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MIND YOUR LANGUAGE


I have a confession to make! Sometimes I really struggle with the use of bad language? For a big bloke (6ʹ4ʺ tall and weighing around 16 stone) I am normally very mild mannered – more Clark Kent than Superman. Occasionally, however, I really lose it?! It is always in the same place – when I am working on my computer! I am sure that I am not the only person who struggles with this problem … although I may just be the only one who will ‘come out’ and confess it openly as I am doing in this blog. Fortunately, I also have a ‘Julia’ who works alongside me and acts as my conscience when I ‘lose it’ and who is prayerfully working on me so that I may overcome this glitch in my otherwise impeccable character!?

I have come to the conclusion that all computers, and not just mine, are actually living things and clearly ‘demonised’. They seem to know a) when we are in a hurry to get something done, and b) how best to ‘get under our skin’ and really annoy us at inappropriate moments. I resolved some years ago never to try and print something I really needed just before I really needed it – something just before an important meeting, or just before a Worship Service, for example. The computer, and its fellow demonic conspirator, the printer, would always know and deliberately make life as difficult as possible for me by refusing to do what they were supposed to do! When I was at Elm Road, Beckenham, I would deliberately go into the church at 8.00 a.m. on a Sunday morning to set up the computer and the data projector – yet another demonic associate – two hours before people started to arrive for the Worship Service. I did this because a) I wanted to make sure that it was all working properly, and b) I didn’t want to upset anybody around if I had a ‘glory fit’ when the computer and data projector got up to their usual uncooperative tricks?!

I am sure that the vast majority of Christians out there reading this blog will be horrified at the thought of another Christian, leave alone an ‘ordained’ Baptist Minister of many years standing, struggling with the use of bad language even if it is only occasionally? But there is another kind of ‘bad language’ that the majority of us Christians are probably guilty of. I refer, of course, to what I call ‘Christian-ese’ or ‘Christian-speak’ – a language all of our own that we Christians understand (or think we do?) but which remains completely incomprehensible to ordinary people?

I recall attending a social at one of my previous churches, about a week after my Induction as their Pastor, which included a sketch by some members of the Youth Group where a young person dressed up as my predecessor (complete with Geneva gown and three inch cardboard ‘dog collar’) and preached a ‘sermon’ in his style?! It consisted of a string of clichés that my predecessor apparently repeatedly used – ‘raising our Ebenezers’, ‘washed in the blood’, ‘secure in the beloved’, etc., etc. It didn’t go down too well with some of the audience … perhaps because, as I was to discover over the next few months, a number of the members of that church and congregation also used this same ‘nonsense language’?! This kind of language may be considered somewhat ‘old fashioned’ although it is surprising how many Christians still use such phrases? We certainly still use many other words and phrases that probably the majority of people outside the church (as well as those inside the church, including many who actually use the words and phrases themselves) don’t understand – ‘lost in our sin’, ‘redeemed by the blood of Christ’, ‘saved by grace’, born again of the Holy Spirit’, and so on.

Quite where this use of ‘bad language’ stems from, I am not sure? Does it stem from our theological colleges and the way Ministers in training are taught how to put things? I recall seeing some graffiti on the wall of a certain theological college in south London that read as follows: Jesus said to them, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ They replied, ‘You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, in which kerygma we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships!’ And Jesus replied, ‘Do what?’ Ministers in training pick up the theological ‘jargon’, they pass it on to their congregations via the pulpit, we reinforce it by speaking to each other in this ‘Christian shorthand’ … and when we seek to share the Faith with others we end up ‘speaking in tongues’ which the people we are talking to simply don’t understand?! To be honest (having attended numerous prayer meetings over the years), I am not even sure that God himself knows what we are on about sometimes?!

I have to confess that I am also guilty of this kind of ‘bad language’ at times as well, although I have made a concerted effort in recent years to ‘mind my language’. It is not that I am against using ‘theological language’, or phrases such as ‘saved by grace’, ‘born again of the Spirit’ etc. It is o.k. to use such terms as long as we immediately explain what they mean in simple, straight forward language. I am mindful of the fact that John Wesley (the great 18th century Methodist preacher) used to preach his sermons to his servant girl before preaching them to a congregation. And if there were any words or phrases she did not understand he would change them into more easily understood language.

We must never forget that, as Christians, we ‘hold out the word of life’ (Philippians 2:16) to people, so that ‘word of life’ needs to be made easily understandable for our hearers. We need to take to heart Peter’s exhortation to us: ‘If you speak, you should do it as those who speak the very words of God’ (1 Peter 4:11). Normally I am not a great advocate of bringing ‘business methods’ into the church but, when I was in ‘sales’ a number of years ago, we were taught a method that seems appropriate to this discussion. It was called the ‘KISS’ technique: Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Jim Binney

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One comment on “MIND YOUR LANGUAGE

  1. As St Francis of Assisi (allegedly) said “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

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