuff that will be corrupted by rust, eaten by moths, and stolen by thieves. My heart is torn by some of the things that have occurred in the charismatic world in the last few months. While we as Apostolics are widely separated from them in doctrine and lifestyle, the world at large lumps us all together and their view of “ministry” has been soiled by the tawdry evidence. Divorce at will, domestic abuse, extravagant lifestyles, and perverted and salacious living is crippling our credibility. The apostles and the early church were given to prayer, fasting, and ministry of the Word and it turned their world upside down. We must ever remember that the ox is not to be muzzled but at the same time one has to remember that gluttony has to do with more than just food, it has to do with appetite. If Hell can change our job description to something beyond what the pastoral epistles stipulate, particularly 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, we are sunk. Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 4 refers to the ministry as one who are “stewards” or under-rowers of the mysteries of Christ. To further dig into this chapter proves that ministry will be challenging and not always easy.

Doctrine -- Hellish Lexicographical Association: Divisive, useless argument, camel-slapping and gnat-guffawing, dull, impractical (un-relevant, not relevant, lacking relevance), too deep, too demanding, and besides doctrine has now a dirty word. The facts say otherwise. A church and minister that is doctrinally sound has a very solid foundation. Doctrine also keeps one from spiritual error. Just a quick study of the Pauline epistles reveals to us that the Apostle spent much time and energy refuting false doctrine and false teachers. The modern Apostolic church must “nerve up” and face down the errors of our day. Salvation is more than just repentance and baptism, if there is no active evidence of tongues in the initial infilling it becomes another gospel. Paul had his share of miracles, signs, and wonders and he also had his share of solid biblical instruction to the new converts.

I have some other odds and ends but you and I are out of time and I shall not weary you with more.

As always, I am thankful that you have dropped by this blog and read through some of the ramblings.

1 Timothy 4:16 KJV Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.


Anonymous said…
Twisted word meanings are symptomatic of a reprobate society that calls evil good and good evil. Notwithstanding, the WORD is GOD. He is the original Logos. Let every man be a liar, but God is truth. The preacher's job is to declare and define doctrine and holiness based upon God's authentic, primordial word. No other definitions are legitimate. The Bible is our dictionary. Preach on.
Mark McCool said…
This also made me to think of how Discouragement, Doubt, Fear, and Aquiescence (compromise), are always the downward steps that change our mind, our vocabulary, and our witness.

It effects:
1) Our thinking (of who God is and who we are in relation to Him),
2) Our communication (with God, self, and our fellow man),
3) And eventually the way we live our lives as Stewards of His Gospel.

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