From the outset of the great work in which we as a people are engaged, purity of speech has been an object never lost sight of. We looked at first and still look upon the mixed and unsanctified dialect current in religious circles, not only as a reflection upon the word of God, but as a fertile source of error and a successful means of propagating it. Long years of observation have only served to confirm these early convictions. All authorized religious notions can find utterance in terms of the Bible, divinely appropriated to that use; and the moment the need is felt for other terms, the fair inference is that views unknown to the Bible are to be expressed. Terms not of the Bible will of necessity impart to the mind ideas not of the Bible; and thus the mind becomes confused in its religious contents. The thoughts of the Spirit inhabiting, as permanent fixtures, the human soul, and expressed, when need requires, in terms of the Spirit, constitute the highest learning and best literature of earth. How long will it be before the world will learn and appreciate this truth? Never, we fear. But purity of speech has two sides from which to be viewed, and a double demand to be satisfied. It requires, first, that the things of the Spirit shall be expressed only in terms of the Spirit; and, second, that things not of the Spirit shall be expressed in terms not of the Spirit. That is to say, it requires that views and thoughts of the world, and pertaining to the world, shall be expressed in worldly terms, and not in Bible terms. To abuse a Bible term is an offense against the Spirit, falling but little, if any, below the abuse of a Bible idea. There is, of course, this distinction to be observed, that a term may be common to the Bible and to the world; in which case, clearly, it can be deemed no abuse to use the term in speaking even of worldly matters. But in the present connection we are speaking, not so much of this class of words, as of a very different class, namely, such as the names of persons, rites, and other things which have no existence independent of the gospel. As a partial illustration of what we mean, let us take the word just used, the word gospel. This, if not exclusively a Bible term, is yet a term having its true and proper signification only therein. Now, to apply this term to aught else than what it here denotes, is, it seems to me, correctly called an abuse of it, and is unjustifiable. We often hear such expressions as the following: a gospel preacher, a gospel sermon, a gospel feast, etc. Is this correct? We certainly think not. The word gospel has no counterpart in a man; hence it can never accurately be applied to one; and so of the other items. A sermon may be an hour long, and yet contain in it only a single element of the gospel; it is not therefore a gospel sermon. Even allowing it to be composed mostly of elements of the gospel; still it contains human elements, and hence is not gospel. If it contain no human elements then is it the gospel, and not merely something partaking of its nature. Hence the term should never be thus used. To all of which it may be replied, that perfection in speech is a thing not attainable in our present state; and that therefore it is useless to complain of the abuses of which we speak. This may be true, and yet we may not be wrong; hence we must insist on what we have said. Not even the semblance of abuse should have our sanction. Indeed no more should we sanction the abuse of a term which is Scriptural than we should the use of one which is not, to express an idea which is. Purity of speech consists in the strict use of Scriptural terms to express Scriptural things. This excludes the use of terms which are not Scriptural, and ought to imply the non-abuse of those which are. The nearer we approach this standard, the greater and the more certain will be the effect with which we shall proclaim the truth.
As an illustration of a grossly impure speech we will cite a popular definition of baptism. It is thus worded: baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. If the manipulations of Satan ever approach so near the surface as to be sensibility felt, we should think that even the dullest touch might detect their presence in this. Baptism is a sign. In what book or verse of the Bible is it so said? Or, indeed, is any thing said bearing even the remotest resemblance to it? A more perfect figment never emanated from the human brain. Baptism is no sign; at least it is no sign of any thing within us. If a sign of any thing, or if intended to represent any thing; if, in other words, it is either monumental or emblematic, then is it so of the literal burial and resurrection of Christ, and of our own future burial and resurrection, but of nothing within us. But not only is baptism a sign; it is an outward sign. Now this word outward was a most necessary epithet in the definition. But for this, some orthodox blockhead might have blundered into the conclusion that when a man is baptized really nothing outward had taken place. True, his eyes might have avouched otherwise, but what of that? When the eyes and conclusions of one of the orthodox are somewhat antithetic, what signifies a thing so mendacious as the eye? But baptism is more than an outward sign: it is a sign of an inward grace. Ah! reader, in that phrase inward grace you have the body and soul of orthodoxy, the ground and essence of its popular dimensions, and the jingle which has proved the hoodwink and ruin of many a soul of man. Baptism is a sign, a mere sign, nothing more; neither in itself, nor by appointment of the Saviour, has it any value or significance—it is only a sign, a mere shadow indicating the presence of a casting substance. Moreover, this inward grace is first in order of time and first in point of importance. This must first be possessed; then on behind it may come that outward sign, of no more importance in procuring acceptance with Christ, or in giving rest to the soul, than is the flowing of the ink in my pen. But what is that inward grace? Ask it not, presumptuous reader. It is orthodoxy; and dare you query as to that? Only this remains for you to know: that it is absolutely necessary to generate that inward grace; and that this adroitly, but very innocently, lays the foundation for all those hidden impulses and miraculous sensations vulgarly styled holy ghost religion.
Again: take the phrase we have last used—holy ghost religion. Here is an expression unknown in the Bible. What it means can never be determined. Indeed it means any thing and every thing which he who glories in it may see fit to make it mean. If, however, we were called upon to define it, we should not hesitate to say it is a designation for one of the purest forms of superstition. What folly has been committed and gone unrebuked, and what gross error has been and still is propagated under the cover of this expression, no living man can tell. Were a pure speech restored to the religious world, what then would become of this unauthorized expression? It would stand as a monument to their folly who use it, and as a proof of their disrespect for the word of God, because they had something to teach which that word does not sanction. Satan is never surer to eclipse the truth and ensnare the soul than when he can induce us to speak of the things of the Spirit in terms and combinations of terms not Scriptural, or to abuse and pervert those which are.
Revelation consists in two parts: the thought, or matter revealed, which is the revelation proper; and the terms originally selected by the Spirit, in which the thought is expressed. Both these we call divine or sacred; and no more have we the right to abuse or pervert the one than we have the other. In a translation, of course, merely the thought is transferred, and that, too, into terms not of divine but of human selection. In this process perfection is not attainable, though certainly desirable. But when a translation is once made and accepted as correct, then purity of speech consists in expressing the revealed thought or matter in the exact terms of the translation. This with every Christian should become a rule never to be violated. But the point toward which we are mainly looking is this: whenever a term becomes appropriated in the Bible to an expression of a particular thought, it should never be used to express any other; and when so used, it is abused. This brings us to speak more particularly of the name Christian.
In regard to the use of the term I have no hesitation in saying that, as a people, we have fallen into error. This I well know has not been intentionally done. Still it has been done; and the circumstance should make us feel how extremely necessary it is that, while detecting small motes in other’s eyes, we do not overlook the large ones in our own. The word Christian, according to the New Testament, is applicable to nothing but a ransomed human being. It is there never applied to things, but only to persons. To us this should be a suggestive thought. If it be true, and this we shall assume, that nothing but a human being can be a Christian, then it follows that whatever the term denotes is limited to man; and from this again, that to apply the term to any thing else is an abuse of it, and inexcusable. If these positions be correct, they will certainly suggest to our brethren the necessity for some curtailment and reform. I need not tell the reader that the term occurs but twice in the New Testament, but this is enough to determine the extent to which it may be applied. No use but that there made of it is tenable. Every other is unauthorized and dangerous. We shall now proceed to point out some of the applications of the word to which we particularly object:
1. The Christian Scriptures. We shall not be accused of an inclination to depreciate the word of God, or of a willingness to see its power in the least impaired. Neither do we wish its distinctive character to be in any sense affected. Why, then, it may be asked, do we object to prefixing the term Christian to the Scriptures a qualifying epithet? I object to it, first, because it is useless. The expression, the Scriptures, is now the appropriate designation of the sacred writings. No epithet we can use can render it more intelligible or more definite. It is clear and enough, and for more than this there is no necessity.
I object to it, second, because, even allowing the term to be applicable, it is not correct. In no view could it apply to more than the New Testament; yet it is generally understood to embrace the Old as well as the New sacred writings. While the Christian accepts as profitable all these writings, yet it is the New which embraces the matter of his faith, and constitutes his rule of life. This therefore is peculiarly his book; hence to this alone could the term apply, if to either.
It is proper to add that popular usage certainly sanctions the expression Christian Scriptures. This we well know; but in this, as in many other things, we think popular usage wrong. In matters purely worldly the decision of popular usage is generally final, but not so in matters of religion. Here usage is no standard.
2. Christian church. With us a people this is certainly an ambiguous expression. Whether it denotes a meeting-house, or a congregation of disciples, the phrase itself, as used by us, does not determine. Indeed it may mean either or both. This is an evil imperiously demanding correction. I respectfully, then, submit to our brotherhood that we adopt it as a universal custom never to apply the word church to a meeting-house. Let us apply the word church only to the whole body of Christ, and to the individual congregation. This will remove a serious blemish in our present speech. I would further suggest that our houses of worship be called by the modest and becoming title of meeting-houses. This is free from all ostentation, and to my taste faultless. Purity and simplicity are characteristics of the gospel, and should be of every thing connected with it.
But I shall be asked what epithet I would use to distinguish the church of Christ in a given place from the other churches meeting therein. The expression other churches raises a new question, one whose correctness I am free to say is with me by no means settled. Certainly I should first require a case of other churches to be clearly made out by the New Testament before I should feel under the least obligation to provide an epithet which would amount to a virtual recognition of them as of the Lord. Confessedly Christ may have two or more churches in the same place, is in a large city, but the phrase other churches is not designed to denote these. It applies to the sectarian organizations of the day. These we do not recognize as churches of Christ, but as fragments of the great apostasy. Hence we feel under no obligation to provide a name which shall distinguish the church of Christ from them. But the New Testament furnishes us epithets, the only ones we should use; and if any distinctions exist which these do not mark, then we must insist that such distinctions are unrecognized by the New Testament, and hence should have no name. Suppose, now, that Christ has a church in a given place. How shall we appropriately designate it? Call it simply the church of God, or the church of Christ. These are Scriptural names; no others are. But it will be asked: What is the distinction between the expressions church of Christ and Christian church? I answer: that is Scriptural and always will be; this is not Scriptural and never will be. Purity of speech requires that we speak of Bible things in Bible language. Church of Christ is Bible language; Christian church is not. Can we, then, as a people, hesitate as to which we shall use? But it may be said: this is becoming unnecessarily nice; there is no necessity for the observance of such minute and trivial distinctions. I shall not deny that the distinction is minute; but I trust no brother in our ranks will call it trivial; and as to whether we should observe it or not—this depends upon whether our speech should be pure or not. We have for some time labored under the belief that our popular vocabulary would be the better of revision; and not merely of revision, but of thorough revision. The work had just as well commence with the word Christian as with any other. Let us remember that this term applies only to persons, never to things, not even to organizations when composed of Christians; and we shall have no difficulty in  knowing how to use it. But in thus speaking, do I not pass sentence against many a line of mine own? Perhaps so; but is that a reason why I should not thus write? With me my own blunders can never become a plea for repeating them. When we complain of a fault we complain of it for self as well as for others. It matters not who may have practiced the abuses of which we speak; they are not therefore right, and should be corrected.
But we have other abuses of the word Christian besides the preceding. We have Christian Universities, Christian Colleges, Christian Academies—how many we can not tell. That a people claiming to be reformers, to have returned to the faith and practice of the New Testament, and to great extent even to its pure speech, should have fallen into this flagrant abuse of one of its most important personal designations, proves that even the most watchful have need still to watch and be watched. That a disposition to mark every thing in our ranks as consecrated to Christ, and to render even our institutions of learning subservient to this cause, has contributed to the abuse in question may be readily admitted. But this does not justify it. The thing is wrong and should be abandoned. A college or seminary, no matter by whom owned, or how governed, or for what end conducted, can never be Christian in any sense save a wrong one. There is just as much philosophy and as good sense in a follower of the Saviour calling his horse and his cart respectively Christian horse and Christian cart, as in calling the bricks and mortar which compose a house a Christian seminary, merely because it happens to be owned and managed by Christian men. We have grown familiar with the thing; hence its absurdity affects us but little.
Besides, as I thus write no less than four exchanges lie on my table sporting this abused term. In thus speaking I do not mean to be understood as delivering any unfriendly judgment against these papers, or as in any way impeaching the soundness of their contents. I have no quarrel with them, except in so far as they wear this common title. In this I think them all wrong, and should be glad to see them drop the word. When about to start the Quarterly, most brethren with whom I spoke on the matter, said, call it The Christian Quarterly. This would certainly have sounded better, and perhaps seemed less vain than the homely title it now wears. But to this I could not yield. The word Christian belongs exclusively to the children of God. It must not, then, be taken and applied to a mere thing. No matter how excellent a paper may be, it is not Christian, and should never be so called. But we shall pursue these suggestions no further.
published in Lard’s Quarterly, Volume II: April, 1865