The Church Must Use The Common Language
Loaded weapons are dangerous, but so are loaded words. “…but words can never hurt me.” is a myth. And we know it. When we send someone out on a cross-cultural mission, we place a high value on learning the local language, even down to the dialect. However, when it comes to reaching our own culture here in NorthAm we are stuck using loaded expressions rather than make the effort to use relevant language. We need to be less committed to specific words and more committed to the concepts at the heart of following Jesus.
E: If you want to go to church in NorthAm then at least learn the language, I’m with you.
CV: Um, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that the local church should speak the local English or whatever is commonly spoken in their neighbourhood.
E: I’m fine with that, that’s what I do, I think it’s what we all do and you’re just stating the obvious.
CV: O.K., which English do you use?
E: Hello? English English, what other kind is there?
CV: I have a friend in England, English speaking, he was over in California with his wife visiting a church to do some teaching. He and his wife were staying with a couple who had a spare room. My friends were upstairs in their bedroom together working on notes for that night’s talk when my friend needed to make some corrections to his notes. His pencil didn’t have an eraser. He walked down the steps to the main floor where his hosts were working on lunch and asked, “Do you have a rubber I could use?” That was the day he learned that a “rubber” in England is called an “eraser” in the U.S.
E: And you’re saying…?
CV: That we use words all the time that have lost the meaning we’ve given them in the culture in which we want to use them.
E: I’m still not getting you.
CV: Back in our Bible College days we heard more than one sermon from someone using a King James Version of the English Bible to preach, “Study to show thyself approved.” The problem was that before your first year was over you knew that “Study” to the good King James meant something entirely different than the word “Study” meant in the Bible College context.
E: That’s true. I always thought I could’ve preached a better chapel talk if they would’ve asked me.
CV: I recall you saying that. Anyway, the point is that we’re still using words that we all recognize as English but they no longer carry the same meaning that they once did and that creates tremendous confusion, misunderstanding and often hurt that creates barriers for the simple message of Jesus.
E: Simple? Dude, we endured 4 and half years of Bible College to learn this stuff and you’re calling it simple? You sound like me now.
CV: I’m not saying that our education path was simple, or easy, I’m talking about the simplicity with which Jesus spoke to the ordinary folks of his day.
E:So what are some words we are getting confused about today?
CV: Well, here’s one: “Sinner.” What does that mean to you?
E: Someone who doesn’t agree with me.
CV: That was a very honest answer E.
E: Are you saying I’m not right?
CV: Well, “Sinner” means a lot of things to a lot of people. A lot of people hear that and they immediately put it in their own context and hear, “bad person” or “immoral person” or “degenerate” or maybe “criminal”. They aren’t any of those things and so everything you say in that context is about someone else that they’re not really sure even exists.
E: You’re saying there’s no such thing as a sinner?
CV: No. I’m just saying that we need to make sure we know what we mean and then find common language that can share the concept without all the unnecessary baggage. Voltaire said, “If you want to converse with me, first define your terms.”
E: What other words do you think need some re-translation?
CV: Words like: love, good, hell, saint, sin, saved and lord.
E: You don’t believe in any of those things?
CV: I believe very strongly in the concepts behind all of those things but what matters is that our culture has come into whole new understandings and feelings of and about these words. In some instances we, as the Church, have completely missed the point of the concepts behind the original words and have inserted our own connotations and created our own dialect, “Christianese” that we share, pass on and think represents the original.
E: And you don’t think it does?
CV: Remember “Study to show thy self approved.”? The story of Jesus begins with God seeking to express himself in a way that can’t be misinterpreted. “And the Word became flesh.” He became like us so there wouldn’t be a filter, no men to declare themselves interpreters – “the exact representation of his (God’s) nature” – another writer says. Connecting the concepts via local, flesh and blood, common expression has always been the story with Jesus. Most people who aren’t intrigued by Jesus are responding more to perception that to reality. I’m just saying we need to own that it’s our fault and do the relational work that emphasizes the concepts over the actual words.
E? You still here.
E: Oh, sorry, you lost me there. So this makes me valuable in telling people what they ought to believe in what way?
CV: Never mind E, we’ll pick it up another day.