Saturday, August 29, 2015

Speaking God's language

The language—that is, the vocabulary—that I read in a lot of Christian blogs is very technical and sophisticated, such as ‘for a Church to reach it's culture with the gospel it must contextualize itself…’, etc. This way of talking, and the thinking that goes with it, seems alien to the plain words of scripture, of the gospels and the apostolic letters. Neither Jesus nor the apostles spoke like that. In fact, the way Jesus did speak made his enemies say things like, ‘No man has ever spoken like Him before! We just couldn't arrest Him!’ (John 7:45-53).
We do not try to be ‘relevant’ to the pervasive culture, anymore than a city set on a hill can hide itself, or a lamp covers itself with a bushel.

It's not the Church that has to reach the culture that surrounds us. It's the people of God, ‘the holy nation of priests and kings’ (1 Peter 2:9) that are here to serve their God—‘between Christ's first and second coming, there's nobody here but us!’—who simply study the Word, ingest it, digest it—‘you are what you eat’—immerse themselves in the Word totally, not just pouring it or sprinkling it on themselves—‘we are all little fishes in Christ our great Fish’ (Tertullian, On Baptism)—speak the Word—‘Word of God for my utterance’ (Patrick, Lorica)—practice the Word, share the Word as it is, nothing added, nothing taken away, live in the Word, witness to the Word and, ultimately, die in the Word. That Word is what sustains all, teaches all, speaks to us ‘as a mother speaks to her child, in baby talk’, but that's a dialect that we will never outgrow while we live on this earth.

The Word of God is always relevant, without any help from us, as long as we use a translation ‘understanded of the people’ (Article XXIV, the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Book of Common Prayer).

Church can always be relevant too, that is, if it focuses on the salvation of the individual through Christ and lets worship and teaching be unwaveringly simple, and centered on that Word of God that in human form came to us as a Man, died for us, and was raised for us, and who as the God-Man has taken us with Him into the Father's throne room.

Our worship, our fellowship, our prayer, our practice, our love, our witness, everything about us, must be in the light of that Fact, that ‘the Word was made flesh and dwellt among us’ (John 1:14). What could ever be more relevant than that?

Without knowing it, we might drive the unsaved away by wearing stiff, formal clothes, singing loudly on street corners old-fashioned Christian hymns and handing out tracts to passers-by, while a pro-Marijuana rally is going on in the next block. This was one group's way of presenting the good news. I suspect, these folks were also not thinking of being ‘relevant’ to the culture around them; but on the other hand, probably not many unsaved are going to be reached this way. I don't decry this method, it's just not what I do.

Some folks I saw downtown one day singing the old hymns and all dressed up in their Christian ‘native garb,’ doing their traditional evangelism—handing out tracts—were probably not going to attract many people, because their Christian culture has already ‘petrified’ and has been pidgeonholed in the current American mindset as ‘religious fanatics.’

When we witness in public, we should do nothing to draw attention to ourselves, our personal or church culture, but be as personally unassuming as possible, so that the Word which we proclaim is all that is heard. That way, we do not prove to be a stumblingblock to the unsaved listener. (For example, don't wear special clothes or sloganwear when witnessing downtown.)

As an Orthodox Christian, I am well aware of the process called ‘contextualisation’, because my church, the Greek Orthodox, did exactly that—only it's called ‘incarnation of the Gospel’ among us (this is a scriptural way of speaking).

Kyrillos and Methodios created an alphabet for the Slavs and translated not only the scriptures but all our services into Slavonic. Later, the Russian Orthodox did the same thing as they expanded across northern Asia (Siberia) and Alaska encountering and evangelizing dozens of tribes of native peoples. And the Orthodox still do this today. But all this notwithstanding, that is not the point I am trying to make. (Other churches do similar things.)

In meeting a culture, we do not multiply analytical books, but simply present the Word of God in a language the culture will understand, and that is all. The Word of God will mold every new culture as He molds every new person who accepts Him.

My son Jacob wrote on the topic of scripture study, ‘We should not seek to incorporate the bible within our worldview and interpret it to meet us where we are - rather, we yield our own worldview to the authority of scripture and allow it to lead us and become the world that we live in. This is the only way to truly reap the full benefits of scriptural study. We live in God's world by taking on the vocabulary and culture of the scriptural universe and allowing it to clothe our thoughts and feelings.’

I agree with Jacob, that we choose to live in God's world by taking on the vocabulary and culture of the scriptural universe and allowing it to clothe our thoughts and feelings. Extending it one more degree, we allow it also to clothe our actions.

The way we speak about God, about salvation, about the Church, about everything, is expressed in scriptural vocabulary. It's not something we have to strive for; it just happens to us. By our immersion in the Word of God, we just learn to think and speak and feel and do as the Word of God directs.

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