Monday, November 02, 2015

Six Words that Need to Disappear from the Church

In the church, I've found that we often "talk on auto-pilot."  That is, we use a lot of common lingo and assume everyone else who is a Christian uses it the same way we do--and that those who are not Christian will know what we mean when we use those terms.  I can tell you that neither are true.

I've been thinking a little lately about a few terms that the church in the west has worn slick.  May I propose that the following six words be purposefully targeted for extinction in our congregations?

1. Traditional (or Contemporary)  When most churches use these terms, they are employed exclusively within the context of a singular congregational body.  How far back, for example, do you have to go in order to be truly "traditional?"  For many churches, "traditional" simply means you sing no songs written after 1950, or before 1850.  But the traditions of Jesus' followers go back 2000 years.  Similarly, what often qualifies as "contemporary" in some churches is like the musical equivalent to orange shag carpet.

In the end, these terms reflect a greater allegiance to a particular period of history than to the God who rules over all of history.  Moreover, they are simply confusing.  If there is a particular genre of music that dominates your worship service, then describe it to people asking about your church.  Let them know if you use liturgy.  Even better, focus on the fact that your church is your spiritual family, and invite others to join you personally and form their own opinions.  These two terms simply don't help.

2. Missional  First used in the Oxford English dictionary, "missional" is simply the word "missionary" used in the form of an adjective.  In that sense, this term is actually quite helpful in describing how every Christ-follower should live his or her life.  Unfortunately, the word is almost never used in this way.  In fact, I've more often heard it used in reference to what brand of coffee is used at the church coffee bar than in reference to the day to day activity of God's people.  More to the point, this word is employed more to describe what happens "inside" corporate worship on Sunday than what happens "outside" that experience the rest of the week.  This is the saddest of ironies.

3. Moderate  Three decades ago, my denomination was in the middle of a theological battle that pitted theological conservatives against their less conservative counterparts.  Though the term "liberal" was tossed around rather loosely during that time, no one desiring accuracy would use it.  After all, according to the technical and historical sense of the term, there were never any true theological liberals in the Southern Baptist Convention.  So out of a desire for accuracy, the term "moderate" was chosen, and threw even more mud into the already opaque water.

Over the years, this term has increased in usage in theology, politics, and life in general, and has been considered "nicer" than other terms used to describe those from other-than-conservative backgrounds.  That's actually a pretty silly notion, given that the definition of moderate is to be "average in intensity, quality, or degree."

Great, so now instead of calling people liberal, we are calling them C-students?  I don't agree with many of my less conservative friends, but I can tell you that they are anything but "average in intensity."  They are just as passionate about what they believe as I am about what I believe.  Let's find a better way to relate to each other than benign labeling.

4. Reverend This term has been used for centuries to describe the ordained clergy class who lead communities of faith. Yet the Scriptures do not in any way commend the essential separation of "clergy" from "laity."  Of the three Old Testament offices (Priest, Scribe, Elder), we believe the first two were fulfilled with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The third--elder or "pastor" depending on how Presbyterian you are--was a designation under the Old Covenant given to the laity who served as spiritual leaders.

So where did we come up with the idea of a clerical class in the present age?  The short version of history is that its a Catholic leftover that managed to hang on during the Protestant Reformation.  As a convinced Protestant, I say we offer to give this one back to our Catholic friends if they will allow us to exchange it for their incense, art, and other forms of worship which engage the senses. Where the title "Reverend" compared with tactile elements of worship is concerned, I think we threw out the baby and kept the nasty bathwater.

5. Postmodern  Some churches love postmodernism.  Others hate everything about it.  Almost no one defines it in the same way.  Are we speaking of Philosophical postmodernism?  Cultural postmodernity?  Are we speaking of the questions this movement asks, or the answers it proposes?  Are we defining it more in terms of Derrida?  Foucault? Rorty?  Few seem to know, because we have "broad-brushed" this term so often, it is nearly meaningless.  Let's just ditch it.

6. Missions  Surprised that a guy who helps coordinate global work for 562 churches would put this term in a list of words I want eliminated?  Perhaps its because in too many churches (and a few denominational entities), I've seen this term tacked on to any ministry that simply wanted more money.  We have arrived at a point where in some churches, you can make a fruit basket, give it to your best friend, and call it "missions."

But there is another reason we should get rid of this term.  Even when we do use it to describe our engagement with the world, most we seek to engage see that term very differently than we do.  So you want to travel to a place where within the last half-century our nation has been at war with another country-and talk about a "mission?"  Interested in going to the middle-east, where our own CIA has orchestrated coup attempts against government leaders, and be "on a mission?"  Yeah, good luck with that.

Since the term never once appears in the Bible. (the missio dei concept is a Latin one derived from the greek term meaning "to be sent.") maybe we should simply talk about engagement with the world as those sent by Jesus.

How about you?  What terms would you add to this list?

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