This blog post is a continuation of the series which I began last week. The series is intended to give reasons which I believe cause people to say the church no longer works for them. Here are the earlier posts in the series:
Today, I am presenting the case that a lack of language is a reason which leads to the church no longer working in people’s lives. Let me be clear, the church uses a lot of words. However, those words are usually very difficult for people to understand unless they have had some training or education into the language of the church.
When I talk with people, I often hear them say that they feel they do not truly understand a lot of the words and terms which we use in the church. Most of these come from centuries long ago. They are not words which we use in everyday speaking. Some words have crossed over into discussions outside of the church but the understandings associated with them are very skewed or do not reflect the original intent of the word.
The late Eugene Petersen understood this was an issue over thirty years ago. In1993 he released a copy of The Message – New Testament. Petersen’s goal was to take the Bible and translate it into words that people of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century were using. Over the next nine years he would release the Old Testament translation in two sections and eventually the two Testaments together in one volume. Eugene Petersen understood that it was important for people to read the Bible in a language that made sense to them. Not a new idea since that is exactly what happened during the Protestant Reformation.
The language in which someone can read the Bible is an important piece but it cannot be the only piece. How many times do we use words such as grace, redemption, trinity, forgiveness, salvation, sin, atonement, unconditional love, or hope, yet never explain what we mean by them. What about the words we use in the building: narthex, sacristy, nave, sanctuary, altar, table, pulpit, lectern, or chalice. Again, words that we do not explain and assume everyone knows what we are talking about. The language of the church can be like a foreign language to individuals.
We need to take an example for Eugene Petersen. The church needs to translate its words into the language of today. Where an equivalent cannot be found, explanation and teaching is in order. Where we can use today’s words to describe a concept or aspect of our church space, then we need use today’s words and not the words of the sixteenth century.
Unfortunately, too many in the church seem to adopt the attitude that if a person wishes to be part of our fellowship, they need to learn the language. We expect change on the part of the individual. The problem with this view is that it presents a dividing of those who are in (the one’s who can speak the language) and those who are out (the one’s who have no understanding of the language). The bigger problem is that a large number will choose not to even attempt to learn this foreign language but instead walk out the door and find a place where they can understand what people are saying.