Friday, May 7, 2010

The importance of language

Language is very important when it comes to our beliefs. There are people who dismiss specific language to describe theological and philosophical beliefs as unimportant. They sometimes claim that the words we use to describe and define our faith are unimportant when compared to the significance of loving others. It is obvious that love is the highest virtue, and the one that should define all of our actions and attitudes, but the language and words we use or don't use to define our faith cannot be dismissed.

Language is so important because it shapes the way we perceive everything in our life. Our experiences are limited to a degree by the language we have or don't have to express those experiences. For example, children, as they are learning to speak have only a small vocabulary and thus can experience less about any given situation. This is prevalent in almost every area of life from scholarly issues to car mechanics. For those of us who are not highly educated about engines and car repairs, think how we describe problems with our vehicle to mechanics. I tend to say there is a knock, squeak, or bump in the engine. Then I will usually throw in some dramatic hand motions to get my point across. My ability to experience the situation with my car is limited by my understanding of the working and language of the engine. My mechanic will interpret my uneducated rambling as a loose fan belt, broken engine mount, or warped rotors. He takes my general words and puts form and function to them because he understands the language of engines and can more richly and specifically deal with the situation.

Our faith is the same way. Paul admonishes his churches to move beyond the "milk" of the Gospel to the "meat" of the Gospel. Grow beyond the childlike simple concepts to a deeper understanding and experience of Christ. When we dismiss theology and the significance of words, vocabulary, and specific terms, we are limiting our experience of God and our ability to grow in our faith.

We have large words in the Christian faith, justification, sanctification, glorification and so on. We shouldn't use these large words to confuse or exclude others, but if we dismiss our understanding of these terms as insignificant, we are choosing to say that our ability to understand God and our relationship with Christ is also insignificant.

Is everyone a scholar? No, that is not the point, the point is to pursue a relationship with Christ that includes being specific about the words we use. One last example, the major difference between Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormans, and Evangelical Christianity boils down to a few words. The difference between heaven and hell is the words we believe about Christ. Words are important, eternally so.

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