Learning the Language
written by Rev Gary Heard

Social commentators realise the power of language: “you change the language, and you change the culture”. Fellini observed “A different language is a different vision of life”. This lesson is most powerfully brought home when you walk into a different place of business: every profession has its unique vocabulary which, to the outsider, conceals information, yet enables a clarity of purpose and understanding. Technical language of this sort has always had its costs and benefits, and reflects a challenge as we seek to invite others into an experience of God in Christ.

For many centuries, the language of the church and community bore a strong correlation as the relative communities bore a strong resemblance. The technical language of the church was understood and accepted. Such is not the case today as both community and church have changed significantly in recent decades.

It was a hallmark of Jesus that he used the language of the people. He depicted God and his kingdom in such simple and common terminology that everyone found it accessible. The religious people also found its message simple – and offensive. Their response shapes the Easter events we prepare for through Lent (consider the technical language in that sentence!)

John Ayto comments: words are a mirror of their times. By looking at the areas in which the vocabulary of a language is expanding fastest in a given period, we can form a fairly accurate impression of the chief preoccupations of society at that time. The words which Jesus used: kingdom of God, messiah, son of God, son of Man… these were words of their time. Common words in general usage, but also words with a technical meaning. Jesus garners these terms and reinterprets them in common language (as in the parables), or expresses them through action (healing, forgiving, dying).

With the rapid technological changes of our era, a whole new language has emerged. The challenge we face, as a local faith community - along with the broader church - is to express the gospel of Jesus Christ in new and creative ways which both reflect and shape the language of our days.

February 13, 2005
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