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?