Monday, July 18, 2016

Lingo or Perfection

How to put it? It’s always the great dilemma.

For instance, I can tell you — my new, unsaved friend — that I enjoy the fellowship of the saints in the assembly at 14th and Dutton. After shaking your head, you might eventually figure out what I’m blathering on about. Or not.

Alternatively, I can simply say, “I go to church at the corner of Dutton and 14th”, something you will almost certainly grasp immediately.

The Better Way

Which formulation is better? My second attempt is clearly technically inferior. It is theologically inaccurate. It dodges truths that cry out for further exposition. Still, it communicates with the unchurched much more efficiently than my first formulation.

Now when I use the term “unchurched” here, I don’t mean it as some kind of cheesy euphemism for “lost” or “unsaved” that delicately skirts the real issue, glossing over the difference between light and darkness, heaven and hell. What people need first and foremost is always Jesus Christ; the church, while important, is a relative afterthought. No, I mean literally unchurched, as in completely and utterly unfamiliar with Christian culture and our conversations densely packed with jargon that doesn’t track with anyone but our own in-crowd.

What’s a “Tract” Anyhow?

I remember a newly-saved acquaintance at a Bible study being confused by the word “tract”. That’s not even a word that comes from the Bible, but he’d never heard it before. The concept had to be explained to him, along with many, many other things. At least he had the courage to ask the question. Many do not.

This, I think, is what we’re all about as Christians. Real communication.

When talking to unbelievers, high-churchers or denominationalists, I tend to opt for the second iteration (“go to church”), despite acknowledging the first set of terms (“fellowship”, “saints”, “assembly”) to be technically superior.

Assembling the Church

You will not hear me use the word “assembly” unless I slip up (or know you well enough to know you understand me without a ten-line explanation), though it is by far the technically superior translation of the Greek ecclesia, which simply means “gathering”, and carries none of the religious baggage its English equivalent has accumulated over the last several hundred years. (In English “church” is frequently assumed to mean a geographic location or a denomination, a concept far, FAR from the original apostolic intent.)

But sadly, “assembly” is worse. It sounds like instructions for putting together a piece of IKEA furniture, even though it’s better translation. Google “assembly” if you doubt me. It’s jargon. With most audiences it doesn’t penetrate at all.

Do Not Pass GO

Likewise, “go to” is a shallow, tepid, feeble substitute for what God intends his people to experience when they gather in the name of Jesus Christ. You don’t just GO, you FELLOWSHIP. You experience the shared life of millions of followers of Jesus Christ. You don’t just sit in a pew. There’s nothing passive about it.

But “go to” transmits meaning to anyone who is not an insider more effectively than does “fellowship”, which has no modern communication value outside small circles of Lord of the Rings geeks and intellectuals. Yes, that’s sad, and if those unbelievers give us a chance to correct ourselves, we’ll be right in there explaining how much more there is to the way we come together as believers in Jesus Christ.

This Saint Working

And please don’t even get me started on “saints”, a beautiful and biblical term packed with all kinds of wonderful truth that causes total confusion not only with Catholics but with anyone outside a very small, informed circle.

This is the great dilemma: do we want to insist on more in-group jargon-speak, or do we want a faint hope of extending our discussion further?

I say let’s keep talking.

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