Enslaved by Words

Words matter. We use them to talk, to share, to parcel out pieces of ourselves. Words paint pictures for artists, define parameters for lawyers, save lives for doctors, make silly silly for kids, and express the Divine for theologians.

It is likely that everyone is familiar with the tragic Penn State child molestation case. One of the enduring questions that remains is why Joe Paterno, a life-long class act, failed to do more. A recent CNN article demonstrated the possibility that Paterno’s hesitance, at least in part, could have been due to…words. Court documents have identified a ‘telephone game effect’: actions that were initially characterized as ‘sexual contact’ were modified in the retelling to ‘horsing around’ and even ‘not serious.’

Words matter. Words influence, motivate, define, and at times even dictate.

“I went to church over the weekend.” “What church do you go to?” “I love my church,” or “I hate my church!” “Where is that church again?” “How was church?” “That’s a great church!”

Funny, how often Christians will  state that of course they understand that ‘church’ is the body of Christ, people saved by God, the new covenant community of believers. OF COURSE it’s not a building!! And yet, outside of those occasional definitions of terms, we almost exclusively use the word ‘church’ to define a LOCATION or an EVENT.

And so evangelism is reduced to bringing a friend to church. Disicpleship devolves into attendance. Personal discipline is replaced with reliance, sacrifice with entitlement. Responsibility unravels into membership.

The Kingdom is conquered by the service.

Changing the way we talk changes the way we think. Imagine if we made the effort to only  use the word ‘church’ to refer to people, to the body of Christ. If we were to do so it would likely be cumbersome–blanket terms are handy because increase efficiency, like grease does for gears. But, it just might also push us to consider the realities that exist behind the words.

  • A friend of mine stopped praying “in Jesus’ name” because he felt it blasphemous to use Jesus as a verbal form of punctuation, as a period.
  • Is the Holy Spirit an ‘it’ or a ‘He’? Is it essential to retain the words ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ when translating the Bible?
  • What do we mean by ‘good news?’ How about “sharing the good news?”
  • Hope? Is it a girl’s name, or perhaps a meteorological or competitive athletics term? Or something more?
  • Are men called to lead? Or to love?
  • What exactly do we mean when we say the Bible is inerrant? Why does it even matter?
  • Why did the gospel writers use the word ‘kingdom’ so much while many of us do so little?

Words matter. The question is, how are you using them?

Or, perhaps more vitally, how are they using you?


About Tim Owens

I'm a husband, father, and Christ follower. I also live in Albany, NY, where I work as a pastor.
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3 Responses to Enslaved by Words

  1. Dave Lewis says:

    excellent…I think this way very often; especially as I have found myself,a church planter,caught in the midst of what seemed like utter failure….after a few years into this “church plant” it seemed like we were going nowhere. but I realized I was I was taking the wrong approach, thinking the wrong thoughts and asking the wrong questions…the wrong words were circling through my brain…well, at least the wrong use of those words. I have believed for a long time that the church is not a building or an organization;not a place or an event, but the living, breathing, body of Christ. Yet when attempting to plant a church, I could not get past the mindset that had been ingrained into me from childhood. So, I prayed and made a decision to stop “church planting” until I have a more Christ-centered understanding, from the inside out,as to what it really means.It is not about buildings and budgets and programs and marketing. It is and always will be about people; God’s people, and reaching out with His love and mercy to a lost and dying world. If I can keep this idea of “church” before me, success will be measured differently…not in numbers, but in individual lives changed because I took the time to get to know people and to share Christ’s love with them. Discipleship,aka, great commission, is time consuming ans requires patience and endurance and not giving up on people. Isn’t that what grace is? In church planting circles I have heard the terms used; missional, incarnational, emerging/emergent,contemporary, etc. even tried to do those things, or at least I thought I was trying to do them.But then the thought came to me to stop trying to do church and start being the church, and then success will come as naturally as planting a garden.I can’t plant the seeds and even water them and feed them, but only God can make them take root and grow and bear fruit

  2. KillMePlease says:

    We have been gradually encroaching upon and stifling our natural intellects with the artificiality of language. Language, with all of it’s technological elements, has been a major factor in societal grooming, manipulation, and control throughout the history of human civilization – whether primitive or modern. It is an artificial intelligence and a technological cancer at the core. Over the millennium we have been becoming increasingly dependent upon far too many aspects of languages – and the advent of computers (along with their dependency of languages) is a direct reflection of that.

    Throughout the millennium we have also been encroaching all of our so-called technological advancements (along with our languages of ideological values) upon the natural world. It is very much akin to “human supremacy”. We’ve have deemed ourselves to be some kind of superior-to-all species of life when in fact the contrary is far more accurate. Most (if not all) other lifeforms are far more suited to get along symbiotically with the natural environment than we humans are. What do we do? We create gods and spirits, philosophies and ideologies to enforce this artificially induced need for purpose and structure, meaning and solace in our lives.

    Till the entire human species comes to terms with all the technological aspects and impacts of language we will remain on a path of self annihilation; If we don’t have the collective means to come to terms with it then we will go extinct, and highly probable that we will take many other lifeforms (if not all life) with us.

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