05 December 2007

No Linguistic Socialism In Church

I read an interesting article the other day from the Nov. 18 issue of Christian Standard. Paul Williams, who writes the "And So It Goes" column, asked the question, "is keeping it simple always a good idea?" The idea of the article is that in many places and environments, insider language is expected and appropriate. If you don't know it, you will learn it in time.

He writes, "In the world of growing churches we are always encouraged to keep our language seventh-grade generic, the language of the people. Don't speak so you can be understood. Speak so you cannot be misunderstood." And later, "I want to be sensitive to those just beginning the spiritual journey, but there are times I also want to praise God for his omnipotence."

He's onto something here; for a long time, I have bristled at churches that "dumb down" everything for the sake of being relevant and understandable. It seems their M.O. is "small words leads to big numbers." Perhaps that's too harsh, but there is a trend of not using insider language so nobody feels left out or stupid. This trend is ubiquitous in contemporary worship songs. Generally, I don't have a problem with such songs; I often listen to my local Christian station, WAKW. And there are some great songs out there now (by the likes of Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin); they certainly have gotten better since the 90s, showing a renewed passion for worship songs (not just feel-good Christian songs) and songs that don't try to be too dramatic (like the melodramatic Carman) but seek to just tell God how you feel. That said, though, there sure is a lot of fluff out there, too (Trading My Sorrows, I Could Sing of Your Love Forever, and just about anything with "River" in it - thanks Danny for the idea - love it!).

Here's what I offer for your consideration: why don't we use big words, then explain them so people will: a) learn their meaning, and b) benefit from it. We have some great words: propitiation, redemption, repentance, etc. - let's keep using them and explain them to the people. You could have a whole sermon on redemption. And hymns - keep them coming. Explain the words ("here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I've come"?), but keep them coming. Sure, maybe kick out the organ and jazz up the arrangement a bit, but hymns are often very powerful, memorable, and capable aids to worship. But one thing we should not do is become vocabulary socialists: people who "level the playing field" not by raising up those with a poor vocabulary, but by suppressing those with a rich vocabulary. Or as Mr. Williams suggests, "Maybe what we need to do is make a concerted effort to more quickly turn outsiders into insiders."

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