Church Words

Why aren’t more people Christians? Maybe it’s because they don’t speak our language.

confused-black-man-green-shirt-400x2951Christians, especially evangelicals, use a lot of words that are rarely heard outside of church and are confusing to folks who are “unchurched,” which is a word invented by Christians to describe people who don’t understand church speak. We believers have a whole vocabulary of special words and phrases we use as shorthand to describe what we believe about God. It’s Christian jargon that can complicate the gospel, and the gospel is really a simple proposition.

A few years ago I participated in an English-language camp in China and used the phrase “bent over backwards” with a group of students who spoke only rudimentary English. They were flummoxed by the expression, assuming I talking about yoga or torture. In the same way we can create confusion when we use simple church-speak like “have you given your heart to Jesus?” An 8-year-old who has been to Vacation Bible School may know what you mean, but there are Ivy League graduates who would furrow their brow over that statement.

The challenge for Christians is to speak clearly the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s one reason I typically refer to myself as a Jesus follower, rather than someone who is “saved” or “redeemed.” I rarely use the word “Christian” to describe myself because “Christian” has such an ambiguous definition in the secular world. By the way, the word “Christian” is used only three times in the New Testament. By comparison, the word “disciple” is mentioned 296 times.

When you attend a typical evangelical church service you may hear words such as “sanctify” or “iniquity.” You may hear the phrase “plan of salvation.” These are perfectly good expressions if you know they are church shorthand for deeper concepts. A 19th Century dude named Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “one should use common words to say uncommon things.” Schopenhauer was not a Christian, as best I can tell, but he nailed it regarding clarity of communication. When we tell someone, “accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior,” maybe what we should say is “follow Jesus.” That statement conveys more clearly what it actually means to be a Christian, which is literally “one who follows the teachings of Jesus.”

And don’t get me started on the word “propitiation!”