Christian Speak Part I

Imagine what school would have been like if we were never taught any new words.  Instead, what if our teachers would talk about the concepts represented by those words, but wouldn’t use the actual words for fear that they were “too big” for us to understand?  Think about how difficult it would be for us to grow in our understanding and knowledge if our vocabulary were limited such that we weren’t taught the actual words represented by these concepts.  Rather than grow in our understanding, we’d wallow in shallowness.

Sadly, this is the approach of many Christian pastors towards teaching Scripture.  Rather than use the actual words God chose, they instead teach the concepts, thus dumbing down what Scripture actually teaches with this Christian Speak.  On a recent White Horse Inn program (a Christian radio program), they played clips of interviews with Christian pastors, asking them about their use of the words justification, propitiation, and imputation.  Arguably, these are some of the most important words in the Bible, as they describe and help us to understand the great salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus.  Here are the pastors’ responses:

• I usually translate those terms into terms people can grab a little bit more easily.

• Those are churchy words and I try to avoid them.  We’re dealing with a culture that doesn’t want the show, they want authenticity.  I try to use culturally relevant illustrations because that’s what Jesus did.

• If they heard those words, my congregation would say, “What does that mean?”  I teach the concepts without using the big words.  I’m not into the religious language so much.

• The doctrine of imputation is not very important to my ministry.  I don’t use that term but do discuss the issue.  I have to bring it down to people’s level, how it fits into day to day life.

• If you asked my congregation about doctrine, it wouldn’t matter.  Apologetics don’t matter.

• I’m not going to talk about justification and all that Paul goes through and struggles with in Romans.  I want to know what is Jesus doing in your life now.

Reading these comments, it’s hard to know where to begin to discuss them; so much could be said!  First and foremost, however, is the absolute arrogance on display.  Consider that all Scripture is God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).  That is to say, the God of the universe, the Creator of all things, chose the individual words that are recorded for us in Scripture.  Yet, these and many other pastors, in their “wisdom” have decided that these words are too “big”, too “churchy”, too “showy”, too “religious”.  Somehow, they have decided that they know better than God, and have figured out better words to use.  This is the height of arrogance.

Second, this assumes that believers, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, would not understand and even be bored by the actual words that are in Scripture.  Again, somehow, these pastors have figured out “better” words to use to teach these concepts.  But God tells us that He will sanctify us in the truth, which is His word (John 17:17).  That, of course, means Scripture, which means we need to use the words God chose.  We need to conform to God and His word, not have Scripture conform to us.

Third, God says that Scripture (meaning the words God chose to write for us) is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  This is the job of the pastor, to feed God’s sheep.  As part of that feeding, the pastor needs to instruct believers in the meaning of God’s word, and that requires introducing them to words that God used, like justification, propitiation, sanctification, and imputation.  It is through these very words that God teaches us, reproves us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness.  It is this God ordained process by which we are made adequate and equipped for God’s work.

Thankfully, our schools do teach us new words, by which we grow in our knowledge and understanding.  Likewise, pastors should stick to the words God chose for us in His holy word.  God does not call us to be culturally relevant based on what the culture desires.  Ironically, we can only be culturally relevant if we have the true gospel, and the “big, churchy” words are the ones God gave us to help us understand His gospel.  If pastors will feed the sheep with God’s food, then God’s people can be a light that shines for His glory.

Next, I'll take a look at some of these “big, churchy” words to examine their true meaning. Continue reading Part 2...