As a leader within the church, I’ve taken note that, quite often, our theology is shaped and reshaped by our language and culture rather than our theology shaping and reshaping our language and culture. Below are a few common examples.
The common cultural vernacular is “going to church” on Sunday which implies that the church is a structure, building, or place to which one travels to for an event. This type of language has created a cultural dichotomy in which ones attend a weekly event (“church”) and, yet, live in conformity to the world rather than being conformed to Christ. The Biblical concept is “being the church” (disciples of Jesus), whether gathered (Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 11:18) in a certain locale (usually in a city [Acts 8:1; 1 Peter 5:13] or home [Romans 16:3-5; Colossians 4:15]), sometimes for a particular purpose (i.e. the exercising of gifts; 1 Corinthians 14), or dispersed throughout a region (Acts 9:31) or the world (Ephesians 1:20-21). This places an emphasis on being disciples of Jesus who living in constant communion with Him and with other disciples of Jesus.
The common cultural vernacular equates “salvation” with a point in time “event” (i.e. I was “saved” when…) with future ramifications (“heaven”), which is an incomplete and imprecise view of salvation. This type of language can often overemphasize “heaven” and create a dichotomy in which ones may have experienced an event (“salvation”), yet, live in conformity to the world because the need for deliverance has been accomplished and their eternal destiny is secure. The Biblical concept equates “salvation” with a process which has a beginning point with ongoing ramifications (“were saved” – salvation past; Romans 8:24 and “are being saved” – salvation present; 1 Corinthians 1:18) and its eventual culmination/completion (“will be saved” – salvation future; Romans 5:9). When we receive salvation (past), we enter the kingdom of God and receive eternal life (present) which has profound present and future ramifications; this concept emphasizes the rule and reign of Christ as we live in relationship to our King/Rabbi as His disciples, being conformed into Christ-likeness until the day He returns. In the present, we live as His emissaries proclaiming and incarnating the kingdom of God as it spreads throughout the earth and participating with Him in the renewal of all things.
The common cultural vernacular equates “missions” with sending ones internationally in order to proclaim the good news about the kingdom and make disciples. This kind of language has the potential to create a special class of disciple (“missionaries”) akin to the concept of “sainthood” which, likewise, creates a special class of believer, deifies “holy” believers, and denies the Biblical concept that all followers of Jesus are “saints” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1-2). It often forms a dichotomy in which followers of Christ send out “missionaries” who make disciples while neglecting the command to make disciples in their locality. The Biblical concept of “making disciples” is a command for every follower of Christ to proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God locally, regionally, and throughout the earth (Matthew 24:14; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 14:21) with intentionality until every people, tribe, nation, and language has had opportunity to hear, repent and believe. This concept ensures the equal responsibility of all disciples to make disciples.
The common cultural vernacular equates “worship” with “music” (i.e. “worship was great today” or “the worship was too loud”). This kind of language creates a dichotomy in which ones can participate in singing songs with Christ followers; however, continue their lives seemingly unchanged or affected by the experience. The Biblical concept equates “worship” with bowing down in submission, surrender, and allegiance (Psalm 95:6), sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 13:15), devotion/awe (Hebrews 12:28-29), and ascribing worth to an object (God or idol/god) (1 Chronicles 16:29). Holistic worship encompasses all of life and is trans-formative (Romans 12:1-2).
I would like to clarify that I’m not advocating that the elimination of such terminology or vernacular. Rather, I am advocating the examination of our vernacular and, quite possibly, the reshaping of our vernacular, in order that our terminology reflects our theology more accurately. For example, over the last decade the concept of missions has been superseded by the broader concept of living missionally. Terminology has shifted as theology has shifted.
Q: What are other examples that you have experienced/pondered?
Q: How might we reshape our language in order to fully reflect our theology?