To explain the heading: in Physics, F = ma. Force = mass x acceleration. Get it?
Every specialist endeavour in life has its own specific jargon. If you’re a geneticist, a paragraph in a mechanical engineering journal would probably make no sense. Similarly, a theoretical mathematician may struggle with the terms used in a review of psychology. And to someone who can’t read music, the score of a song is incomprehensible. You get the picture.
Similarly Christians use language that is meaningful among other Christians. That is fine, but the problem may come when Christians use “Christianese” when talking to non-believers. What we take for granted and what makes sense to us as believers has developed over time as we have gone to church or youth group, or read the Bible and other Christian literature. We start to take our language for granted.
Why, then, do we Christians use language that often is plain wrong, or at the least, inappropriate? Particularly when we hope to present the gospel in a meaningful way to a non-believer?
I’d like to explore a few of these terms that are in common usage among Christians.
‘Just’ is a four letter word
In the last week, I have listened to prayers by two different people. Beautiful, sincere prayers. It’s just that they used the word “just” about 10 times in the space of about three sentences.
The word ‘just’ can have three main meanings: it can be an adjective which describes behaviour that is morally right and fair, or it can be an adverb which can be substituted for ‘exactly’ as in “that’s just what I need”, or it can mean the recent past, as in “I’ve just seen the paper”.
So when did it come into common usage in prayer, asking the Lord to ‘just bless this person’, ‘just take away their fear’, ‘just be with us’? I’ll just leave you to think about what that really means.
Recently I tried to write a devotion about surrender, only to find that the word is pretty much non-existent in the New Testament, and in the Old Testament it is usually used in relation to surrender in the face of a conquering army and king.
The actual meaning of the term is “to stop resisting an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority, to give up or hand over (a person, right, or possession), typically on compulsion or demand, to stop fighting and admit defeat, or to stop trying to prevent or control an emotion.”
Good old Wikipedia goes further: “To surrender in spirituality and religion means that a believer completely gives up his own will and subjects his thoughts, ideas, and deeds to the will and teachings of a higher power. Surrender is willful acceptance and yielding to a dominating force and their will because you are forced to do so.”
This does not describe the Christian experience. We are not forced or compelled to give our lives to God, and in doing so we certainly do not give up our own will – we continue to exercise free will. It is therefore not appropriate to say that we ‘surrender’ to God.
And we can hardly say that God is our enemy because he loves us and wants the best for us. A typical enemy’s behavior is to subdue us and make us comply with his will.
Some other terms come to mind: we can ‘yield to his Lordship’, we can ‘relinquish’ our pride, and we do all this from our own free will. In some poetic sense we can claim that God pursues us, but he doesn’t force us to love him. So is it right to tell a non-believer that he has to ‘surrender’ his life to God?
In the name of Jesus
We glibly rattle off that phrase when we pray, but do we actually understand the full impact of it?
Jesus did say “ask anything in my name” but see the context! The purpose is to bring glory to the Father. I’m hearing it used in order to almost force God’s hand to answer our prayer, or used in a superstitious way thinking that if we don’t use it, God won’t hear. Or used unthinkingly because we’re ‘just’ in the habit of using it.
The name of Jesus has great power and is not to be taken it casually:
10 The authority of the name of Jesus causes every knee to bow in reverence! Everything and everyone will one day submit to this name—in the heavenly realm, in the earthly realm, and in the demonic realm. 11 And every tongue will proclaim in every language: “Jesus Christ is Lord Yahweh,” bringing glory and honor to God, his Father! Philippians Chapter 2, verses 10 – 11 (The Passion Translation)
If our prayer life is simply a conversation with God wherever we are, whatever we are doing, our prayers are in the context of relationship with Father.
We should pray “in the name of Jesus” when we are engaging in warfare or intercession where we know God’s will in the situation and we want his will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven”. It is appropriate in the context of the Great Commission.
But I’m afraid it may fall into the category of an habitual phrase that is part of the way we pray, rather than an expression of the relationship we have with our Heavenly Father.
Think before you speak!
So I encourage us all to be thoughtful about the words we use. There’s no problem with technical language in the appropriate environment. In the words of a common quote: I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
Aira Chilcott is a retired secondary school teacher with lots of science and theology under her belt. Aira is a panellist for Young Writers and indulges in reading, bushwalking, volunteering at a nature reserve and learning to play clarinet. Aira is married to Bill and they have three adult sons.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html