I am back to blogging from my Life Journal this week after taking some time off for Holy Week.
I was reading this morning in 1 Corinthians 14 and was struck by how important St. Paul believed that the language we used in worship needed to be understandable to the seekers among us. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is primarily speaking about the use of the spiritual gift of tongues. He is making a contrast between prophecy (which is in the language of the speaker and the hearers) and speaking in tongues (the meaning of which is unknown even to the speaker). But in this discussion he lays down some principles to which Christ Followers should pay attention.
He says, in verse 11, "If I do not know the speaker's language, his words will be gibberish to me, and mine to him." In verse 19, "but in the congregation I would rather speak five intelligible words, for the benefit of others as well as myself, than thousands of words in the language of ecstasy."
Apart from the conversation regarding spiritual gifts, the principle of being intelligible in worship to the outsider is very clear here. Every group of people develops its own language, code words and insider understandings. In the church we have things like Hymns and Carols; we have funky words like Narthex and Sanctuary; in a lot of places we have doxologies and Gloria Patris; all good and historic language of Christian worship and worship space but not immediately understandable to the seekers among us. Paul is suggesting that what we do in public needs to be understood by the broader public.
Or, and here I tweak my own nose, how about preacher talk. We get caught up in theological language and understandings. A good sermon on "sanctification" or "justification" or even "stewardship" is routine for many of us. But, for someone who does not know our insider language, these words are barriers to their understanding.
How do we make sure that we are being open to the seekers among us, not only in being warm, friendly and hospitable, but also in what we say, how we say it, and in what language?