Christian Living

Confusing Words That Mean Different Things to Different People

We Must Be Careful with the Words We Use

We must exercise caution with using these confusing words. These terms are more likely to cause confusion than clarity.

Consider the word cleave. It can mean to split apart or to come together. If a couple decides to cleave, what does that mean? Are they breaking up or committing to one another. Without clarification, we can’t know. Even worse, two people could draw opposite conclusions about what’s happening.

Here are some confusing words that I try to avoid in my writing. And if I must use them, I strive to make my meaning clear.


The first of our confusing words is charismatic. Its primary, general meaning is a person full of charisma, signifying their charm, magnetism, or enthusiasm.

Its second meaning refers to a branch of Christianity which emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit’s power within people. This includes speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing.

If we say that a minister is charismatic, either definition applies. As a result, it’s unclear if we’re talking about a personal characteristic or a spiritual perspective.


The second of our confusing words is progressive. In a general sense, it means moving forward, advancing, or open to new ideas. On the surface, these things seem positive.

Yet progressive often applies to politics, as well as education and economics.

If we say a church is progressive what does that mean? Is this a political statement or a spiritual mindset? Usually when I listen to progressive Christians, it’s a nice-sounding way to say they’re politically correct.


The word modern came up as a confusing word when I wrote my dissertation.

In a general sense, modern means relating to the present. Yet we also talk about the modern era, in contrast to the pre-modern era that preceded it or the postmodern era that follows it. Our world has largely left the modern era and moved into the postmodern one.

When we talk about a modern church, what does this mean? Is it a present-day church or one that’s stuck in the past—in the modern era—and resists postmodernity?


The word contemporary is another one of our confusing words. It’s used in the definition of modern. But contemporary is not without its own set of confusions.

When we talk about contemporary architecture, it refers to a style that started in the 1960s and continued into the 1990s. Though contemporary architecture still exists today, we primarily see it as dated, emanating from a prior era.

The same is true when the church talks about playing contemporary music. It’s more of a style than the music of our world’s present day.

Then there’s contemporary church services. At best this means they’re not traditional, yet these contemporary services often fall short of befitting present-day perspectives.


Liberal is another word that often causes confusion. In one sense it means generous. In another sense it’s a political perspective. In the third sense it’s progressive (see above).

So what does it mean when we talk about a liberal church or a liberal Christian? Ideally, it should reflect generosity. Yet it seldom does. Instead, it carries with it the connotations of liberal politics or progressivism.


For the penultimate word—another confusing word, which means second to last—we’ll talk about conservative. Conservative is the opposite of liberal. Or is it? The answer lies within how we define it.

Conservative can be in embrace of traditional values. From a Christian perspective this means embracing a biblical worldview.

Evangelical Christians—which we’ll cover in our final word—embrace a conservative perspective in studying, understanding, and applying scripture. Yet, for many the idea of a conservative Christian carries a political label and not a spiritual one.


The final one of our confusing words is evangelical. Evangelical is an embrace of the good news of Jesus and telling others about him. It’s that simple.

But to the world, many consider evangelical as a political label. And, indeed, it is increasingly that. In the past few decades well-meaning (and fearful) evangelicals took a stand against things, embracing politics to accomplish their goal.

As a result, evangelicals have become known for what they stand against, and not what they stand for: telling the world about Jesus and showing them his love.

Moving Forward

Our list of confusing words includes charismatic, progressive, modern, contemporary, liberal, conservative, and evangelical.

To communicate clearly, we must use these words with care. If we don’t, we’ll confuse the people we talk to. And what good is that?

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Christian Living

Let Us Pray: Fold Your Hands, Close Your Eyes, and Bow Your Head

Discover a Biblical Perspective for Prayer

My parents taught me the proper posture for prayer: to fold your hands, close your eyes, and bow your head. These emerged as three steps I must take before I talked to God. I inferred that if I didn’t do all three, the Almighty would not hear me or answer my prayers.

This perspective is standard in church and permeates society. Most everyone, both the churched and unchurched, knows to close their eyes and bow their heads when someone else prays. And many also fold their hands.

There are practical reasons, I suppose, to teach kids to do these three things when they pray.

Fold Your Hands

Children with hands folded keep them from wayward action. This might prevent them from poking their sibling without their parents’ watchful eyes to stop them or popping food into their mouth before the meal’s blessing is complete.

Hands folded are hands not getting into trouble.

But I wonder if raised arms and open hands might be a preferred action.

Close Your Eyes

Keeping our eyes shut removes us from distraction, which helps us focus on God and the words of the prayer—at least in theory. This doesn’t work for me.

If I close my eyes when hearing a prayer made in public, I have one concern: what’s happening around me that I can’t see? This is especially true at restaurants. If I’m the one praying, I make it as short as possible to minimize my distress in not knowing what those moving about are doing. And when others pray, I silently implore them to finish fast. I seldom connect with or even hear these prayers.

My solution is to pray with eyes open. This works best for me.

Bow Your Heads

To lower our heads during prayer portrays reverence.

As a young child, I know one man in our church who did the opposite. During our minister’s congregational prayer each Sunday, this man raised his head, as if gazing toward heaven. I saw this as the ultimate sign of worship. I admired him for it.

How do I know this? Simple, I kept my eyes open during the prayer. But my parents didn’t know this because they kept theirs closed.

What Does the Bible Say?

Scripture never tells us to do any of these three physical acts before we pray.

When Jesus’s disciples asked them to teach them how the pray, he didn’t begin by saying to first fold your hands, close your eyes, and bow your heads (Luke 11:1-4). He simply began talking to Papa, “Our father . . .” (Matthew 6:9-13).

Notice that in both biblical accounts of Jesus giving his followers a prayer to emulate, there is not in “amen” at the end. This is another thing to contemplate as we reform our prayers.

The Intent of Prayer

The goal of prayer is communicating with God. Our physical carriage is not an issue. Our connection with our Creator is. Our words matter so much more than our physical positioning, like to fold your hands.

When we pray, we can fold our hands or raise our arms. We can close our eyes or keep them open. We can bow our heads, gaze towards heaven, or do neither.

When we pray, we should adopt whatever posture will best allow us to talk with God. This is the right way to pray.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bible Insights

Is Our Relationship With God More Important Than Obedience?

The Old Testament Law Talks about Offering Sacrifices to God, but What If He Wants More?

King Solomon writes in the book of Ecclesiastes that we need to be careful when approaching God. “Guard your steps,” he says. This is wise advice.

Then he adds something more: “Go near to listen.” He even places listening over offering God the prescribed sacrifices. Though the Old Testament Law gives many commands about offering God our sacrifices, I don’t recall one that tells us to listen.

Yet Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, places listening to God over offering sacrifices to him.

Listening is about connecting. Solomon realizes God wants a relationship with us. He talks to us, and when we listen, we hear his voice, his words.

Communication with God isn’t a one-way street, with us just asking him (praying) for things. God can communicate to us, too, through the Bible and through his Holy Spirit, “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12, NIV) or his “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12, KJV).

In Psalms we read we need to “be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10). That is the best way to listen to God. That’s what he wants from us: our ears, our attention, a relationship.

Our relationship with God starts when we listen to him.

Ask yourself: How do you listen to God? How does God speak to you?

[Read thro the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Ecclesiastes 4-6, today’s post is on Ecclesiastes 5:1.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Christian Living

We Need to Stop Interpreting Scripture Through the Lens of Our Practices

The Bible should inform our actions, not justify our habits

Christianity has its traditions and religious practices. We often persist in them with unexamined acceptance. And if we do question our behaviors, we can often find a verse in the Bible to justify them. But that doesn’t make them right.

The Lens of Scripture

We need to interpret the Bible through the lens of Scripture and not from the perspective of our own practices. The Bible is the starting point, not the ending. When we begin with what we do today and work backwards, looking to the Bible for support, we will usually find it, but we may be in error.

Consider the following.

Church Attendance

The Bible says to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Most people interpret this as a command to go to church. That’s not what the verse says. This command is a call to Christian community.

This may happen at church on a Sunday morning, but it could also happen at a different location the other 167 hours of the week. This meeting together thing happens whenever two or three are gathered in his name.

The point of this verse is that we shouldn’t attempt to live our faith in isolation.


Another area is our practice of communion. We even read the Bible when we partake. This makes us wrongly conclude that our celebration of communion is biblical. It’s not. The context of communion is at home with family, not as part of a church service. We’re doing communion wrong.


Why do we have a sermon every Sunday at church? Because it’s in the Bible, right? Yet biblical preaching is to those outside the church.

You’ve heard the phrase, “preaching to the choir,” which is understood as the futility of telling people the things they already know. Yet preaching to the choir is effectively what we do at most churches every Sunday. Preaching is for people outside the church.

Worship Music

Why does a significant portion of our Sunday service include music? While singing to God is prevalent throughout the Bible, it’s interesting to note that nowhere in the New Testament is the use of musical instruments mentioned.

Does this mean our singing to God should be a capella? It’s worth considering.

And the idea of having a worship leader is also an anathema to the biblical narrative. When we gather together we should all be prepared to share and to participate, which might include leading the group in a song.

Sunday School

The justification for Sunday School—aside from tradition and “that’s the way we’ve always done it”—often comes from the Old Testament verses to train up a child (Proverbs 22:6) and teach your children (Deuteronomy 11:19 and Deuteronomy 6:6-8).

But who’s to do this training? The parents. Delegating this critical job to the church is lazy parenting.

But if we’re going to persist in the practice, let’s at least give Sunday School a meaningful purpose.


Giving 10 percent is an Old Testament thing. The New Testament never commands us to tithe. Think about that the next time you hear a minister say we’re supposed to give 10 percent to the local church. That’s wrong. Though tithing might be a spiritual discipline, it’s not a command.


Though there is some basis for the Sunday offering, we’ve co-opted it into something it wasn’t meant to be. Paul’s instruction to take up a collection each week was for the express purpose of giving money to those in need (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). How much of a church’s weekly offering goes to that?

Church Buildings

Though the Old Testament had their Temple and the Jewish people added synagogues, the New Testament followers of Jesus met in homes and sought to connect with others in public spaces.

The idea of building churches didn’t occur until a few centuries later. Church facilities cost a lot of money and take a lot of time, distracting us from what is more important.

Paid Staff

The concept of professional, paid clergy also didn’t occur until a couple centuries after the early church started. Peter tells us that we are all priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9), and Paul tells us that we should minister to each other (1 Corinthians 14:26).

When we pay staff to do what we’re supposed to be doing ourselves, we’re subjugating our responsibility and acting with laziness. Paul set a great example, often paying his own way on his missionary journeys. Today’s ministers should consider this. Seriously.

Read the Bible

Prior posts have touched on these subjects in greater detail. They might be worth considering as you contemplate the above items. We persist in these practices out of habit and under the assumption that the Bible commands us to do so.

We conclude this because we read the Bible wearing blinders, focusing our attention on our practices and seeking to find them supported in the Bible.

It’s time we reexamine everything we do through the lens of Scripture and make needed changes. And if we do, it will be a game-changer.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.


Visiting Churches

Confusing Signals but with a Good Result (Visiting Church #35)

Two weeks ago we stumbled upon this church. They are new to us, not coming up in any of our research. Once we know their name, my wife finds them on Facebook, confirming their location, but nothing else.

Their denomination’s website lists service times, but no contact information. Candy sends them two Facebook messages (our only means of contact), but there’s no response.

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

I wonder if they even want visitors.

We arrive to a pleasant sight: cars in the parking lot. We pull into one of the last remaining spaces and walk towards the entrance. Once inside, no one greets us. Everyone is sitting and people are singing. Confused, I check the time; we think we’re early but seem to be late.

We slink in, easing into the last row. I nod at the man to my left and try to smile. He returns the courtesy but then looks away. The song ends and nothing happens. We sit in complete silence.

We squirm for about ten minutes, and finally the service starts for real. We open with a hymn and hear a message from Zechariah; then we take Holy Communion. They share the bread in typical fashion, but skip the cup.

Perplexed, I feel I’ve only received half of communion. Is omitting the wine a theological statement or a practice of convenience?

The service ends. Only then do people talk. Up to this point, they’d been stoic, but now they’re friendly. Many introduce themselves, ask our names, and thank us for visiting.

I’m appreciative of worshiping with them today and glad we went despite a lack of communication.

Today we worshiped God—and isn’t that the point?

[Read about Church #34 and Church #36, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #35.]

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Christian Living

Not Another Communion Sunday

We Should Celebrate the Lord’s Supper to Remember What Jesus Did for Us

Holy Communion (also known as the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist) is a time of celebration. In this we remember what Jesus did for us when he died in our place for the things we did wrong. In doing so, he reconciled us with the Father.

His act of ultimate love for us is the foundation of our Christian faith.

Given this, you’d think I’d look forward to another Communion Sunday. I don’t.

Though I try to anticipate the Lord’s Supper, enjoy its rich symbolism, and connect with God, I struggle. I most always fall short. When I take communion, God seems distant—at the very time we should be the closest

The problem for me is the ritual. I know that some of you relish the ritual of the Eucharist. You find deep, profound meaning in its practice. I’m so happy for you. Unfortunately, the repetition of the ritual pushes me away. It serves as a wedge between God and me.

Not Another Communion Sunday

A few weeks ago, I walked into church and saw it configured for communion. I groaned inwardly. “Not another Communion Sunday.” At least I hope it was inwardly.

This church seems to practice communion about once a month. Sometimes the message connects with it, albeit in a tangential form, and other times it doesn’t—or if it does, I miss it.

The Lord’s Supper unfolds not so much as a celebration but as an obligation. It’s mechanical. It’s something to check off our to-do list before we wrap up the service.

I’ve been to other churches that have Communion about once a quarter, while others do it weekly. And I went to one church that tried doing it every other week.

There they worked to make it significant, but the effect was a mini sermon about communion after we already heard a full-length sermon about something else. My mind wasn’t in a listening mode.

No schedule seems right to me. This is why, when I looked at the biblical history behind communion, I suspected it should be an annual event, just like Passover.

Frequency Isn’t the Issue

At first, I suspected that I’ve simply been to too many Communion services over the years for it to ever be something I’d anticipate and that would connect me with God. Often the church liturgy—whether a formal one or merely a rut that leaders have slipped into—uses the phrase “celebrate Communion.”

Celebration, however, seems far from what takes place. If someone told me they wanted to celebrate my birthday and it proceeded like a typical communion service, I would say, “No thank you,” as politely as I could. Then I would do my best to avoid it.

Friday Night Pizza

Something I do look forward to in our family is Friday night pizza. Most every week we get together with our children and grandchildren to share a meal, celebrate life, and enjoy each other’s company. This is the highlight of my week.

For those few weeks where our schedules don’t align, I have a weighty dread that something profound is missing.

Why can’t I anticipate Sunday communion the same way I anticipate Friday night pizza? The reason is they are completely different. One is boring, and the other is exciting.

One unfolds like a solemn funeral march (in the way it is, because, after all, Jesus did die), and the other is a raucous embrace of family. One lasts a few minutes before we leave the church service, and the other can go on for hours as we enjoy community.

The Next Step

If only Sunday Communion could be more like Friday night pizza, then my attitude would be different. I’d approach Communion with expectation and make sure I never missed it.

While some may find offense that I compared the ritual of another Sunday Communion to the joy of my family’s weekly practice of Friday night pizza, we can learn from this. We need to make the first more like the second.

Then communion—which, by the way, started out as part of a meal—can become the celebration it should be.

How we make this happen in a church service, however, presents a significant challenge. There is simply too much ingrained historical baggage to overcome.

That’s why I advocated we bring the celebration of communion into our homes to enjoy with family and friends, as part of a meal, just like the first communion and just like Passover that preceded it.

When we do this, our attitude will shift from moaning “Not another Communion Sunday” to exclaiming “It’s another communion Sunday!”

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.