Language: Sensativity or Surrender

I was at a dinner last night and someone cringed at my use of the pejorative, “Old Testament.” Proper terminology would be First Testament, or Hebrew Testament. At Chalice, we don’t have an Evangelism Committee but a Good News Team. Many churches no longer have Constitutions, but a Design.

Helpful? I’m not sure. I think there are two issue to consider, one is accessibility to the newcomer. The second is using accurate language.

Regarding accessibility, I believe we should avoid church-ese. So, I think it makes sense to say the front of the church instead of the narthax. I suppose program instead of bulletin is fine. And so on. To the extent we rename things to be more accessible great. But sometimes renaming has the opposite affect.

First Testament instead of Old Testament is unfamiliar. The same with Design instead of Constitution. In fact, it is insider language among the insiders. So, we should only adopt this sort of thing if there is another compelling reason.

That would be accuracy. So, I am fully in favor of gender inclusive language. God is not a man or a male. It is foolishly limiting to think of God that way. It is idolatry to make God Almighty into Zeus. So, taking the effort to avoid excessive use of male imagery and pronouns is very important.

On the other hand, calling your constitution a design, is not more accurate. And if you look at the Disciples of Christ’s Design,, it is in fact a constitution. It has a preamble and rights & responsibilities. And Old Testament? Is it derogatory for a book to be old? I don’t think so.

And the worst trend of all is to run from words like Salvation, Faith, and Evangelism. I know people have some bad ideas about these words. But we should not stop using the words! When someone asks me, “Are you saved?” I could say, “Yeah, my church doesn’t really look at things that way,” or I could say, “What do you mean by that? My life has been transformed by my faith, so I think Jesus has saved me from an ordinary and unexamined life. Is that what you mean?”

When push comes to shove, I can live with First Testament and Church Design, but I can’t live with giving up making a statement about what Salvation means to us. I can’t live with giving up what Faith and Evangelism mean to us.

6 replies on “Language: Sensativity or Surrender”

But insider language is what is like the rest of society. Church should not have special language that just excludes. It shouldn’t have jargon. So, get rid of narthax (which I’m not even sure is the right word), bulletin, etc. (coming from the tradition I do, there aren’t too many of these).

On the other hand, we should keep our unique ideas. Like Salavation and Faith.

No, I’m not kidding. Some take offense to the expression Old Testament. I don’t think New is better than Old when you are talking about religion. Much authority comes from being the older practice. But, some disagree with me.

How true. I guess because I am so worried about the negative impact of country club churches on the movement of Christianity, I don’t care much about people feeling like they are on the inside. That could very well be an overcompensation on part.

Just had to comment on the question about “First Testament” being used to refer to the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. The “testaments” are the covenants God made with God’s people, and when the canon was being formed there was a division between the covenant (testament) God made with the Israelites and the covenant God made with all people. To the Christians who made this differentiation Jesus was the medium of the new covenant or New Testament.

The Old Testament (which is the Hebrew bible) really was the First Testament. I studied Hebrew scriptures in seminary with a wonderful, devout Jewish professor. It is out of respect for his faith and in acknowledgement of Christianity’s rootedness in Judaism that I’m most comfortable referring to the Hebrew scriptures as the First Testament.

I had an epiphany one day in that class & wrote in the margins of my notes something like this: “If God is revealed to Israel in the first testament, and is revealed to the Christians in the new testament, is God through revealing God’s self? If not, might we more aptly call the new testament the “second testament” and make room for God to be revealed another and then another time?” If the canon is not closed, might there be room for a third and fourth testament?


Well, this post was almost baiting you to reply, so I’m glad you did.

Of course, the Mormons, and perhaps the Muslims, would point out that we do have a third testament, wouldn’t they?

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