http://7drizzles7.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/church.jpg

Replacing Our Outmoded Terminology

http://7drizzles7.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/church.jpg
For some readers this post may seem like nothing but nit picking, but hear me out. As a pastor who constantly preaches and listens to sermons I have learned that it is important for us, whether speaking in public or in one on one, to be mindful of the words and phrases we use. Over the years many of us become comfortable with our Christian lingo. We become so comfortable in fact that we think we are still speaking English when in reality we are speaking Christianese. The problem becomes worse when our Christianese is supplemented with the use of Lutheranese, Baptistese, or Adventese, etc. Thus, our language ends up twice removed from the real world and we don't even notice it. Then we get up to preach, teach, or share something with a friend and wonder why the youth are totally uninterested and why we can't seem to connect. I would like to propose that the problem is, in many cases, our hyper-religious vocabulary. In addition, these words often carry connotations that make younger listeners shut their brains off almost immediately. Here are a few words which I personally find irritating, why I find them irritating, and how we can convey the same message by simply using a different word.

Doctrine. What in the world does this word even mean? It's actually quite simple-it means teaching. But when was the last time you heard a teacher say "We will now study the doctrine of math"? Its a word which is highly alien outside of Christian circles and typically frowned at even within since "doctrinal" sermons have historically been characterized by the nouns boring, irrelevant, and dogmatic. Since doctrine is simply the teaching of the Bible - a teaching which tells a story about God - I prefer to use the phrase "God-story" instead.

Brothers and Sisters. Seriously, no one goes around in every day life calling people brother or sister. The closest I have come to this is in certain African American settings where it is cultural for them to call each other brother or sister. If that's your context then by all means have at it. But whenever I hear "brothers and sisters" from the pulpit I automatically think the speaker is out of touch. I often just use the word "guys" instead since that's how I talk in every day life.

Peculiar. So we are supposed to be a peculiar people. I get it. But how about we communicate that message by using a less peculiar word? Seriously, whenever I hear someone use this word my mind automatically conjures up images of people living in the 1800's. It's simply an old word, seldom used except maybe in poetry, and even has a boring sound to it. I prefer to use words like unique, counter-cultural, unusual, or even rebellious.

Beloved. OK everyone, Shakespeare lived and died a long time ago. No one says beloved anymore, its a relic of the past, so maybe calling the people in the audience "beloved" should be a relic of the past as well. Seriously, unless your entire audience is stuck in the 1800's this one should definitely go. As in "brothers and sisters" I have replaced this one with a simple "guys".

Revival & Reformation. Whenever I hear these terms I think of long faced rigid Christians who have no desire other than to make the entire Christian church as rigid as themselves. Of course, this is not what the terms mean but because so many have misused them in the past this is the connotation that they have come to have. In addition, the terms - especially the word "reformation" - are outdated. Reformation was a popular word in the 1800's and was being used all over the culture in the realm of social action but today the term is seldom used. I prefer to use the terms "reclaim, reboot, revolution, or restore".

Other examples include words and phrases such as: end times, last days, reverence, born again, slave to sin, fellowship, altar call, pulpit, benediction, call to worship, vespers, main service/ worship service, amen etc. All of these are words which are highly irrelevant to both younger and secular audiences and if we use them flippantly, without taking into consideration the linguistic gap we are creating and fostering by refusing to update our terms, we alienate people that we are meant to be serving. 

Now of course, we can't always replace the word and neither should we feel that we need to, but at the very least we should explain the words with modern illustrations so that the audience learns what it means. I do, however, recommend replacing the outmoded ones entirely as they present a barrier of understanding to those who speak a different generational language. In my own life I have discovered how easily truth is received when the right words to convey it are used. Instead of trying to be so fancy and religious all the time let's bend over backwards to make truth simple and accessible to those who don't share our church-culture.

6 comments:

  1. Hey Marcos, great blog you have going on! Love the thought provoking articles as well! This post is the first I've read and I'm liking it! A thought on doctrine though... I don't agree that doctrine can be simplified as "a teaching of the Bible" - though technically correct, it is a denomination's interpretation of a particular teaching of the Bible and therefore cannot be explained as "a teaching of the Bible". Adventist doctrines will differ greatly from say... Anglican or Methodist doctrines, which all stem from the same text.

    Because of the variation due to hermeneutical differences and the fact that doctrines are dogmatic because they essentially are "universal truths", it would be unfair to say that they are "God-stories" as well.

    For you and I who believe in these doctrines (which is why we are in this denomination), these doctrines are truths to us but alien to people who have not heard the beliefs nor the term that describes these beliefs. I would suggest that we could "suggest" our "beliefs" which are founded in the Bible to non-Christian or Adventist friends.

    People today want to experience for themselves. Metanarratives are so yesterday and unbelievable; yet people who experience the gospel end up believing in a metanarrative of Christ dying for the human race that all who believe in Him would be saved. May those who now believe, through their experience with God suggest their beliefs to non-believers through their personal testimony and trust built through friendship, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict them and bring them to embrace the Gospel!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Nat! Excellent reply. I love getting these friendly debates going, lol. So allow me to push back on the doctrine thing.

      In both original languages the word doctrine literally means learning or teaching. The word "doctrine" of course is simply a translation of those original words (didache in Greek) and it originated in the mid 1300's (thats like 700 years old!). So its a pretty ancient word that, grammatically speaking, simply means teaching. Now of course, words dont simply carry grammatical meanings, they also carry connotations. Those connotations come from what the word is associated with. Historically speaking doctrine is a word that has been (sadly) associated with irrelevance. However, biblical doctrines are not simply random facts that are meant to be true but each doctrine, or teaching, teaches us something about who God is as a person and when they are placed together we discover a story about God, hence why I refer to doctrine as God-story. And yes, Adventist doctrine does differ from other churches but what that essentially means is that the story we tell about God is also different from every other church. That's essentially why I am an Adventist, because our God-story is the most biblical and compelling story around.

      Delete
    2. So for me, when I preach "doctrine" I do it within the framework of story which is the meta-narrative of scripture. But perhaps this is the beauty of doctrine. What doctrine does is it takes the meta-narrative of scripture and breaks it into bite size chunks. When we study doctrine then, we are studying micro-narratives, short stories and character descriptions of God. Once we learn one we are then ready to learn another until ultimately, like a puzzle, the whole picture emerges as a story about God. Its genius!

      Delete
  2. I've heard proponents of that ideology take it a step further and include the very idea of remnant, in addition to the word. With such I would hesitate.

    My suggestion? Let's not let our own perceived stereotypes (whether accurate or not) determine what we say more than we make an effort to demonstrate the positive/intended reality such words (and their synonyms) were originally intended to represent.
    Having lived in or associated with people in various places where some of this terminology is commonplace, it doesn't take long before it seems a norm. In some contexts it was quickly attractive (though initially simultaneously odd/foreign), in others it wasn't as attractive. The lives behind the words used tend to flavor that, as your observation inherently notes.

    The word that bothers me at present is "Pastor". Not because of the term itself, but the ideology behind it. People have a tendency to uplift and idolize. I've even had some refer to me as a "man of God," as if I'm notably different from the rest in my Church. I'm not sure if the discomfort comes from a knowledge of my own human inadequacies within my Christian walk, so much as the idea that others consider themselves and/or others the contrary. A word like "brother," no matter how antiquated, would tend to lessen the hierarchy posed by "Pastor," though I'm not sure that's an ideal solution either since there is a time and place for formalisms too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Eric, great thoughts here dude! Im with you.

      Allow me to say that I dont think the ideas behind any of these words should be redefined. So to redefine the idea of remnant along with the word is not what I propose for any of these words. Language is not absolute. It is simply the way in which we communicate and that way evolves with every passing generation. That is why it is important for us to communicate the gospel in modern terms that the culture understands (huge pet pieve of mine is when people still preach from the KJV-seriously? Do you want people to not understand?) We should never redefine what the word represents but we should certainly seek to communicate that idea in a way that younger and more secular audiences can grasp. In short, we should make the gospel as easily accessible to the world as possible.

      Delete
    2. I feel you on the term pastor as well. Here in AUS none of the pastors like being called pastor, lol. They just like to be called by their first name. Thats what I prefer as well. There is no perfect solution to any of these issues nor should we dedicate too much time to it, but ultimately if we live with the intention of communicating the gospel as simply as possible, instead of hanging on to our Christianese for the sake of Christianese, we will do well.

      Delete

Please feel free to share your thoughts! Just remember to keep your comments friendly and relevant. Comments that are not risk being incinerated in cyber space. Happy typing! :D