A friend of mine noted once that a phase from one of my favorite hymns, “Victory in Jesus,” always makes her laugh because “He plunged me to victory” conjures up the image of a toilet plunger for her. About 95% of the time, when we refer to“plunge” in our contemporary society, we use the word in reference the process of plunging a blocked toilet with a red rubber toilet plunger on a wooden handle. Likewise, when the hymn was written in 1939 and during the time that the author was raised, indoor flushing toilets were still somewhat new in very many homes. As a consequence, the first image to pop into the author’s head was not likely a red toilet plunger, but rather this physical dynamic of water alone. The translation of meaning between the era in which the hymn was written and our current era creates ambiguity.
This natural tendency to understand language first in the context of most familiar usage and within societal context presents a serious consideration for those who communicate the Gospel. Ministers in particular must be mindful of how the audience understands terminology and must faithfully communicate only the proper ideas so as help the learner elucidate the truth on a deeper level in a more meaningful way. Therefore, ministers of the Gospel must guard against error in language use, remaining diligent so as guard their flocks against the misrepresentation of the truth. For this reason, Christians invest a great deal of time, effort and resources in keeping our Bible translations current and accurate. As a result, heated controversies arise over how subtly and improperly translated language can lead the unsuspecting translator and reader alike into error. Many point to the Scofield Bible of days past and the new English Standard Version Bible (and study notes) as examples of translations that have changed or threaten to change how people interpret the Word of God through this subtle yet powerful influence. Federal Vision teachings also produced much controversy for some of these very same reasons.
In a subsequent post, I will discuss the issues using one specific teaching promoted within the patriarchy movement, but I would first like to spell out how redefinition promotes ambiguity, a loophole in language that cultic groups capitalize upon in order to promote their often hidden agendas. (Recall Doug Phillips’ saying that “He who defines, wins.”)
The Fallacy Files website has this to say about the propaganda technique of Redefinition:
To redefine a term is, of course, to assign it a new meaning. It is not necessarily fallacious to give a term a new meaning, and it is often done to produce technical terms, but it is a logical boobytrap. There is always a danger of slipping back into using the term in its old meaning out of habit, which could cause a fallacy of equivocation. We may start out reasoning with the term using its new meaning in the premisses, then fall back into using it in its familiar meaning in the conclusion.The Fallacy Files on Equivocation:
Equivocation is the type of ambiguity which occurs when a single word or phrase is ambiguous, and this ambiguity is not grammatical but lexical. [Blog host note: Lexical meaning “as related to a lexicon or dictionary,” pertaining to an error in definition.] So, when a phrase equivocates, it is not due to grammar, but to the phrase as a whole having two distinct meanings.
Of course, most words are ambiguous, but context usually makes a univocal meaning clear. Also, equivocation alone is not fallacious, though it is a linguistic boobytrap which can trip people into committing a fallacy. The Fallacy of Equivocation occurs when an equivocal word or phrase makes an unsound argument appear sound.
Redefinition can affect the meaning of a word through either “low” or “high” redefinitions that either widen or narrow the application of the original, most commonly understood meaning of the term. It is also possible to create more complex redefinitions that include both a narrowing of some aspect of application while broadening others at the same time. Of course, redefnition can also include meanings that have no connection to the original meaning of the term, creating a completely unrelated neologism. The FIC arguments and terminology run rampant with varied degrees of redefined terms, and they capitalize on the power of the connotations that their various word choices imply.
Let me offer an hypothetical and somewhat benign example of a “low redefinition” that expands upon the truest meaning of a word in the context of our common vernacular. Then consider the ramifications of this when a minister applies Redefinitions to time-honored terms that define doctrine.
Imagine that I have a very old kitchen with an old faucet that creates lots of functional problems for me. My husband goes to the hardware store and buys a new faucet, the model of which has been affectionately named by the faucet company as “The Fountain.” My husband installs it, and my family and I are overjoyed. One of my children notices the name of the model on the packaging, and we start calling the new faucet “The Fountain.” If a friend comes over, and I ask them to go into my kitchen to see my “new fountain,” some ambiguity will follow. Though the word fountain can have several possible interpretations, most people using our current vernacular will most likely think of only one commonly held concept: that of a garden fountain of some type. They will always defer first to the most commonly used representation of the word, washing over their thoughts with that most common meaning first.
Technically, the faucet is a type of fountain in some sense and the model is called “fountain,” but I have several other fountains in my kitchen. I have a cat drinking fountain that promotes my cats health by encouraging their water intake, a device that circulates water by means of a submersible pump. Over in the collection of houseplants, I have a small water fountain that someone gave us as a gift a number of years ago, touted to promote relaxation through it’s soothing sound and aesthetics. And in the winter, my kitchen also features a small, artful humidifier that looks like a vase, spilling over with thick vapor that looks like that generated by dry ice when it placed in water. The visitor will most likely picture a garden fountain in their mind when I invite them to look at the fountain, and the chances that they will walk directly over to my new kitchen faucet are doubtful. They’re far more likely to point to the cat fountain or the table top fountain that sits with the houseplants because these objects correspond more closely to the traditional picture of a garden font. If I ask them to “draw some water for me from the fountain” (referring to a glass of water that is suitable for drinking), there’s a possibility that my visitor might bring me a bowl of the cat’s water drawn from the cat’s drinking fountain.
The FIC and the patriocentrists capitalize on this “doublespeak,” conveying more than one possible meaning of their terms, capitalizing on this ambiguity of new and novel definitions of terms. “Normative” which describes that which typifies the norm becomes understood as the ideal standard, though the term itself, outside of the context and use in Vision Forum and related circles does not carry any ethical value. The manner in which the word is used repeatedly, the way the whole group responds to the term and the vaguely stated, fuzzy logic used in conjunction with the word conveys the meaning, though it is never directly defined as a term with ethical implications. Likewise, through usage of the reciprocal term, the target audience soon learns that “non-normative” is consistent with sin. “Multi-generational faithfulness” also can and does have multiple meanings. Sanctification as used in Ephesians 5 alludes to the promise of redemption in the Hebrew language, actually speaking prophetically of Jesus. Based upon how many in the FIC use the term sanctification however, many are innocently lead to believing the doublespeak message that men serve as intercessors for their families, actually serving to making their wives holy. Because they do not state their conclusions or all possible conclusions regarding their terminology, they can claim that they are innocent of promoting this error. The group that promotes these ambiguous terms can claim that they never taught questionable doctrines, but because of the common and traditional understanding of the terms used in unique ways, the target audience learns to understand the unstated conclusions and the many duplicitous meanings conveyed through redefined terms.
Also take note that manipulators and ideologues take full advantage of the momentary confusion that arises when a person encounters these inconsistent messages because the process chips away at the resolve and critical thinking resources of the listener. The listener becomes confused when the message seems somewhat incongruent, throwing them into varying degrees of cognitive dissonance because the new meaning “does not compute” with their presuppositions. When information in a sermon comes at the listener rapidly so that the listener is denied time to scrutinize the message, and in a social setting where they are expected to conform, the listener becomes predisposed to agree with the speaker. The rapid introduction of false dichotomy after false dichotomy overwhelms the listener which greatly increases the likelihood that the listener will just agree with the speaker to reduce his stress level and sense of confusion. Under the pressure of this dissonance, most listeners shift into states of consciousness that make them much more easily to manipulate. However, under other circumstances when the listener has the ability to slow down the rate at which he takes in the information and is not affected by the social pressures in a group setting, the listener will likely reject the inconsistent ideas presented to them.
The post to follow will examine the very problematic FIC redefinition of husbands and fathers as prophet, priest and king for his family. Under the New Covenant, Jesus serves as our only Prophet, Priest and King. The “low redefinition” of this application to include mere men on their family’s behalf subtly yet powerfully predisposes them to acceptance of idolatry, actually believing that it is Biblical.
Voddie Baucham mentioned a fine (and unsolicited) example of the linguistic snare of the redefinition of terms in his email correspondence with me. He is one of many who has promoted the trap of logic inherent in this particular teaching, but because of the centrality of fathers in the Family Integrated Church (FIC) paradigm, the teaching creates special, unique problems with many undesirable effects. Because Protestants believe that prophesying through the Word and Spirit passed to all believers who no longer require the intercession of any earthly mediator resulting from the atoning work of Christ, the special assignment of the duties of prophet and priest to husbands and fathers, however limited, becomes ambiguous and predisposes the unsuspecting believer to error.
As mentioned in the previous post, redefining terms does not constitute a fallacy in and of itself, but it often predisposes one to fall back into the old understanding of the original and traditional definition of the word out of habit without realizing it. Redefinition thus paves the way for the Fallacy of Equivocation, because the redefined word or phrase holds two or more distinct meanings. Manipulators can subtly pressure their marks and then vacillate between the two understandings and distinct meanings, gaining only the benefits of both and while avoiding all criticisms. Sometimes this is done quite innocently, but the practice of redefinition creates problems of equivocation just the same. A sermon by George Whitefield presents us with one such example.
George Whitefield was a Methodist, one of the members of the “Holy Club” of Oxford who came to America as an evangelist during the First Great Awakening during the 1700s. So even while our nation was not yet a nation and still under England’s colonial rule, Whitefield possibly weaved the concept of viewing husbands and fathers as prophets, priests and kings into the very fabric of American and Christian thought. He believed that fathers had relinquished the spiritual care of their families to the clergy in local churches, so he sought to encourage men to consider resuming these responsibilities for their families. Like the English Puritan Richard Baxter in the mid 1600s and even like Martin Luther who published his Small Catechism for children in 1529, Whitefield encouraged fathers to resume the duties of teaching their families about the Gospel (a responsibility that they abdicated to the church), encouraging catechism (“to teach by word of mouth”) within the home. To appeal to these fathers, in his sermon entitled “The Great Duty of Family Religion” (available online HERE), he compared the family to a nation in need of direction and governance, and he likened these similar responsibilities of a father to that of a governor of a nation. Joshua who lead Israel into the Promised Land serves as the most prominent figure and standard of comparison offered in the sermon, and men are admonished with the resolve of his statement: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
The Old Covenant terms and formal offices of prophet and priest finally ceased when the New Covenant was fully realized, though Whitefield primarily draws from Old Testament examples for husband and fathers in this sermon. Of the twelve or so Scriptures and examples that Whitefield offers in support of the his premise, only three of citations come from the New Covenant (Cornelius, the “gentle” Centurion, and Eph 6:4). He does not mention Christ as our Great Prophet, Priest and King anywhere within the sermon because there is no comparison made between Christ and men. Again, the central standard of comparison in the sermon for men as governors is that of Joshua who governed Israel. (Read about this topic HERE.)
Yet here in this sermon, we have an example of redefinition that still affects many today, though few refer to Whitefield when they mention the idea of husbands as prophets, priests and kings. But why is this problematic? Consider how the terms of “prophet” and “priest” are used in Scripture. I’ve not examined the use of “king” in this post because I do not take issue with this term as related to a husband at all, and this civil office in society did not cease with the New Covenant. (Addendum: I do not take issue with the term in its general use and in the context that Whitefield used it, because we still have earthly kings.)
A person who speaks by divine inspiration or as the interpreter through whom the will of a god is expressed.
one who instructs his family
A member of the clergy with authority to perform and and administer religious rites; one who offers sacrifices.
one who prays for and with his family
Having spent years asking people to define their understanding of what they mean when they cite the husband/father as the prophet and priest of the home, most people cannot define their terms well. Far too many offer a description that is more akin to the traditional understanding of the terms according to the Old Testament model. Both prophet and priest connote intercession between God and others, even though Whitefield never implied any intercession in any way. Though he made no errors by succinctly qualifying and defining his terms, the analogy does open up into what many interpret as the responsibility of men to be intercessors and spiritual mediators for those in their families. His analogy opens up a linguistic snare that paves the way for others to commit a fallacy by inferring unintended ideas that lead others to draw false conclusions about the terms and his intended meaning.
governors (i.e., Joshua and David who governed and also provided for the spiritual needs of the people in Israel under the Old Covenant) and applies those terms to men under the New Covenant (wherein all believers are prophets and priests unto God). “High redefinitions” take a broad category and limit its applicability to a far more narrow scope, and Whitefield follows such when he limits the definitions of priest and prophet to only one small aspect of each broad, multifaceted office that was also associated only with the Old Covenant. A certain degree of confusion and ambiguity result for a very large number of those persons who revert back to their preconceived understanding of the traditional, Old Testament definitions under the Law, almost in the ways that the Judaizers did in the New Testament.
Voddie Baucham wrote this in an email:
The final group consisted of people who were merely perturbed because I use the word 'Patriarch,' and refer to fathers as The Four P's (Priest, Prophet, Provider, Protector) of the family. These people did not bother to listen to what I actually said. Nor did they bother to find out why I chose these terms... ...Whitefield was not a "Patriocentric maniac" He did not mean that fathers were co-mediators with Christ on behalf of their wives and children. He was simply making an application based on Ephesians 5:25ff However, when I took this phrase from one of the greatest preachers in history and tweaked it to make it my own (turning King into provider/protector), and call men to account; all hell broke loose. Suddenly, I no longer believed women were image bearers, or had personal relationships with Christ (things easily dismissed by actually listening to my sermons on the subject). Suddenly, in their eyes, I had left the reservation.
While I don’t think that Whitefield was a “patriocentric maniac,” I believe that those who reacted to Baucham demonstrated the effects of cognitive dissonance resulting from his redefined terms, regardless of the fact that Baucham was merely reiterating someone else’s terminology. Whitefield also did not suffer the same reaction that Baucham suffered because Whitefield did not make any application of the cultic interpretation of Ephesians 5 that Baucham adds to the meaning of the sermon. The group of “the perturbed” did not do what most people tend to do when faced with redefinition by just acquiescing to the speaker. “The perturbed” challenged him instead. I do not know what circumstances might have precipitated the “breaking out of all hell,” but I can speculate that if this group was knowledgeable about Baucham’s other doctrines that expand the scope of men and narrow the scope of women in both the church and their lives in society, the ambiguity resulting from his redefined terms gave them extra cause to question him. If they had been previously offended by and unimpressed with his arguments that vilify Sunday School and Youth Ministry, they would also show reticence to trust the integrity of rest of his material. It sounds as though this was an informed audience with a broader perspective concerning all of Baucham’s teaching. Baucham does not teach these things in a vacuum.
I also find it telling that Baucham identifies this sermon as Whitefield’s supposed application of Ephesians 5:25 when the sermon makes no reference to this verse anywhere. The guiding idea of prophet, priest and king was a general analogy which compares the responsibilities of the heads of home the responsibilities of civil rulers or governors (hence the term “king”), not to Christ at all. There is no mention of Ephesians Chapter 5 at all. The main figure of comparison is Joshua and not Christ. Whitefield states that the comparison is made to that of a civil leader only (who also attends to the spiritual concerns of his people as a prophet and priest for his nation like Joshua and King David) when he states (in the sermon!):
“That it is the duty of every governor of a family to take care, that not only he himself, but also that those committed to his charge, serve the Lord.”
“For every house is as it were a little parish, every governor (as was before observed) a priest, every family a flock; and if any of them perish through the governor's neglect, their blood will God require at their hands.”
“And this will appear, if we consider that every governor of a family ought to look upon himself as obliged to act in three capacities as a prophet, to instruct: as a priest...It is true indeed, the latter of these, their kingly office, they are not so frequently deficient in...”
“...it is no worse than that governor of a family deserves...”
“...however indifferent some governors may be about it...”
“...he had no concern, as governor of a family...”
“...and all governors of families ought not only to serve the Lord themselves...”
“...where will such monstrous profane and wicked governors appear?”
“...after what manner a governor and his household ought to serve the Lord...”
"...these things be so, what a miserable condition are those unhappy governors in...”
“...whereby every governor and his household...”
“... And the reason why every governor...”
“...why every governor of a family should join both...”
“...consequently, those governors that neglect it, are certainly without excuse...”
“...whereby every governor ought with his house...”
“...a duty incumbent on every governor...”
“...to excite all governors, with their respective households...”
“...which you that are governors of families owe to God...”
“...we find governors and parents can exercise...”
“...let me exhort all governors of families...”
If what Baucham reads into Whitefield’s meaning were true concerning Ephesians 5:25, I believe that at least one reference to Christ as Prophet, Priest and King would have been made at least once in the sermon. There is none. There should have been at least one comparison made between Christ (such as is mentioned in *Ephesians 5*) and men made at least once. There is none. On this basis, I deny that *Ephesians 5 was ever a factor at all for Whitefield when he wrote and preached this sermon. [*Addendum: apart from love for his wife in the general sense --See below] There is absolutely no rationale for Baucham’s assertion, based on the entire content of the sermon. Whitefield drew a comparison and analogy between the manner in which a civil governor manages his affairs on behalf of his nation as compared to men as governors of the home. Baucham adopted the cultic. extra-biblical doctrine of the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement, their cultic, extra-biblical “Submission Doctrine,” and the paterfamilias of the pagan Roman society. He has read them and their idolatry into Whitefield’s text.
*Addendum Note for Perspicacity, 6Dec08: A murky misinterpretation of Ephesians 5:25-27 out of context follows to some extent or another within patriarchal/patriocentric thought. I believe that the misinterpreted verse is the hinge that holds their belief system together, and all things seem to come back to this single verse in some way.
I believe that though Baucham claims that he does NOT embrace the interpretation of this verse that argues that men are spiritual intercessors for their wives, I must ask why he reads Ephesians 5:25 spiritual paternalism into a sermon where it is not cited and where such a comparison is not made? Why does Baucham use the same "hinge" verse that others use to claim that they govern and carry out the sanctification of their wives and daughters to describe a sermon where the verse is not found? He claimed Whitefield was applying Ephesians 5:25ff, mentioning it specifically instead of "Whitefield was speaking of the love that husbands have for wives." Though he may deny that women need a male intercessor for salvation, he does attach spiritual paternalism to this verse. I find his specific mention of Ephesians 5:25 (and not Joshua 24:15) very telling.
The Reformation had Ephesians 2:8-9 and John 3:16. The patriocentrics have subtly warped interpretations of Ephesians 5:25-27 and I Timothy 2:11-15. It is subtle which is why it is so hard to pin them down when they Equivocate.