A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

The language of the Church

In my recent post on Trinitarian language, irishanglican and I got into the question of whether abandoning the language (not the content) of traditional Trinitarian language was an abandonment of tradition or not. At the root of this is how much does tradition affect our communication as the Church. But the issue is not as simple as simply addressing tradition. We have three sources for our language, and we must determine how to appropriate each in our communication of our faith.

The first is the Biblical language. In this, there are multiple ways of communicating the same messages, so there is not just one unified Biblical method of communicating certain truths. And this is of great value for understanding, because it allows to see different shades of meaning and try to find the point of intersection between similar words to obtain a more definite meaning. Furthermore, the Bible contains the revelation of God, so naturally its value is high. However, the language can also be very distant from our contemporary culture. But seeing as the Bible is our primary source of theology, if one entirely abandons Biblical language though, one leaves the congregation rather unable to adequately engage the Biblical texts themselves.

The second is Christian tradition. Tradition is essentially the democracy of people in the past up to the present. Tradition represents the struggle with certain issues and the search for adequate language and concepts to engage the questions of the day. Tradition then is a source of previous critical reflection. However, it is also based upon the questions of the day and the language of the time, perhaps even more so since it doesn’t make the claim of coming from the revelation of the time transcending God. It can not escape its cultural, sociological, and intellectual context, which may be divergent from the current time. As a result, it may lose its meaning when spoken to a different culture. But yet tradition plays an important role in theological reflection (I hesitate to actually speak of its as a source in and of itself for theology), so totally abandoning traditional language can make it inaccessible to the average person. But tradition is less essential compared to Scripture, so there is more leeway here in refraining from using traditional language.

The third is contemporary culture. It is the culture we live in, and it is our job as the Church to communicate to this culture. Anything that can not adequately and easily communicate to them creates a larger gap between those in the Church and taught the traditional and Biblical langauge from those on the outside who may not have been. So we adopt modern language to communicate it effectively. However, caution must be practiced because the usage of contemporary language to convey what may be a more ancient concept may result in confusion itself, and lead to teachings and understandings that are not in themselves Biblical and may fly totally in the face of tradition. So if we feel the need to abandon or lessen the usage of Biblical or traditional langauge in one instance, we must take special care in how we rephrase the understanding of our faith.

Now, in categorizing these three things, it does not mean that there is nothing in common between the three groups. Biblical, traditional, and contemporary language may share a lot in common. For instance, the usage of the word “sin,” which maybe slightly different from Biblical to traditional to modern language, by and large conveys the same basic meaning. However, there is also the potential for there to be divergence, such as the lack of traditional Trinitarian langauge in the Bible and in contemporary society outside of the Church.

The key, in the end, is not necessarily to place one above the other, but to keep the three in tension. But it requires a conscioustiousness on the part of theologians and ministers to maintain the proper balance or tension. We can not go the extreme of more conservative and uber-orthodox churches of retaining only the Biblical and maybe traditional language, nor should we got the way of more contemporary theological movements that attempt to make everything subject to the modern language.


October 2, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment