The Hebrew word transliterated as “shibboleth” was used to expose an Ephraimite who was trying to hide his identity from the Jews (Judges 12:6). He was unable to pronounce the word the way a Jew would and he paid for it with his life. Today, the word “shibboleth” is identified as a word or phrase that marks a particular group or cause; a catchword or slogan, if you will.
The shibboleths of a bygone era, like “If a man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11) and “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) have been largely replaced by the “feel good about yourself” gospel of Dr. Feelgood—a “gospel” that excites the minds and tickle the ears of a faithless church and a lost and dying world.
Although brethren continue to utter the shibboleths of an almost forgotten period, they no longer have the stomachs for fighting the “good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7). This is evidenced by the following excerpt taken from a church bulletin entitled “Why We Aren’t Growing”:
Desire For a Fight. One of the main reasons we have seen a decline in conversions is that we are constantly looking for fights among ourselves. No sooner has one “issue” been defeated (with no small losses) than we are busy looking around for the next big “issue.” From institutionalism to Grace-Fellowship—Calvinism to Deity-Humanity of Christ we eagerly wade [up to] our necks in the blood of sometimes innocent Christians (i.e. babes in Christ). This is not to say that the truth should not be defended, but I think a party spirit prevails among God’s people at this time.
Did you notice the shibboleth? It says, “This is not to say that the truth should not be defended.” But if one decides to actually defend the truth, he’s quickly branded a spiritual gunslinger with notches on his gun and an itchy trigger finger. However, and those addicted to the religion of Dr. Feelgood will always have trouble with it, in order to defend the truth, one must be willing to stand against falsehood and those who espouse it. What this means is that a Christian cannot simply give lip-service to defending the “old paths” (cf. Jeremiah 6:16) and then cowardly shoot in the back those who believe and act on what he says. In other words, Christians who are true to the Lordship of Jesus Christ cannot just engage in shibboleths (i.e., just “talking the talk,” if you will), they must be willing to “walk the walk” as well (cf. 1 Peter 4:11).