The problem of “church words” no one else understands

Church words.
They are a problem.
A big problem.
We (Christians) use words that we learn in church. We know what they mean.
But that doesn’t mean everyone else does.
It’s like slang words/phrases – figures of speech.

The problem of "church words" no one else understands

Take the mage to the right. Well, there’s an example of what I mean and it’s not even a church word! Of course, you can’t literally take the image.

Normally, we think of taking someone for ourselves. For instance, if I’m holding a book, and you take it from me, then I no longer have the book.

But for this image, you can copy it. But that won’t actually take it – as in remove it from the page.
BTW – please don’t try to hack the site and take the image away.

Anyway, after that aside, the point of the image was to say that “giving something to God” isn’t necessarily what someone might think.
Let’s look at an example.

The problem of “church words”

““Did she say anything else?”
“Yes—something that really bothered me.”
“What was that?”
“She said—and I recall this very well—Mary Sue said she was ‘giving Joshua to God.’ That’s exactly what she said.”
“Do you know what she meant by that?”
Will rapped out.
The judge overruled the objection.
“I was afraid that she might have made a decision—a very frightening decision—that somehow Joshua would be better off in heaven with God.”
“Is that when you called the Department of Social Services?”
“That’s what I did, yes.””

          from “Custody of the State (Chambers of Justice Book 2)” by Craig Parshall

The book is fictional.

The story though? I wouldn’t be surprised if things like this really happen.

Christians know what “Mary Sue said she was ‘giving Joshua to God‘ means. Non-Christians? There’s a very good probability they might think Mary Sue was about to kill Joshua, just like the person testifying. The two things are as different as night and day. But if we don’t know what those church words, giving Joshua to God, mean, all sorts of opinions and biases can come in.

The problem of unfamiliar words

Interestingly enough, I was watching an old episode of Law & Order while having lunch, the same day I read this part of the book.  And they were having similar issues.  Someone was being questioned by the DA – and as part of the answer the person says that something “wasn’t on my radar”.  So the question back to the witness was about what he said being a figure of speech – it’s not like the person actually had a radar device at work or at home.  Everyone knows what the person meant.  Unless, maybe someone was watching from another country that learned English as a second language, and hadn’t learned that particular figure of speech.  Then that person may be wondering if people here actually had their own personal radar units.

Why do we use “church words”?

So I read this, and wondered why we make up these terms/phrases.  
It’s short – it’s easy to say.
But it’s so confusing for someone who isn’t already Christian and doesn’t yet know our words.  
It puts them in the position of having to ask questions about what we said.
Or maybe it leaves them in the dark because they didn’t ask. Because they’re self-conscious about not knowing English.
Or maybe they just walk away from Christianity because they think we’re trying to keep something secret by using these strange words.
Or – maybe the scenario in the book plays out.

None of those are good.

I’ve become more conscious of that as we try to include people who come from China, speak little English, are too self-conscious to ask, and are lost as far as what we’re trying to say.

What did Jesus tell us to do?

In the Great Commission, Jesus tells us:

The Great Commission

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said,All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

That’s really hard to do if we’re not taking care to use words that people in or from other nations will actually understand.

It’s hard enough to get the message of The Gospel.  Adding strange words/ figures of speech makes it even harder. For instance, what does Gospel mean?

The problem of “church words” no one else understands

I think the problem is not theirs – it’s ours.

By that, of course, I mean the person who doesn’t know our church words isn’t at fault. If we’re honest, at one time, not a single one of us knew any of those church words either. But something happens. We get used to them. We assume everyone knows the things we once didn’t know. As I write this, it sounds arrogant. Careless. Thoughtless. None of those things are representative of how we, as Christians, should act.

Therefore, the problem isn’t other people. The problem is, in a word, us.

When we reach out to others, we need to remember where they are, where we used to be – and try to reach them.

And that includes being understandable and practicing patience as we teach them in a way that makes it easy for them to understand.

I wrote the first version of this back in August of 2016. Now it’s January, 2022. About five and a half years later. And, ironically, I had to add things to it to be sure I was clear. More clear than I was the first time.

Part of the irony is that we Christians believe the Holy Spirit will teach us and remind us as we go through life. How many non-Christians realize that we believe God Himself “speaks” to us, if we take the time to listen? That even in the process of writing, I rely on what we call the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit? And because of that, I write about the problems of church words, and then all these years later I find I could have done it better.

So yeah – as I said, the problem is us. And in this case, for anyone who didn’t quite get it from the previous version, maybe the problem was me.

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