“If you’re not going to fight like a soldier, than get off the battlefield.”
Some of us reading this might be familiar with sayings like this one. Something like it has found it’s way onto the cover of Christian books in the bookstore, and been made the title of sermons, and has made it’s way to the radio. What does a statement like this mean?
Well, it doesn’t mean we are literally rallying Christians troops with weapons to start a war on the non-Christian world and take it over. Though, it kind of sounds like that if you aren’t IN on the Christian lingo. Weapons, soldiers, and war are things that people in the non-Christian world (in particularly the Muslim world) do not get excited about hearing. Rather, if they do get excited, it is for an entirely different effect.
Statements like the one above have to do with Christians not living like Christians in the world and not living by faith. Christians are given various gifts by God’s Spirit by faith, and these are often labeled weapons. However, these are spiritual weapons because the warfare imagery is not a physical one, but a spiritual one. This is not to say it isn’t a literal warfare, for that would be the same as saying the physical is real and the spiritual is only make-believe, wouldn’t it?
Christians not behaving as Christians, yet, representing Christianity in a negative sense, or getting mulled over because of their life being lived by a lack of trust in God is what the statement is really about. That isn’t a bad thing, really. Though, when we Christians use imagery like this to motivate other Christians, we should be careful because we could get caught up in using such spectacular imagery that we leave our fellow Christians perplexed wondering what we are talking about sometimes and we could actually scare the crap out of non-believers (or at least cause them to wonder what is different between Christianity and fundamentalist Islam).
One of the greatest hindrances Christians have in sharing the Gospel with non-believers today is that once a Christian takes a step outside of the church they are in a different world. The language they used inside the church doesn’t make much sense on the outside.
Sure, we live in what was once a very Christian nation, however, we live in a nation of nations today and within that exists a great marginalization of Christianity in the United States that hasn’t existed to the extent that it exists today. This means that people in our country are generally familiar with a lot of Christian words and lingo, but cannot specifically nail down what many or any of them actually mean.
Ask someone outside the church (not necessarily the building alone here, if you follow) who Jesus is and they will say he was the founder of the Christian religion, or he was a little baby and there are many songs about him, or he was the inspiration for people like Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Jefferson. What did this Jesus do? They might say he was crucified after having lived a morally decent life and been a good person. Then, throw out a term like Gospel, worldly, calling, redemption, justification, resurrection, atonement, Kingdom, righteous, Body of Christ, witness, sin, Hell, judgment…… I could go on, but throw these out and you are likely to get looks of confusion, or an entirely different understanding than a Christian understanding of all of these words.
This has presented a bit of a divide in Christian scholarship today. Some believe that in order to do evangelism better, we need to speak the language of the culture and lose our Christian lingo. Others believe that we shouldn’t lose our Christian lingo because then we would become too “worldly” and abandon some of the essential elements of being a Christian.
So, who’s right? Who’s wrong? I don’t know. I will say that Christians would do well to be more sensitive to the language that we use. If we were to be outspoken about people not behaving as Christians in a loving manner, but also a firm manner at the same time without using language of war, soldiers, weapons, etc., I think non-believers might take notice. If Christians find a Christian behaving in an unChristian manner, and they proceed to unload torrential downpours of verbal insults and speak heavily of judgment, weapons, war, worldliness, I think the Christian will get the point, but I don’t think such an onslaught will correct the Christian and I think the aftermath will send ripples out into the world which will eventually come back to us.
I’m talking about 2 things here: Christians who are speaking out in public in an unbiblical manner and Christians who are using Christian lingo in public. I believe both can have a negative impact. Do I believe the answer is to lose our lingo? Absolutely not! Some might say Christian, witness, faith, Gospel, and other words have lost their meaning because they have been used so much and we should adopt new terms. The problem is where does it end with the new terms? Where does the terminology change to something new and the terminology to describe a different faith begin?
I believe the main problem is that many Christians have forgotten what it was like to not be Christian. Some Christians distance themselves so far from culture that when it comes time to interact with culture for the sake of evangelism, or just talking to non-believers in a public place they act like they have shown up for the first day of class in the nude. Inevitably, many Christians speak as though they are apologizing for being Christians when mentioning that they are Christian, then when it comes to talking about the important stuff, they quickly/awkwardly bring it up in mentioning church or they don’t bring it up at all.
So, what in the world are Christians saying? Nada. Christians realize more often than not that once they step outside the door of the church and enter a conversation with a non-believer, their terminology has no meaning to the person they are talking to. Then, they feel like they have to be an expert in order to explain the fine points of theology in order to have a basic conversation with someone about the faith.
I do not think this is necessary.
What if Christians simply needed to do three things to be more effective in evangelism and to be better understood by the culture around them?
For the conclusion of this post and a possible answer to this question I have proposed, see The Language of Christianity (Part 2).