Churchese; February 8, 2020


Romans 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Edification is a word that gets used a good bit in church but hardly anywhere else. Considering that an edifice is an imposing building, you might get the impression it means making people into buildings! The Japanese translation I use has the much more understandable, “spiritual growth.” Every field of study has specialized words that are used freely but are mysterious to a newcomer. In technical fields that is unavoidable, but even there, sometimes there’s a much simpler, or at least easier to understand, way of expressing things. In church there are some terms, like “atonement,” that are unavoidable, but that can get so deep, a close family friend even wrote a book on it, titled, Interpreting the Atonement. There are numbers of other terms, however, like edification, for which substitutes are easy to find. The more such specialized words are used, the more those using them have an “in-crowd” feel, and that’s part of the attraction. As a song of many years ago said, we like to feel that “I’m in with the in-crowd.” However, that is in stark contrast to the whole spirit of the New Testament. God chose Greek as the language to be used precisely because it was the most common, the commercial language that communicated across cultures. There were some people who used it beautifully, and there were some people who butchered it but still communicated. The two letters of Peter are a good example. 1 Peter is such good Greek that it is almost universally used in teaching new students, but the vocabulary and grammar are those of Silas, who served as Peter’s stenographer. (1 Peter 5:12) 2 Peter, on the other hand, seems to have been written directly by Peter, and his origins as a Galilean fisherman really show through. 2 Peter would not get a good grade in Greek class! The whole point is that beautiful words, both spoken and written, are hardly out of place in church, but the focus must be on communicating, on getting past the barriers that keep people away from intimacy with God. When we use “churchese” just to feel big, we are violating what Jesus said in Matthew 25:31-46.

This is a real issue for me, because growing up in church as I did, even the most arcane vocabulary seems natural to me. (Also, I happen to have a very large vocabulary otherwise as well.) When Cathy edits my devotions for me to use them in my blog, frequently she will flag words that are unnecessarily difficult. Sometimes I will override her recommendations, but generally I accept them. Since I teach Medical English to Japanese as a source of income, I certainly understand the usefulness of technical terms. However, the average Japanese has zero background in Christian terminology, and I must make that barrier as low as possible. That’s the valid side of being “seeker sensitive.” I am not to compromise the truths of the Gospel in any way, but I am to make them as easy to understand as possible. Even people who have been in church for a long time often have only a vague understanding of some of the terms that come very naturally to me. I’ve got to recognize that and allow the Holy Spirit to give me good words to express those truths in ways that will penetrate.

Father, thank You for this Word. Thank You that the past couple of sermons I’ve preached were judged as “easy to understand.” Help me not hold back from anything You want to say through me, but to express it in words that will indeed foster spiritual growth, building disciples for Jesus Christ. Thank You. Praise God!

About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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