Sanctification, Righteousness, Holiness and other Claptrap

I have something to admit. I have little use for common religious jargon. Until my conversion (oops, there’s one) I rarely heard any of these words used in normal conversation. When religious people spoke I rarely knew what they were saying and really didn’t care (I guess I didn’t “have the Holy Spirit”). But to this day they still sound awkward and pretentious and I am unsure as to what some of them really mean.

Religious people are so fond of these words and phrases that they’ve become cliches; “We must strive for Holiness”….”For our God is a Righteous God”….”Sanctification is our ultimate goal” and so on. But what do those statements really mean? Some people, many of them Christian, have come to call this “Christianspeak”, sort of an insiders language. There are dozen of code words that leave many non-Christians wondering about what we are talking about:

grace, glory, born again, salvation, saved, sinner, new birth, Savior, justification, Holy Spirit, testimony, evangelical, assurance, redeemed, redemption, saved, condemnation, convicted, mission, outreach, repentance, witness, confess, found the Lord, have a burden , prevenient grace, godly, covered by the blood, covenant, washed in the blood, blessed, atonement, remnant, rapture, end times, tracts, the elect, tithing, traveling mercies, unevenly yoked , bless this food to our bodies, etc. etc.

If the church wants to be relevant why don’t we try using contemporary language that today’s people can relate to? Sure, most of these ‘churchy’ words are good words, with solid historical and literary backgrounds. But some of them are the obscure offspring of various Christian pop-cults. I’d even bet that most Christians wouldn’t agree on what they all mean.

I like words. I’m a big fan of Bill Buckley, he was an unparalleled master of the English language and there was always a dictionary nearby whenever I read his work. When he died I was surprised and dismayed at how so few people were aware of him. He was unlike Ernest Hemingway, of whom William Faulkner once said; “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary”. Apparently Buckley’s use of obscure language did not attract a robust following of typical readers.

So what’s the point? Isn’t using this religious language really just another way of preaching to the choir because everyone else seems to be tuning us out. We could try to keep this church-talk within the ‘church’ but it becomes so habit forming that soon we are dropping these ecclesiastical bombs all over the landscape. Can I have a witness?

The Gospel should not be as confusing as some of us try to make it. If we want people to be open to the idea of reading the Bible, to investigate what is happening in our churches, then we need to make the language as open and accessible as possible. Recently the phrase ‘seeker friendly’ has fallen into disfavor. As well it should, because it’s just another code phrase that turns ‘seekers’ off. But there really is nothing wrong with just being friendly and inviting. And it’s not very friendly to speak another language in front of someone who can’t understand it.

James tells us to control our tongues – wouldn’t this fall under that category ? Paul, that crafty old tent maker, told church people in his day to clean up their language as well; “So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” You betcha.

All we need is a good thesaurus.


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  1. #1 by Christian on June 13, 2008 - 4:30 pm

    I think that was a good scripture to bring up. What he is saying there comes across as very obtuse, even contradictory. It reminds me of a Zen koan. They don’t tend to make sense until one day “Bingo!” now I get it! (“He who knows does not speak, he who speaks does not know.” Yikes!)

    But I don’t think it is remotely like the religious confusion we are talking about here. I think a lot of this clutter, this adding on to what Jesus and the Bible has said, is because it is not as concrete, black and white, or formulaic as some would like. So they take it apart and put it back together, but with some of their own additions to help explain “if this then that happens”. This gave people like Augustine and Aquinas great job security.

    McLaren talks about the Sermon on the Mount in one of his books and he paints a picture of the average Jewish Joe sitting on the hillside, nodding his head and smiling at what Jesus was saying while those who expected something else (the religious) were either scratching their heads or glaring in anger. They came with different expectations so their “hearts were calloused” and they could not hear or see the truth.

  2. #2 by netprophet on June 13, 2008 - 5:46 pm

    Chris you said:
    “the average Jewish Joe sitting on the hillside, nodding his head and smiling at what Jesus was saying while those who expected something else (the religious) were either scratching their heads or glaring in anger. They came with different expectations so their “hearts were calloused” and they could not hear or see the truth.”

    I Has Seen The Light!

    Jesus said he would write his message on our hearts and He has. The religious, with their always trying to better define Christ’s message, have in the process managed to dim the “Light”.

  3. #3 by Christian on June 14, 2008 - 8:31 am

    That’s what we do, don’t we? Bigger, better, new and improved. At least that’s what we have done in the past. Past religious leaders have reworked scripture to conform to their own perspectives then proclaim it to be the last word on the subject. Rather than taking it upon themselves to work out what God is saying to them through Scripture and revelation, succeeding generations of followers just accept the doctrine that is handed to them. It is easier that way, and more ‘secure’. They do not allow themselves to see the “light’, instead relying upon someone else’s description of it.

    If anyone else dare say that they see things differently they risk being branded a heretic. Non-conformity; the eighth deadly sin.

  4. #4 by Christian on June 14, 2008 - 1:09 pm

    I’ve been talking to a nice fellow, over on Ask the Atheist. The conversation has veered a little a closer to this one. At one point he said;

    “I think religion is a poor man’s philosophy that simplifies (and in the extreme, it trivializes), then codifies some subset of the challenging issues that thinkers have wrestled with since the dawn of civilization. At best, it’s sort of the Cliff’s Notes ™ of spiritual thought.”

    To which I replied:

    “Actually, I see it almost exactly in the opposite way. I believe that the relationship that is meant to exist between man and God is designed to be quite simple. It is, however counterintuitive to the animal nature of man (one reason that Genesis emphasizes the superiority of man over the animals – his Godlike capacity for selfless love).

    Rather than change his own perspective (and ego) and engage in this simple relationship with God, man instead works ceaselessly at trying to get God’s plan to comfit to his own selfish desires. This results in ‘religion’, the piling upon and piling upon new theologies, doctrines,dogmas with all the rituals, rules and incoherent and contradictory language that comes with it.”

    A Cliff’s note of spiritual thought, I think, would say ;” Love God and love others as you would love yourself”, something which is at the core of all the world’s ‘great’ religions.

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