I once taught a 12-week series on sanctification without ever using the word. Itaught an eight-week series on incarnation without ever using the word. — Rick WarrenThere are words, then there are words, and then there are words, aren't there?
...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. — Paul
Biblical faith is a faith of words. "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ," we read (Romans 10:17). "Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth," we read (John 17:17).
Well, now, look there: "sanctify," Jesus says. What does that mean? It isn't a word used in common conversation, at least not in the way Jesus used it. Takes some explaining, doesn't it? And whose job is it to explain it?
"Preach the word," Paul tells young pastor Timothy. He tells him to do it above all things (v. 1). In fact, Paul says that God values that labor of preaching and doctrinal teaching more than He values any other pastoral activity (1 Timothy 5:17). So it is the pastor's job to explain what all those words mean. Words like "sanctify."
Because Jesus uses those words, and He moves His apostles to use them. Words like sanctify and justify and impute and propitiate and redeem. We don't commonly use any of those words as Jesus and the apostles used them. We need someone to help us understand them. That "someone," God says, is the pastor.
I can only speak for myself: I would think that, if I had taught for three months on a Biblical topic without my hearers being able to connect it with Biblical words, I would feel I'd been a miserable failure.
Because you see sanctify is a big Bible word, as are holy and holiness. If I am not teaching people about those Bible words, I am not teaching them about the Bible.
For the Christian, those words are vital words indeed.
And then there are words that are not directly-Biblical, but they are pretty hard to avoid if you're trying to teach the Bible. Wouldn't incarnation be one of those words? What is John 1:14 about, if not incarnation? That isn't even really that uncommon of a word. I think a great many secular people understand the concept just fine. Why ever would a Bible teacher (i.e. pastor) want to avoid such a word, let alone pride himself on avoiding such a word?
Other similar words which express Biblical truth might include Trinity, and inerrancy, and canonicity. How could one teach very broadly in the Bible without engaging and eventually using such concepts?
Yet now I will leap past a possible third category of words (i.e. more advanced theological terms like aseity and infralapsarian) to a fourth: idiomatic, non-essential words raised to an unwarranted level of importance.
Here I am thinking of teachers like the late Col. Robert Thieme Jr., who invented an extremely technical catalog of terms used by no one else in church history, anywhere, ever. Even leaving aside the question of the Biblical accuracy of his teaching, the upshot I observed was that his disciples would be locked into Thieme-related churches. Everything else would seem shallow and watery, because they weren't getting the "deep truths" of alpha and bravo grace and rebound and so on. They find themselves isolated, divided from Christians of all ages and lands.
Or, to go to the Reformed tradition, there's Steve Brown. I shared concerns (here and here) about Brown's winsome way of grounding his teaching in personal stories, illustrations, and "Brownisms," rather than directly and consciously in Scripture and Scriptural words. The fruit often is disciples who can quote Brown fluently, but bristle at aspects of words from the Bible.
This is, I think, the inevitable fruit of substituting anything for teaching the words of Scripture.
And what is that Bible filled with? Words. Not one drawing, not one diagram: just words. Words like sanctification.
If a pastor doesn't consider it his very God-given job to explain and apply those words, then one must ask: what does he think his job is?
And if a pastor wouldn't count it a miserable failure if he did not succeed in explaining and applying those words, then one must ask: what would failure be?