Welcome, friends, to Church Speak Recovery Class. My name is Carol. [Hi, Carol.] And I’m a recovering addict of church speak. Yes, friends, for years, I suffered from an acute addiction to the compelling lure of church language. Its grip on me and my tongue was so tenacious that it could emerge at any time.
“Why, Laura, come in and have a muffin. Would you like a proper exegesis with that?”
While trying to live for the Lord, my uncontrolled use of the best practiced and most historically accurate of church terminology often puzzled people, in some cases, moving them further from the very God I wished them to know. I often saw the confusion spreading across their faces as I shared my thoughts of grace, mercy and ecclesiastical catechesis — and, yet, I was clueless as to what I had done to produce the wrinkled brow and baffled expression that regularly met my eager gaze.
Luckily, a mentor emerged to show me the error of my ways. “Carol,” he kindly said, “You do understand, don’t you, that the person you were speaking to believes Total Depravity is a headbanger group from the 90s?”
Now my brow wrinkled. It was then that I realized the need for change. Yes, friends, it took years to jettison my vocabulary of words unknown to many and, thus, worthless in attempts at actual communication. But, with Yahweh’s divine intervention, … I mean, with God’s help, I began.
I started small, and, by that, I mean Big. Big words were the easiest to locate and remove. Propitiation. Apostate. Dispensationalism. In fact, if the word ever appeared in any one of the Confessions, or was listed in a seminary dictionary, or possessed more syllables than the gears of my car, it was now set aside.
The harder task was to remove the little words, words that, while easy and simple to utter, were still unknown in concept to many people.
For example, I might say something seemingly plain, such as …
“Sin entered world, which caused the fall of creation. So, God sent a sacrifice to take on our sin, and that’s the plan of salvation” (hear the lyric beauty of the rhyme).
Seemed clear to me. But what people actually heard was …
Glorp entered the world, which caused the floogery of nim-cloppidge. So, God sent a ramdoozle to take on our Glorp. And that’s the drission of interpillionism.”
This struggle is insidious because the words become such a part of you. Try to imagine attempting to communicate, but being denied the use of the letter “m.” You might want to say “money,” but now you must pause. Your first instinct must be to set aside. Certainly you know of another word for money that doesn’t use “m,” but you’ll have to come to a mental halt, rifle through your cerebral Rolodex cards until you find something else. Eventually you’ll grab on to “currency,” “rubles,” “flat paper you use to buy stuff with.” It’s a tedious process. You’ll have to rigorously inspect everything that typically comes out of your mouth at each moment until you find a satisfactory substitute. Even the thought exhausts me.
I am not the only one who has recognized the vital importance in this mission to eliminate church-speak. Many pastors have led their congregations to consider their word choices in an effort to reach out to the unchurched.
“No church speak here!” the pamphlet proclaimed. “Only the truth, proclaimed in the beautiful and simple language of God” (which, as any Old Testament scholar will tell you, is Hebrew. Gotta wonder how well that’s working for them.)
I was recently on the Web site of a church that absolutely prided itself on its intentional commitment to avoid church culture jargon.
“Come visit us,” they heralded. “We speak your language. We simply share Jesus in ways that everyone can understand. So, join us and we’ll help you loosen yourself from your besetting sins.” Well, give them credit. At least they were off to a good start.
I’m reminded of a song of the Shakers — ‘Tis the gift to be Simple, ‘Tis the gift to be free. I couldn’t agree more. It would indeed be a gift if I were able to speak simply, clearly, with no loss of meaning. And it certainly would be freeing, most especially for anyone listening to me. C.S. Lewis felt the pull of this simplicity goal, as well. His BBC radio lectures (yes, the same BBC that eventually brought you Monty Python) on the basics of the Christian faith were an attempt at simple, clear understanding of some rather weighty concepts. So successful was his work that many came to faith as a result, and the subsequent book, Mere Christianity continues to be standard reading, even 50 years later. It is to such simplicity and clarity that I aspire … as well as to a best seller that sells well for half a century.
Of course, if you ever miss the good ole’ days when you could speak your mind without a single edit and produce that puzzled look on the face of your listener, you can always briefly drop back to your old ways. Start chatting up someone in the grocery line and tell ‘em it’s all under the blood, or don’t cast your pearls before swine, or that they should perhaps put out a fleece. OR, you could use my new favorite, … You gotta lay your Isaac down. Gets ‘em every time.