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.