It happens all too often. Someone visits our church, and some Christian they know feels it necessary to inform them of our church’s “liberalism.” Then we get to have these discussions about what Heritage’s position is on a list of secondary issues:
- Drinking – “I heard that church lets people drink. They even joke around about it.”
- Dress – “That church has no standards. People show up looking like slobs.”
- Theological Liberalism – “They believe in __________; can you believe it?”
- Versions of the Bible – “You don’t want to there; they don’t use the Bible.”
- Salvation – “They don’t give altar calls and they believe salvation is a PROCESS!”
- Language – “They approve of swearing and profanity.”
- Politics – “The pastor over there is not even a Republican.”
- Separation – “There’s no difference between them and the world.”
- Gender Roles – “They let women do just about anything” and “The pastor there hates women.” [I love how we get picked on for both extremes on this particular issue.]
The list goes on and on, and I am sure there are some that I missed because there are always new ones coming up. It is fascinating how inter-connected the Christian community is in our region and how quickly rumors and accusations fly. As Douglas Adams once quibbed:
Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.
These criticisms are generally followed by out-of-context quotes of the same old tired Scriptures used to justify positions. [By the way, this post is not related to any recent criticisms. It is just for general information.]
One of the most amazing rumors was that we are universalists. This rumor was started when a pastor in our region went on our website and read our Articles of Faith (which, by the way, are under revision because they were just boiler-plated when the church was incorporated). In our Articles is the affirmation that we “We believe in the universal church, the body of Christ, which is composed of all born-again believers of this age and that Christ is the only head of that church.”
Just for the record, universalism means that you believe everyone of every religion is going to heaven. Believing in the universal church however means that you believe all who are saved are part of the Body of Christ, what we have recently begun to term “the assembly of the firstborn” which is the Biblical terminology (Hebrews 12:22-23)
So, here are the official answers to these questions – from the pastor’s desk.
- First of all, rumor-bearing and gossip about the body of Christ is ungodly. When people try to “set you straight” with unsubstantiated accusations about individual believers or churches, take them to the Scripture.
- Second, our church is focused on reading the Scriptures literally and contextually. This requires that we set aside our cultural expectations, learn about the world in which the Scriptures were written and then attempt (to the best of our ability) not to go beyond the original, intended meaning of the Word of God.
- We then apply this original, intended meaning to our current context. We attempt, to the best of our ability, not to read our cultural expectations into the Scriptures.
Let me use the issue of language as an example.
The Scripture most often quoted on the issue of language is Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” [Ephesians 4:29, KJV] People take this verse and say, “See? Swearing is corrupt communication, hence you should never use inappropriate language.” The result is people labeling this word or that word as “corrupt communication.”
Most of our leadership came from churches were cussing and swearing were frowned upon intensely. We would certainly agree that corrupting communication should not come from our lips. But, in studying the Scriptures, we have had to ask the question of what is corrupting communication? We have had to consider the question from the point of view of the original audience and then with consideration of our current culture. I have included two examples: one dealing with sexual language and the other dealing with vulgarity.
Let’s consider the Scriptures for a moment, shall we? Here are a couple examples of the Scriptures using terminology and words most Christians would consider inappropriate for public discussion:
- In Isaiah 64:6, Isaiah refers to our righteous deeds as “filthy rags.” This is a pleasantly modernized phrase isn’t it? Of course when you read the underlying text, you discover that the phrase in Hebrew is beged-‘einenu, literally “menstrual rags.” This was the ancient equivalent of a tampon, strips of cloth that a woman to contain her menstrual flow.
- In Deuteronomy 23:1, we read in the KJV “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.” The phrase for wounded in the stones is petzu’a-dake’ or literally “crushed testicles.” The word translated privy member is shafkah or penis.
Many Christians do not even publicly admit the existence of sexual organs, almost as if they are ashamed of them because they are “dirty”, but here is the Scripture – the very Word of God – referring to these things both openly and plainly. There is no hidden code. Can you imagine Isaiah or the Deuteronomist blushing when writing these words?
Clearly, God’s Word uses these terms unashamedly. The sexual being is not dirty or sinful. It is the twisting and perversion of the sexual that is sin, but sex is of God. Our bodies are still built the way God intended them, thus men have penises and women have vaginas. There is no shame in the fact that God created us as male and female. Thus sex should be discussed properly and completely without embarrassment.
There is no end to the debate on the issue of what is a vulgarity and what is not. The word vulgarity itself comes from Latin meaning “common” or “peasant.” How did this terminology come about?
When the French-speaking Normans invaded England in 1066, they took over a largely Germanic culture. The Anglo-Saxons who inhabited and ruled the island of Britain used a language similar to Old German. The French conducted a campaign of cultural eradication, attempting to destroy the Anglo-Saxon languages and replace them with French for common conversation and Latin for scholastic work. These languages were considered the languages of “civilized” and “cultured” people while Germanic tongues were pagan and unchristian.
As a result, the rough gutteral language of Anglo-Saxon was pushed down and repressed by labeling it vulgar and barbaric. It then became a sign of rebellion against these oppressors to speak in the forbidden tongue. Hence we have some of our most vulgar profanities:
- Fock was the Germanic word for penis and by extension act of sexual intercourse. It actually means the same thing in modern Swedish.
- Scheissen was the German word for manure (which ironically was the French word for work that we also get maneuver from)
- Kunte was the common Anglo-Saxon word for a woman’s vulva.
So extensive was the eradication of these terms that even words that came from Latin which sounded like German words were considered vulgarities, like cock (from the Latin coco).
These two examples show how Scripture uses terminology and how culture determines what is acceptable or unacceptable. They prove little except that the common, modern Christian definition of what is “corrupt communication” and what is not is based on culture often far more than it is on Scripture.
That being said, our church’s position on language is plain – strong language belongs only in strong situations. We do not make common usage of words consider profanity because such terminology has proper usages. A child born out of wedlock is a bastard. A female dog is a bitch. A long-eared equine animal is an ass. These are proper words, used properly.
The misuse and misapplication of words is poor communication. Ephesians 4:29 is not speaking of specific words but of specific actions – specifically bitterness, wrath, anger, excess, clamor, and slander (see verse 31). These are corrupting communications. Any words can become profanity when used these ways. We do not attempt to accumulate a list of words that are sinful but rather attitudes and actions.
I have used a sampling of the issue of language because it is such a flashpoint for so many. In many areas, our church does differ from the Christian “norm” because we feel the norm is unbiblical and driven by an unbiblical culture. In many other areas, our church lines up with the norm because in searching the Scriptures, we found it to be the biblical position.
Very briefly, let me provide some summaries about some of the other flashpoint issues from the list at the beginning:
- Drinking – There is a lot of drinking Scripture. Wine is considered a blessing from God. Drunkenness, however, is universally condemned.
- Dress – Jesus did not wear a tie. End of discussion.
- Theological Liberalism – Most of the accusations are false based on parts of things and misunderstanding.
- Versions of the Bible -Jesus did not speak English. End of discussion.
- Salvation – We do not have altar calls; and we do believe people will journey toward encounters with Christ. Salvation is not a work of man, but a work of the Spirit. As we perceive the work of God, salvation is a process.
- Language – Language’s appropriateness is not arbitrarily decided. Appropriate language is language which suits the situation and issue being described or explained.
- Politics – For the record, I am not a Republican; and I happen to believe America is dangerously close to being imperial in the tradition of the Roman Empire, which our founding fathers revered but the church fought against.
- Separation – We are part of this world. Jesus said so. End of discussion.
- Gender Roles – Men should love Jesus and submit to him. Women should love their husbands and submit to him as he submits to Jesus.
Hope that clears everything up.