“…pray for the nations…”
“…God spoke to my heart…”
“…separate and apart from the Lord’s Supper…”
“…let your Spirit fill this place…”
“…four point, double predestination…”
The list could go on and on.
Every Sunday, in Churches across the world, we listen to professionals explain theology to us. With years of training, they are paid to be experts, which means precisely knowing the ins and outs of your topic. Doctors know latin words for diseases. Computer scientists know about code. Interior designers know names for colors that others can’t even differentiate. Professional Christians use theological terminology. It’s what makes them professionals.
Add to that the language created by 500 years of Christian tribalism. When Luther broke off the Catholic church he taught about justication by grace. When the Anabaptists broke off they started formulating their peace teachings. Calvin’s followers, in an attempt to differentiate themselves from Arminius, articulated the five points of Calvinism. The results today can be heard in people’s language. Neo-reformed types use the word “gospel” a lot. Charismatics love to talk about “the nations.” Social justice types have use phrases like “racial reconciliation.”
We use these terms because they’re important. Nuanced language is neccessary for discussing nuanced theology. Denominational phraseology helps express hard won, distinctive values. This is good and important, but for a missional practitioner, it is also dangerous. Here’s three reasons why:
- It means nothing to the secularist who has no theological training.
- For the dechurched, it’s a path to bringing back old, painful memories.
- It sends a message that you are only interested in talking to people who are already like you.
In a post Christian world, insider terminology it’s the equivalent of a street corner preacher in Mexico speaking in English. It tells your audience “I have nothing to say to you.”
So how do you avoid this missional misstep? You do you what the gospel has always done. As Jesus was translated into flesh, the gospel was translated from Aramaic to Greek to Latin, to almost every language on earth. We have to do the same everyday: remember who we’ve been sent to, and find new ways to translate the gospel for them every day.