“If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Cor. 14:8)
Cliché: (n.)- a phrase, opinion or trite stereotyped expression that is over used and betrays a lack of original thought.
If Loren and Darlene Cunningham were ever asked to give a soundbite reason for the success of Youth With A Mission, they would simply say, “Hear and obey the Word of the Lord.” Many things can hinder our “hearing” this “Word” to us. I would like to call attention to one — the cliché. While some of these “trite, stereotyped expressions” are harmless (i.e. “Cleanliness is next to godliness”) others, especially when used out of context, can muffle our hearing the “clear call” the apostle mentions above as well as cloud our understanding of God’s character. At the risk of stepping on some toes, let’s put some clichés into a biblical meat-grinder:
- We must accept Jesus into our hearts to go to heaven. As an evangelist I have used this one myself at many an altar call. I must admit, however, that while it may communicate some truth, in the Bible Jesus knocking at the door is an image of Him trying to get into His own church (Rev. 3:20).
- You must become a Christian to go to heaven. This is especially problematic in evangelizing Muslims because of the baggage the word “Christian” carries. Perhaps we could begin by speaking to them about the “Isa” (Jesus) in the Koran (though inaccurate) and disciple them into the biblical requirement to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Acts 16:31).
- God is always in a good mood. Is He? How can we say such a thing in light of the sin, pain and suffering that He sees every day. God is not, as He is portrayed by some, as an “unmoved mover” (Aristotle) or as unrelatable as a stone pillar (Aquinas), but a Person who has chosen to feel our pain, suffer with us and relate to us on a personal level. He is a “most moved Mover,” not a metaphysical iceberg! We could just as easily say He is always in a bad mood if we rely on reason instead of revelation.
- God loves everyone the same. Does He? Yes and no. Did God so love the whole world and display it at the cross (Jn. 3:16, 1 Jn. 2:2 )? Yes. A good biblical definition of God’s love is to will the highest good of love’s object. But does this suggest God has the same degree of fond affection for ISIS terrorists, Boston Marathon bombers or human traffickers? While He still desires their “highest good,” His righteous wrath awaits those who sin against the objects of his Fatherly love. God is not a transactional banker in the sky, but while loving the world, seems to — dare I say — put “conditions” on receiving His love (Jn.14:21,15:10, 16:27; Jude 21).
So what to do? Throw out all clichés? No. I would, however suggest the following:
- “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21). The Bereans were called “noble” because they “received the message with great eagerness and searched the Scriptures every day…” to put to the test the teaching of even the great apostle Paul (Acts 17:11). John Wesley taught his young preachers to use his “Quadrilateral” of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience to put not only clichés, but all things to the test, regardless of who the vessel is. We must walk in the fear of the Lord, not the fear of man, regardless of how charismatic or famous the person is.
- Jesus told us not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). We must live by the Word of the Lord, not by cliché, and practice what Salvation Army Founder William Booth called the “knee drill” — that is, knees on the ground and ears towards Heaven. Keeping in mind that God speaks in many ways (His direct voice to us, Scripture, circumstances, wise counsel, visions, dreams, angels and even our own God-glorifying personal desires) we must press in for His Word to us and simply obey.
- Don’t be afraid to use appropriate clichés. “To Know God and Make Him Known” is our YWAM motto/cliché and effectively sums up our call and mission. CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) has used “Today the Campus, Tomorrow the World” as an appropriate rallying cry for their obedience to the Word that God gave to them. Likewise the Salvation Army’s “Soup, Soap and Salvation” accurately describes the Army’s ministry to body and soul. Just keep in mind clichés are to supplement the Word of the Lord and not be a substitute for it.