The Heart’s Creed Is What Really Matters

The two best-known creeds of the Western Church are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. The Nicene Creed dates from 325 and represents the Church’s unified response to an ongoing controversy about the divine nature of Christ.  The Apostles’ Creed is harder to date. The earliest extant text dates from the late 700s, but at that time the Church claimed it had been in use for centuries. Phrases from the creed had already appeared in the writings of certain Church Fathers centuries earlier.

The creeds were an attempt to clarify what the church believed about God, in a way that helped ordinary believers understand and articulate their faith. Recitation of the creeds allowed uneducated men and women a chance to participate in the church’s worship. It gave a voice to ordinary believers.

The word “creed” comes from the Latin, “credo,” which means, “I believe.” The Nicene Creed begins with the words, “We believe,” and the Apostles’ Creed with, “I believe.”  Whether the people who recited the creeds actually believed them is unclear. Some probably did. For others, the creeds were likely only a string of words put into their mouths by theologian priests.

The creeds are still repeated weekly in churches around the world. Some people understand and firmly believe the truths they recite, but for others the creeds remain enigmatic strings of words put into their mouths by priests and pastors.

The value of the creeds lies in their capacity to educate ordinary believers about the nature of the ongoing story in which they have a part. The creeds also remind believers that they share a faith with people from around the world and across the expanse of time. Additionally, the recitation of creeds provides people with an opportunity to participate in worship rather than merely spectate.

There is, however, a possible downside to the recitation of a creed: people might confess a faith they don’t really share and have never seriously considered. Such solemn confession of what one neither believes nor fully understands happens all the time – for some political appointees, it’s practically a part of the job description. That it also happens in the church is not surprising.

According to the ancient prophets and biblical writers, God knows what is going on inside a person. He is the “heart monitor,” constantly hearing people’s hearts, not just their words. It would be disconcerting – and perhaps frightening – to hear what God hears when the gathered church sings her favorite songs and recites her historic creeds.

The first lines of the Apostles’ Creed run: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…” If, as people recite those lines, God hears their hearts rather than their voices, what exactly might he hear?

The variations would be endless. Some hearts would surely communicate genuine wonder and praise. The true expression of other hearts might, however, sound like this: “I believe in myself, and in the Dollar almighty, creator of pleasure and satisfaction. And I believe in Convenience, my Lord.”

As the recitation of the creed continued, the assembled worshipers would say: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”

As these words were coming from their mouths, God might hear other beliefs coming from their hearts: “I believe in Technology, the American Dream, the Republican (or Democratic) Party, the toleration of sins, retirement with ample income, and a future without hassles. Amen.”

Long ago, A. W. Tozer wrote: “Compared with our actual thoughts about [God], our credal statements are of little consequence.” This is undoubtedly true. Our actual beliefs determine the trajectory of our lives in a way that formal confessions never do. When what we actually believe diverges from what we say we believe, we will follow our actual beliefs every time.

Can the beliefs of the heart be ascertained? Broadly speaking, yes. According to Jesus, “where your treasure is, there will you heart be also.” That means we will find our heart and its beliefs where our treasure – our money, energy and thought – is invested.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 10/13/2018

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Is There a Christian Way to Think About Kavanaugh?

The country is like a volcano that is ready to erupt. Smoke is billowing. If the eruption comes, it won’t matter if one is a man or a woman, a Democrat or a Republican, a Conservative or a Progressive, everyone will suffer.

The Senate confirmation hearings on President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have exposed deep fault lines that run through our nation. In the past decade, the uneven ground between races has caused Americans to stumble. With the Me Too movement, the tectonic plates of gender have collided, and everyone has been shaken.

It is clear that Democrats have one take on the confirmation hearings and Republicans have another. Is it possible for Christians to think about Judge Kavanaugh, his accuser Dr. Ford, and the broader issues of justice and peace in today’s society in a way that transcends political party affiliation and even gender? And, if it is possible, what would characterize such thinking?

Such thinking would place a higher priority on truth than on potential outcomes. Right now, the people who want a conservative justice on the Supreme Court believe that Brett Kavanaugh did not assault Dr. Ford or they believe that it doesn’t matter – that if he did it he was young and inebriated and has, in all likelihood, matured. The people who do not want a conservative justice on the court believe Kavanaugh is guilty of assault and is unfit for service.

It is more that suspicious that opinions should coincide so exactly with potential desired outcomes. It indicates that the mind is serving an agenda rather than the truth. Christians must never elevate desired outcomes above truth. We are not responsible for outcomes, we are responsible to be true. I would very much like to see a conservative jurist on the Supreme Court, but what I want does not change what happened.

The FBI investigation is a good thing, as long as it is not biased. If the facts can be uncovered, they should be. Christians should never be afraid of truth.

But we must remember that truth involves people’s lives. Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford are real people, with families, friends, and careers. Demeaning either of them is strictly unacceptable for Christians, who are instructed “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”

Christians must not stir up hatred. They must not say things like the university professor who hatefully stated that white Republican senators “deserve miserable deaths.” Such a comment can only issue from a well of hatred, which is the opposite of the love and justice God desires from people.

Not that it is hard to understand how that well of hatred overflowed. Thousands of years of the sexual mistreatment of women has raised the level of hostility and mistrust to flood level. Women have been treated as sexual objects for ages and never more so than now, in the Hollywood era.

I have officiated at many weddings over the years, and it is my preference to use the traditional ceremony of the church, with its strong and beautiful vows. But before the vows comes “The Declaration of Consent.” In medieval Europe, the soldiers of one city-state would raid the villages of another. They would carry off young women as plunder, take them to a priest, and force them to marry them. The church, recognizing the illegitimacy of the practice, instituted the “Declaration of Consent” for the protection of women.

After thousands of years of the sexual mistreatment of women, it is not odd that the professor would say what she did. It is not odd, but it is not right either. “Othering” people, whether white GOP senators or female college professors, treating them as a class and not as persons, dehumanizes them. It is not the way Christ taught us to think about others.

How should Christians approach the Senate confirmation hearings? They should be both truth-seekers and peacemakers. Anything less is less than Christian. They scrupulously should avoid adding to the hatred. Only so, can they be a light in our world, and only if their primary allegiance is to God, not to political power.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 10/6/2018

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How to Face Suffering

How should we think about suffering? How can we endure it when we’re the ones suffering? Click the link below to hear a 27-minute sermon titled, “Trial by Fire,” informed by 1 Peter 4:12-19.

How to Face Suffering

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How to Talk with a Child about Death

Every time a celebrity dies unexpectedly, the news and entertainment industry nearly overwhelms us with coverage. If the celebrity dies by his or her own hand, the news-storm stalls out and rains reports and rumors on us for weeks. Among the people caught in the flood are children.

How do we talk to children about death? It is bad enough when the deceased are celebrities or victims of some nationally publicized tragedy, but it is even harder when the deceased is a member of the family. Even talking about the death of a family pet presents significant challenges.

As a dad, I have talked to my own children about death and, as a pastor, I’ve talked to other people’s children. Some children withdraw and isolate themselves, others get angry and act out, still others seek reassurance and the security of being near a loving adult.

Before I ever talked to a child about death, I was the child being talked to. I was in sixth grade. My older brother had been ill for a long time and my parents had been staying with him at the hospital while I stayed with my grandparents. I still remember my dad and mom as they stepped through my grandparents’ doorway. I knew immediately something was wrong: for one thing, they had returned in the middle of the afternoon; for another, they looked different – not like themselves.

It was my dad who told me. I do not think my mother could. I listened, tried not to cry (as I had been taught), but couldn’t help myself. I fell into a chair and sobbed. My poor dad, tough Marine that he’d been, had no idea how to comfort me.

My grandmother said something to me about heaven and, while that was comforting, it was cold comfort. Over the next days – probably over the next months and years – I did all the things I needed to do, but retreated further and further into myself. Looking back, I wish my parents had been better equipped to talk with me about my brother’s death, but they, living through their own nightmare, had no idea how to do so.

Sometimes grieving children will laugh and play and parents will say, “Children are remarkably resilient,” and assume they are “doing okay.” That may be the case, but it does not mean the child isn’t grieving. Children grieve in all kinds of ways. Play can be a child’s way of escaping reality and the pain that goes along with it.

Parents can use this to advantage by allowing a child to express himself through play. Small children can take part in needed conversations using favorite stuffed animals. They may be able to express feelings through Teddy Bear that they cannot state directly.

Avoid using code words with children. As hard as it is, they need to hear their loved one “died” rather than “passed on” or “crossed over.” We often use euphemisms to soften the blow – for ourselves as well as for them – but in the long run, it is unhelpful to be vague.

Therapists recommend telling children about the physical nature of death before talking about its underlying spiritual realities. Young children need to know their loved one will not speak or eat or talk. When that has been understood, it is time to talk about the spiritual side of death.

When it comes to talking to children about death, the biggest difficulty some parents face is not knowing what they think about it themselves. I’m sure this was the case with my parents. They had, quite understandably, avoided thinking about death as long as they could. As a result, they were completely unprepared to talk about it.

We cannot explain to children what we don’t understand. When it comes to understanding death, there is no richer resource than the Bible. Christian thinkers also offer real help. The metaphysical poet John Donne’s last sermon, Death’s Duel, is beautiful and inspiring. The philosopher Peter Kreeft’s book, Love Is Stronger than Death, is brilliant and helpful. Jerry Sittser’s, A Grace Disguised, is full of hope. For children, What Happens When We Die? by Carolyn Nystrom, articulates in simple language questions children ponder but will probably not ask.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/29/2018

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Are You a Person of Peace?

What criteria are used in selecting people for leadership positions in our workplaces, government offices, and churches?

Leaders must be smart people who operate from a wide-ranging knowledge base and who reason well. They must also be tough people who will fight for what is right – for what we think is right, that is. Michigan’s current governor won office by promoting himself as both smart and tough. His campaign’s tagline was, “One tough nerd.”

We also want leaders who share our ideology. For decades, this has been the most significant criteria for the appointment of Supreme Court justices. The same is increasingly true in politics. I can remember a time when voters complained that the two-party system offered no meaningful alternatives: it made no difference who won. Now the parties themselves are fragmented by ideological divides.

It is not wrong to want leaders who are tough, smart, and aligned ideologically with us – it is right. But there is another important criterion that receives too little attention: our leaders should be people of peace. We need people of peace leading our police force, teaching our children, and setting legal precedent. We need people of peace speaking out on issues of justice and race and gender. Unfortunately, it is not their voices that are most often heard.

One needn’t be a pacifist to be a person of peace, but one cannot be a person of peace without faith and fortitude. People of peace know where they stand and will not back down. But neither will they attack.

Just because someone talks about peace does not mean he or she is a person of peace. The sixties proved that. In the name of peace, people burned down buildings, damaged property, and despised those with whom they disagreed. People of peace are not like that. They are not looking for a fight.

People of peace do not make a practice of using inflammatory language. They don’t call their adversaries names. They don’t try to shock people by their rhetoric. People of peace are not prone to using profanity, which betrays a lack of inner peace. People who are not at peace with themselves will not be at peace with others.

Since this is true, it might seem like the way to become a person of peace is to work on developing inner peace. Inner peace is important, and knowing how to nurture it is necessary, but it is not the first step. Meditation and mindfulness may help. Working with a therapist to understand the causes of anxiety and to take practical steps to deal with it can be very enriching. But inner peace will remain elusive until we have spiritual peace.

Because we as a nation do not understand this, we spend billions of dollars looking for inner peace without finding it. We install security systems at home, vacation on idyllic beaches abroad, take pills, drink too much, start relationships, and end relationships, all in an attempt to gain peace. Yet we will not gain it in a lasting way until we realize that peace with God precedes peace with oneself which, in turn, precedes peace with others.

This is so because of the way we are made and for whom we are made. Our primal relationship is not with mother, as important as that is, but with maker; with our heavenly parent, not our earthly ones. Historic Christianity claims this most important relationship has been broken. Because we are not at one with God, we are at odds with ourselves and with each other.

Christians believe that a state of peace is prior to, and necessary for, feelings of peace. We enter a state of peace with God through a faith-commitment to Jesus Christ. He not only made peace, he “is our peace,” as St. Paul put it. The person who is at peace with God is able to make peace with self and with others.

More than ever, we need to place people of peace in positions of leadership. Yet it is not enough to look for people of peace; we must become them. Peacemakers are not waiting, like diamonds in a mine, to be found. They are made – made by the Peacemaking God.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/22/2018

 

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Why a Dose of Awe May Be All the Medicine You Need

There is a not-so-new but surprisingly effective aid for treating many social, personal, and spiritual problems: awe. If you’re stressed out, worried about money, or breathlessly short of time, you need to get your mind blown.

Recent science suggests that experiences of awe have a profound effect on human wellbeing. The person who stands in the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias or surveys the vast ocean from Big Sur just might be happier and more hopeful.

Awe, according to Professors Dacher Keltner of UC Berkley and Jonathan Haidt, formerly of University of Virginia, is comprised of two principal factors: a profound sense of vastness and a perceived need to accommodate oneself to it. When we are in the presence of something much bigger than ourselves – a mountain, the sky, a thundering waterfall – our perception of ourselves and of the world changes.

That perceptual change, according to a study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, can lead to a greater sense of humility which is fundamentally important to spiritual understanding and growth. Matthew Hutson, reporting on the effects of awe for The Atlantic, suggests that experiences of awe make people more spiritual, generous, and content.

Hutson cites evidence that experiences of awe lead some people to firmer faith in God, while instilling in others a sense of greater connection to people. A study of NASA astronauts suggested that awe led them to feel more intimately connected with the rest of humanity – a feeling that is in perilously short supply just now.

According to a study led by Melanie Rudd of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford, people who experience awe feel as if they have more time available. Experiences of awe leave people less materialistic, more willing to volunteer their time, and more satisfied with life. Other studies have suggested that people who are “awe-able” are more generous and more likely to give to charities.

Further, awe has been linked to greater patience and better over-all health. Some researchers have found that the experience of awe leads to a more efficient immune system and a lower level of cytokines, a protein linked to heart disease and Type-2 diabetes.

Awe-treatment can lessen stinginess, stress, and dissatisfaction. It can give people a more balanced view of their own strengths and weaknesses and lead them to be more deeply concerned for others. There have been numerous studies that link awe to great satisfaction with life.

Why is this so? Some social scientists, approaching awe from a Darwinian evolutionary perspective, speculate that the positive benefits of awe are a conditioned response. This is surely an incomplete explanation. Would not a likelier result of awe be fear and isolation? Indeed, some research suggests that awe can have this effect.

I would argue that we experience these positive results because we are “awe-able” by design. If, as St. Augustine said, we have been made for God, we would expect to be made in such a way that awe could have beneficial effects on us, which is just what we find.

If, as current research suggests, awe leads to better social, physical, and spiritual health, could it be that we are not very healthy because we are too seldom awed? And in a world like ours, habituated to small screens and jaded by big promises, how are people going to be awed?

We cannot create awe, but we can put ourselves in situations where it is more likely to happen. This will require us to plan for times of solitude. Constant distraction and perpetual busyness effectively insulate us from the experience of awe. Get alone.

Visit beautiful places. Wander through a museum. Listen to Bach. Sit on the porch and await a thunderstorm’s approach. If you can’t do any of these, watch an episode of Planet Earth. Studies suggest watching it or similar programs can evoke awe and produce beneficial results.

Get alone in nature’s cathedral or a quiet church and ask God to reveal himself to you. Pray and meditate deeply on Scripture until you begin to perceive the vastness and power of God. This can be the prelude to big and beneficial changes in your life.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/15/2018

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Course Correction Required

When Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon, it was sometimes necessary to fire the engines of either the Lunar Module or the Service Module to alter direction. These “burns” included, on both the outbound and inbound journeys, significant midcourse corrections. Even before launch, which went off without a hitch, mission control knew that at least one major course correction, and possibly as many as four, would be necessary for each leg of the journey.

It turned out that only one major correction was needed. Had Apollo 11 not made that correction, the outbound flight would have missed the moon entirely and been lost in space, and the inbound flight would have missed the earth and suffered the same fate. Smaller corrections were also needed to achieve orbit around the moon and to land the Eagle on its surface.

Course corrections are not only needed on the nearly half-million-mile trip to the moon and back, they are also necessary in the 79-year trip through life that the average person in the United States takes. Course corrections are not an “Oops!” They are not a sign of failure. They are part of the plan from the very beginning. Without them, people end up somewhere they never intended – and do not wish – to be.

Course corrections are not about choosing new destinations. The Apollo mission could not, for example, have decided mid-course to go to Mars. Likewise, a mid-course correction in life is not so much a reinvention as it is a reorientation. We are not changing our values but reaffirming our commitment to them and making the necessary course alterations to remain in line with them.

Sometimes the major course corrections are not as tricky as the minor ones that require greater attention to detail. In my six decades or so on the planet, I have kept a pretty straight course: I fell in love with a girl, got married, and had three sons. There were plenty of minor corrections in orientation that were needed but only one major one.

Both my wife and I intended to serve God overseas, where the need was great and Christian influence was minimal. We went through college with this intention and were in agreement about it when we were engaged and, later, married. The various decisions we made in our early years together were meant to keep us on this course.

The organization with which we hoped to serve gave us some preliminary direction, which we pursued to the best of our ability. From my perspective, we were on course and moving slowly and steadily in the right direction. Then we met with a representative of the organization and he told us plainly, “You’re not who we’re looking for.” It was time for a course correction.

At the recommendation of the mission organization, I was already serving a small church as pastor. It was a role we’d never imagined nor desired but for which, as it turned out, I had some ability. Since this way of serving God and people fit our core values and our giftedness, and since we concluded God was guiding us to it, we made the necessary course correction.

It’s obvious to us when big course corrections are needed. It’s the smaller ones, which are equally important to our success, that are trickiest. For example, I have been a music-lover since childhood, but there’s not a lot of contemporary Christian music I appreciate. Yet we sing such songs in worship because they represent the best medium for many of our church members to worship. Minor course correction required.

I have sometimes become aware that I have been off-course as a father. One such time was when I realized I rarely praised my sons or told them I was proud of them, though I was. Course correction required.

As a husband, I have sometimes been obtuse and insensitive. Course correction required. Such alterations may seem less important than the major course correction that led to a different career but they are not. If anything, they are more important because they involve relationships, which are at the heart of our service to God and are key to the contribution we make to the world.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/8/2018

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Boy, Was the President Ever Wrong About That!

President Trump recently told Evangelical leaders from the U.S. that Evangelicals stand to lose everything in the upcoming midterm elections. Don’t believe it!

I’ve linked a CT article by Michael Horton, the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. It’s worth a read!

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/august-web-only/evangelicals-trump-elections-losing-everything.html?share=9BK8Rsg2xPN10S1trdtwsyRgpvsDh7Dc

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Everyone Loves a Winner

Everyone loves a winner. Or hates a winner. It depends how he or she won.

Ashley Thomas, a researcher in cognitive development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, has found that even very young children have a predilection for winners. When she was a graduate student at University of California, Irvine, Thomas devised a way to determine whether children, ages 21 months to 31 months, would show a preference for high- or low-ranking individuals.

In a series of seven experiments, the toddlers watched a puppet show featuring two nondescript puppets (one a red rectangle, the other a yellow oval, each with an eye and a straight line for a mouth) trying to cross the stage but getting in each other’s way. In each case, one of the puppets yielded to the other, granting it the right of way. At the conclusion of the puppet show, the twenty-three toddlers who participated were given the opportunity to reach for one of the puppets. Twenty chose the puppet who “won.”

By repeating the experiment so that each of the puppets won, and by using different obstacles to be circumvented, Thomas was able to show that toddlers expressed an overwhelming preference for the winner, whichever puppet that might be. However, when the successful puppet achieved its goal by violence – knocking the other puppet down – the children overwhelmingly preferred the losing puppet.

The results seem conclusive: even very young children prefer high-status individuals (winners) to low-status individuals (losers) as long as the winner achieved his high-status fairly. This preference for winners seems to be built right into human nature.

Advertisers appeal to this instinctive preference for winners. It is no accident the actors who sell us everything from cars to personal care items and cleaning supplies are presented as winners. They’re attractive, possess markers of affluence (expensive clothes, jewelry, and cars) and are often surrounded by lower-status admirers. The hidden appeal is: buy our product and you too can be a winner.

People not only love winners, they love to celebrate winners. Writers understand this dynamic and employ it to create an emotional response in their readers. The Star Trek franchise wrote a standing ovation for their lead characters into the ending of Star Trek IV. It was apparently so popular with audiences that they did so in subsequent movies again and again. People love to celebrate winners.

So, from a theological perspective, why does the Church not celebrate Jesus’s victory more frequently and with more gusto? Why are there so few standing ovations for the Son of God? The Dante scholar and popular novelist Dorothy Sayers rightly complained of Christians who “muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

Not even toddlers will show a preference for that nondescript imitation of Jesus. The New Testament portrays him in a very different light. He is “the Captain of Salvation,” the “pioneer of the faith,” “the Glorious Savior,” “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is “the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End” and the “Savior of the world,” who has been given “the name above all names.”

The Book of Revelation celebrates his victory. Chapter five even features a Star Trek-like standing ovation—on steroids. Angels and heavenly authorities sing his praises, and every creature across the universe responds with exuberant praise. Upon his victory, in chapter 19, another roar of praise goes up, and continues on and on. It booms like Niagara, explodes like peals of thunder. The armies of heaven are seen following Jesus, and he is declared “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

Here is a hero of the highest order, the ultimate victor. And he comes to this place not by violence but through personal sacrifice. He is worthy of “praise and honor and glory and power,” because he has earned this homage as the “Lamb who was slain,” rather than the bully who got his way. He is not a fitting household pet for pious old ladies, but the hero of the Church and the Savior of the World.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/1/2018

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Avoid Using “Insider” Language

Groups that have been together for a while develop their own way of communicating – an insider language, a kind of fraternal dialect. They understand each other, but outsiders get the feeling they’re missing something. This is usually not intentional, but it leaves those who don’t know the language feeling a little lost.

This week, as I was leaving to meet someone at a place I’d never been before, I discovered my GPS has stopped working. I quickly printed up directions from Google Maps, read through them a couple of times to commit the route to memory, then set off. The directions took me by back roads, and I did fine until I was about twenty-five miles from my destination.

I came to a T in the road and had to turn one way or the other. The directions indicated the next turn would be to the left, but the road name differed from the one Google supplied. One was a state route number and the other was a name. I turned left anyway, but soon came to another intersection where the road names again differed.

I suspect that locals used the road name while outsiders used the route number. I was definitely an outsider and was feeling a little lost. After the next turn, I gave up on Google and relied on my own sense of direction to find the way.

I think something similar happens in the church. People on the inside use terms that make sense to them, but outsiders feel like they’re missing something. And they usually are.

The church has its own patois, understood by insiders, but confusing to those who are new. For example, the pastor says: “We just need to love on the immigrants who’ve come to our community.” Church regulars may understand the pastor wants them to show concern for immigrants by their words and actions, but if any of those immigrants happened to be present, they might worry that being “loved on” was neither safe nor proper.

Some of the theological terms we use in church convey nothing substantive to newcomers. When the pastor talks about “sanctification” or “the gospel,” nothing at all comes to mind. It’s even worse when commonly used words take on idiosyncratic meanings when combined. For example, outsiders understand both the word “love” and the word “offering,” but the announcement that there will be a “love offering” at the conclusion of the service may leave them baffled. Or what about the outsider who hears someone say, “God spoke to me this week.” He wonders just what God’s voice sounds like – is it a James Earl Jones bass or does it have a Patrick Stewart accent?

When church members use terms like these without explanation, they leave outsiders feeling, well … outside, out of place. But there are problems for insiders too. We assume we know what a term means because we hear it often and even use it ourselves, but if we cannot explain it in a way that someone unfamiliar with the Christian faith could understand, our own grasp of the concept is suspect.

Take the term “salvation.” It is used by churches around the world and repeated weekly by tens of millions in the Nicene Creed. But if your sailboat capsized and you washed ashore on North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal, and its inhabitants did not immediately kill you, as they have done in the past, how would you explain salvation to them?

Church members should be able to translate biblical terms and churchy dialect into language outsiders understand. Yet there is an even higher level of communication possible, one that transcends words: Love. Love can communicate to people what even our most precise words fail to make clear.

Felix Mendelsohn wrote a series of short piano pieces he titled, Songs Without Words. When a friend offered to write lyrics, Mendelsohn demurred. He thought that words would not clarify the meaning of his music but obscure it.

Sometimes our words – theological terms and churchy dialect – do the same thing. They obscure what God has communicated. When words fail, piling on more words will not help. What is then needed is love.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 8/25/2018

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