I am writing this with the caveat that, while I technically have a minor in Biblical Studies from the time I spent at a Christian College, it wasn’t on my diploma when I graduated. I spent a lot of time leading Bible studies and doing small group sermons once upon a time. I don’t do that anymore.
The church I attend, Jacobs Well, has this really doable Bible study program called SOAP. I started SOAPing this summer, stopped, and recently started again. SOAP stands for Select, Observe, Apply, and Pray. Yesterday’s reading was Acts 2:1-14.
Before I say this, let me just preface (once more) with: I understand that you shouldn’t take any section of the Bible completely out of context. I don’t feel like I’m doing that here, as I have studied the Bible extensively, and while I’m going to talk about a specific passage, I’m not disregarding the rest of the Bible in any way, shape, or form.
The verse I selected was:
“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”
This was my observation: Do our churches speak in a language people can understand these days?
I’m going to say, in general, no. We don’t. The King James English isn’t often used anymore, and the words may be words everyone knows, but they’re so often spoken in a way that’s completely un-relatable for people who don’t already follow Jesus. The flip side is, when we do use relatable language, it’s not often done to describe God’s mighty works.
Even though it’s not always our intention (sometimes I think it absolutely is) we, as Christians, like to use language that separates us from the world. Language like that isn’t welcoming new people to the church. When a service starts with Father God Jehovah, we exalt your might name. Descend your holy fire on us this morning. it may feel good for the faithful in the room, but how do you think it feels to the person who didn’t grow up in church? (I’ll tell you: to them, it feels, at best, weird, at worst, like you’re crazy or scary. You want Jehovah’s witnesses to burn the church down?) That might be an extreme example, but I don’t think it’s that far out in left field. I have visited A LOT of churches and something along those lines happens at the beginning of most Evangelical/Pentecostal services.
There’s a lot of ways to take this wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray out loud in church. We absolutely should. But maybe in a way that someone who hasn’t drank the Kool-Aid yet can maybe understand, and maybe even want to try at home.
I’m not saying if If flowery, formal language is how you connect with God, there’s no place for it. There is. You can pray that way privately, or with the small group of believers you meet with each week.
I’m just saying: maybe we need to think more about what our language sounds like to the ears of the listeners rather than to our own ears.
The apostles didn’t continue to speak their own languages and get mad when the Jews didn’t understand what they were saying. God gave them the ability to speak in the language of the people they were trying to speak to, to describe His mighty works in language they would understand. I think he’s given us that ability to. We just need to use it.