Are you washed in the blood? - John H

A reflection on redeeming language.

I grew up (physically and spiritual) in the 80’s and 90’s. I went to Bible College and studied theology at the end of the 90’s. There was a huge trend at the time to ‘drop the jargon’; a challenge to make our language more accessible to seekers and our services more attractional. We were told, ‘don’t say and do things that are weird’. The motivation was good; to win more to Christ. And it fitted with a wider belief in the western church that we needed to improve the packaging and branding of Christianity to make it more effective. I, like many, bought into it and would find myself correcting people who used religious jargon.

But if I’m honest, I don’t think this approach has worked terribly well.

Before full time church leadership I used to be a teacher, and I spent a lot of time teaching A Level Philosophy. One of my favourite modules to teach was Religious Language. It covered questions like, ‘how can we talk meaningfully about a God that is beyond description?’ ‘Can we only describe God in terms of what he is not, rather what he is?’ ‘Can we talk meaningfully about anything that can’t be verified through the senses, or is it all non-sense?’ One of the things I learnt through this module was that religious language is essentially jargon – or vocal shorthand – and communities will always use jargon to help define their distinctiveness. For example, think about how teenagers in each generation find a new way of describing something as ‘good’. In the 80’s it was ‘ace’, in the 90’s it was ‘cool’. Now my boys talked about being ‘gassed’! It’s language used to create community, identity and belonging. No-one in those communities are thinking about getting rid of jargon to become more accessible! They’re using language to define who’s in and who’s out (or in the case of my boys, who’s old!).

For me, I think the church has had a couple of decades where in the west we have lost our distinctiveness, of what it means to be ‘in’. That in turn makes it difficult for someone to desire to belong to a group like a church because we’re no different from any other social group - just nice people doing good things with a common vocabulary. But wherever we see a church that is vibrant and growing with new believers, we see a church that is distinctive and characterised by the power and presence of God.

I write this off the back of a fantastic Sunday service with Tamryn Klintworth. You can hear her preach on our website or through our App. Basically, she preached about being ‘washed in the blood’. As a church we responded to the Holy Spirit through the message. People gave their lives to Jesus for the first time. Many more recommitted their lives. Now when was the last time you heard the phrase ‘washed in the blood’? Probably when some preacher told you not to use it. But Tamryn explained in simple language what it meant, along with other jargon like ‘atonement’. It was distinctive. You couldn’t have sat in that service as a non-believer thinking ‘these are just nice people doing good things’ because we heard how each one of us are ‘sinners’ (again, religious jargon), but the good news is that Christ’s blood atones for sinners!

A similar thing happened when we recently unpacked ‘Speaking in Tongues’. Speaking in tongues in a Sunday service doesn’t really fit with the idea of being a bland, seeker-sensitive bunch of nice people doing good things! You may have been told that you can’t do things like that because it will put the un-churched off. Whereas I now believe the opposite is true. The supernatural element of Christianity is the very thing that will explode the myth that we’re just nice religious people who’ve chosen to follow Jesus over Allah or Buddah. Indeed, we know that on that particular Sunday where we taught on speaking in tongues someone gave their life to the Lord for the first time and someone else recommitted their life after a period of being backslidden. It’s the power of being distinctive.

And language can actually help us with that, as long as we are love-motivated and take the time to explain what we mean and give people opportunity to ask questions (which is the problem with getting all your teaching from a podcast btw, but don’t get me started on that!). Jargon therefore can actually help someone in the journey into community and belonging, because it raises questions and highlights distinctiveness. More than anything, let’s be open to the power and presence of God breaking into the life of someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus. That’s got to be far more powerful than just being nice.

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