How often does the word “Christian-ese” pair up with these terms in a tone of cynicism, or criticism? Maybe it’s just me and my black & white thinking and people-pleasing nature, but I have found myself often afraid to use Christian vocabulary in my every day conversations with fellow believers around me, for fear of being judged as “cliché” or “hypocritical” and not really empathetic towards them. This concern comes in part from the experience of people who throw these terms to the wind, not really understanding their meaning, or appreciating the depth of truth they contain. It also comes from a well-grounded caution not to use these words too frequently in conversations with those who do not know Christ.
Let me state that I fully believe we need to be cautious when we use words that are not comprehensible to one another—a primary goal of communication is to understand. This all the more applies to our conversations with those who do not know Christ—it’s a turn off to any of us, Christian or not, when we hearing “insider” terminology said with the non-verbal assumption that we should all understand what the other person is talking about. Think for me of the last time you were in a conversation with two “computer geeks” as they discussed the intricacies of Windows 7. How long did you stick around before your mind checked out, or you simply walked away to find another more relatable discussion? In the same way, let’s be careful to not turn people away by communicating in a way they cannot reasonably understand, particularly as we are trying to share Christ with them!
That said, I would like to assert that there is significant value in incorporating Biblical language in our every day interactions with those whom the Bible would call “our brothers and sisters in Christ.” There is no reason to fear that people will judge you as “too Christian.” What kind of ridiculous assertion is that anyway?!
Why do I say this?
Colossians 3:16 has formed much of my thinking on this: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”
Let’s take this verse literally, since that is probably how the author intended it!
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…”
What is the word of Christ? It’s Scripture! John 2:22 implies as such: “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”
There is much more that could be said on the topic of the “Word of Christ,” but that is beyond the scope of a simple blog post…
Or is it?
This is precisely my point. Right now, you and I are likely thinking different things when we hear the phrase “word of Christ.” Perhaps you are wondering what else there is to say about it. Perhaps you are thinking: if you take that literally, wouldn’t it only apply to the actual spoken and recorded words of Christ in the Gospel? There are those that believe that…and that has led them to establish a “new” Bible, only looking to the red letters of Scripture as words with the highest level of authority. If you are of that sort, with all graciousness, I must respectfully disagree with you.
It is this phenomenon—the widespread differences of interpretations of Scripture—that have led to diverse denominations of Christianity around the world. And now, the post-modern, highly-tolerant culture around us presses in upon us, contending with us to “see past our differences” and become more unified in our shared beliefs—at times simply leaving our differentiations on the wayside.
And consequently, we too often neglect the rich vocabulary of Biblical language, to communicate in terms that we all equally understand. Hence the creation of Bible translations such as “The Message” and “The Living Bible.” I do not disagree that there is value to these relatable versions of Scripture…but perhaps they at times receive more emphasis than they warrant.
If you want to approach this from the post-modern angle, let’s remember what we do share among us Christians—The Word of God—i.e. the Bible. And when it was written, it was in a specific language, culture, and time—which means, just like you and I communicate to be understood, so too the authors of the Bible communicated, expecting to be understood. The basic guiding principle of Protestant Christianity is that the Bible is understandable to all people. (Just go watch Luther, if you’re wondering where I got that from).
But what about the phenomenon we just experienced, of not us not certain of our understanding when I used the Biblical descriptor “the word of Christ”?
Fair question! Let’s consider one consequence of my introducing that word into our discussion here: it forced us to stop and think about what the phrase means—i.e. meditation—which, I would humbly assert, is a step of obedience to the very command we were looking at—letting the word of Christ dwell in us.
Perhaps this is why Paul instructs this very thing…because we’re not meant to be solo Christians, we’re meant to walk this life in community.
I’m sure you can relate to the experience of reading the Bible in your devotional time in the morning, and finding it difficult to “get much out of it”. Reading something once doesn’t often cause the material to “stick” in your head very long. Meditation is key to letting the words of Scripture shape your perspective—which is the expressed intent of spending time with God in the first place (see Romans 12:1-2). I would venture to say that for some of us, it can be hard to get our minds rolling in different directions when we’re by ourselves. We tend quite often to be stuck in our one way of thinking. But when someone else, with their different way of thinking, brings up a topic, suddenly you have rich discussion, filled with various thoughts and considerations. Mulling over Scripture in this way can thus entrench it in our minds.
The second reason I would assert the importance of speaking Scripture to one another is because God’s Words have inherent authority and power. They are “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart,” (Hebrews 4:12). Just look at what happened to the Israelites when Ezra read the Scripture for the first time after several years of being without it: Nehemiah 8:9, “For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.”
Actually, this story is a crucial one for our conversation, for it combines both the use of God’s Word, and the principle of good communication—making God’s word understandable. Verse 8 reads, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read,” (NIV). It reminds us that both ought to exist hand-in-hand, not neglecting God’s Word for the sake of understanding, and yet not ignoring the basic communication guideline of being understood.
Scripture has a way of bringing us all under the same place of authority. Rather than bouncing around various personal opinions and perspectives that are fallen and tainted by sin, we instead come together under one source of truth. It accomplishes the very unity that post-modern “tolerance” is trying to achieve.
I read recently a story of just how powerful Scripture can be in conversation between believers. From Justin Taylor’s Blog (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2009/11/05/wielding-the-sword-of-the-spirit/ ):
In 1972 Daniel Fuller wrote a biography of his father, Charles Fuller (the founder of the seminary)…The other day I came across a delightful anecdote about Grace Payton, soon to be Mrs. Charles Fuller. It was the summer of 1909:
Later that summer Grace Payton told several people that she felt that Unitarianism was the most reasonable faith that one could accept. What could be more simple than to worship God as one and to see Christ as the great example for daily living but not as the One who is the Son of God?
One of her mother’s close friends was Mrs. Leonora Barnhill. This woman had had a very hard life. She had come from the East to the dry climate of Redlands to overcome tuberculosis. While taking special courses to qualify her to teach in California, she had to support herself by working in a novelty shop six days a week, eleven hours a day for five dollars a week. But despite all these difficulties, she was a radiant Christian, and she became a close friend of the Paytons.
One evening Grace and Mrs. Barnhill were seated in front of the fireplace, and Grace was saying to her, “You know, Barney dear, I worship only God. Christ was merely our example.” Mrs. Barnhill replied, “Oh, Grace, Christ said, ‘No man cometh unto the Father but by Me,’ and my dear, you have no way of approach to a holy God unless you come through Christ, His Son, as your Savior.” Grace said later, “The Scripture she quoted was the sword of the Spirit, and at that moment Unitarianism was killed forever in my heart. I believed that moment, though I said nothing, and believing God’s Word, I instantly became a new creature in Christ.”
Our diverse, post-modern, multiple-denominational Christianity can pressure us to lay aside words and vocabulary that none of us are certain we understand anymore…but doing so, I believe, can have grave consequences on our fellowship as believers united under One Lord and One Faith, as well as losing the valuable tool of corporate meditation of Scripture.
Next time you consider whether to use a “Christian-ese” word, recall to mind that God’s word has a powerful way of bringing us together, and submitting our hearts to Him—and decide whether time and context permit opportunity to discuss and meditate together on what that “Scriptural” term actually means.
…at least that’s the assertion of one believer still trying to figure out how to live Christianity in our oft-confusing post-modern world.
From the pen of Mrs. Burbidge