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A New Vocabulary for Christianity

new vocab logo use“Gay” used to mean happy.  “Sick” used to mean illness.  “Cool” meant put on a sweater.  Right now I’m just relaxing on vacation (and yes, for me this is a fun kind of relaxing!) and I saw an old garbage chute with the sign “rubbish.”  I guess that used to be the standard word for garbage.  Now it means false-speech.

Sometimes the meanings of words change, or at least lose some of the girth of their original use.  So this isn’t really a “new” vocabulary for Christianity—but an update for some key terms to make us think.  This isn’t to evacuate past wisdom, but to respect it.  Do I expect us to actually start using these words?  Not really.  But it’s food for thought.

“Believers” becomes “TRUSTERS”
Christians are often called “believers.”  But the word can cast non-Christians in a hopeless pall.  Since the New Testament (NT) word for “have faith in” and “believe” is really trust, why not “trusters”?  This new word shakes some of the dust off.

“Church” becomes “SUMMONS”
Maybe it sounds awkward—but check this out.  The NT word for church is “ekklesia”—literally, “those called out.”  We now translate it as “church” or “congregation” or “assembly.”  But by default we often think of a building.  In its most basic definition the church is the people of Jesus.  Institutions don’t have feet, people do.  So “summons” brings together the idea that we are summoned as a people on purpose for a purpose in Jesus.  There’s gratitude, gravity and urgency when we meet.  It’s Sunday, time for Summons.

“Christ” becomes “KING”
“Christ” is the Greek word for “anointed one.”  But for what?  Kingship.  But “Christ” has become mistaken as a last name for Jesus, as if we mistook “Prime Minister” for Stephen Harper’s last name.  We reclaim the idea that Jesus is a K-I-N-G.  Passages like 1 Timothy 1: 12 take on a new robust-osity: “I am grateful to King Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service.”

“Sin” becomes “CRIME”
Hebrew language scholar Robert Alter uses this word.  The word “sin” still has modern currency.  But it’s often minimized to mean little moral bads.  But more widely, sin is a state of being—a way of selfish living which is crime against God.  “Broken” might be a good substitute, but it’s too passive.  The word “crime” conjures seriousness and penalty and a victim.  Are you a sinner?  Me too.  We’re criminals.  That’s something serious that needs remedy.

“Gospel” becomes “HAPPY NEWS”
“Gospel” was a word the early church borrowed from the surrounding culture.  A “gospel” was a newsworthy public announcement.  The early trusters applied it to Jesus.  “Gospel” is an old word meaning “good news,” but this still falls short.  There’s no urgency or exuberance.  When my little girl runs out of her room excited with something she needs to share she says, “Daddy, wanna know the happy news?!”  That’s it.  Imagine a child running with her face lit up.  The happy news!  Happy not in the shallow sense, but happy in the sense that you are injected with a renewing joy, especially knowing your own crimes.

“Salvation” becomes “RESCUE”
We’ve trivialized salvation.  Salvation isn’t just “getting into heaven,” but quality of life now.  It means rescue in the forever but also immediate sense.  I remember getting rescued from the water when I was small.  I was happy to be alive, having almost tasted death.  Rescue is life, a second chance, and a re-ordering of your priorities now that you’ve been to the edge of the cliff and pulled back!  If you’ve been really rescued, everything changes.

“Bible” becomes “THE BOOK”
The word “Bible” simply means book.  I just like the idea of calling it capital-T capital-B “The Book.”  Re-affirms its primacy.  If there was only one book that was the gateway to the heart of God, would you know it any better?  It’s the most-shoplifted and best-selling book of all time.  No wonder.

“Baptism” becomes “WASHED”
The water used in baptism isn’t magic juice that gets you into heaven.  It’s water.  From a tap.  But it does have many meanings.  One is a symbol of God’s unconditional love and acceptance of you.  But another is to be symbolically cleansed from the old life and washed, made ready for the new trusting life.

“Love” becomes “LOYALTY”
We’ve lost love.  Gone to sentimentality.  I’m sure that when most people talk about love they keep it general and vague because they don’t know what they’re talking about.  In the NT, love often means loyalty.  Personal attachment, devotion—building up the other.   “Whoever is not loyal does not know God, for God is loyal.”  (See 1 John 4:8)

“Disciple” becomes “LEARNER”
“Disciple” still works.  But I like “learner” too.  Learner makes you think of the Teacher.  And when we take learning seriously, it changes how we live.  We’re less noun and more verb.

There are so many words we could include, even “Christian.”  I like the old reference from Acts 9:2 when we were called the people of “the Way.”  But it’s getting late!

So to close here’s a fictional passage bringing together these new words and very old ideas:

“To the trusters on the internet, I have been so moved by your loyalty, not only to our Lord, but to each other.  This loyalty is exemplary.  It reflects well on our leader, King Jesus—and is of course inspired by him.  As you know we were all criminals, but then we heard the happy news of King Jesus, that in him there is the forgiveness of our crimes.  What freedom!  It changed everything, and us!  Whenever we go to Summons we give thanks that we have been rescued from these crimes.  Back from the cliff we have new courage and eyes and hands for the King.  We are made new and strengthened by the promises we read in The Book and many of us have been Washed as a result.  Since our rescue, we became real learners of the King, trying to trust him more day by day—for the hope and healing of a bruised and bruising world.”

“Amen” becomes… ah, “AMEN”
Some things never change.

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2 Comments »

  1. Hey Matthew…great list. I just preached on love as loyalty two Sunday’s ago. The one I am having the toughest time agreeing with you on, however, is crime…not convinced it is a worthy replacement because we equate it with our human justice system where you can be punished for your crimes and you can work (community service, prison time) to pay off your crime…no room for grace. Crimes are also seen as actions, I believe, when “The Book,” especially the “Happy News,” tells us that our thoughts are also sinful. We could go even further in that our human justice system declares that we are innocent until proven guilty when it could be argued that under God’s justice/”rescue” we are guilty until “washed” and forgiven.

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    • Hi Mike, thanks for your thoughts. I like ‘crime’ because it brings back the seriousness of sin. And sins are crimes against God and humanity. The grace comes in as the free gift of God, of course! I like the reversal you have at the end; i.e. innocent until proven guilty into guilty until washed/forgiven. Nice!

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