Monday, September 29, 2008

From the Heart: Language Matters1

(originally posted 7/2006)

My husband and I visited a new church this past Sunday. With all new church visits, you're never really sure what you're going to hear. You hope it will be edifying and Biblical, and you hope to have a good report after your visit.

Thankfully, that was the case with the church we visited. I found it rather timely that during the sermon the pastor touched on the dangers of hardening our hearts, and becoming desensitized to sin. Specifically, he mentioned cussing. Using the language of the world. The hard, harsh, obscene, profane, vulgar speech that the unsaved quite often and quite easily use to express themselves. This is all too common in the days we're living in, and the evidence of this is with Christians who have adopted this habit and not only have no issue at all with cussing and using profane language, but go so far as to defend it. I would suggest that their hearts have become hard (obstinate, stubborn) toward these things, and in that they have closed themselves off from any kind of correction, or teachability. This is always a dangerous place to find ourselves.

In Hebrews 3:8-12 the practice of hardening one's heart to the things of God is shown to be a most grievous thing for those who do it. Bearing in mind this isn't written to unbelievers, it's written to "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling" (v.1), and this is a warning that we too, can harden our own hearts to sinful things, and become obstinate about them.I know this topic has been covered repeatedly in the last few months, but I believe it warrants coverage again, and again, and again. As long as there are people out there professing Christ out of one side of their mouths, and using this kind of language out of the other, this is a topic that will always be timely.

Not long ago, our friend Phil Johnson at TeamPyro posted on this very subject and in linking to yet another post on the same topic at Daniel's blog, said this:

"I heartily affirm everything Daniel at Doulogos said about this issue. The comments in reply to that simple post show how volatile the issue is, and how recalcitrant some Christians these days can be in defending their indefensible use of bad language." (original post)

That word he used there, recalcitrant, is exactly what "hardened" in Hebrews 3:8-13 refers to. Stubborn, closed off, obstinate, hard.

It has been rightly pointed out that the real core of the matter on this subject, is the condition of the heart. In other words, if a man or woman is using a word or the kind of language we consider "cussing" just for the sake of being vulgar, or because they're just using a word for stronger impact, I would suggest that with the former, it's a genuine heart issue. With the latter, it's just an ill-thought-out form of pragmatic approach. It's easy to get the attention of people when you use profane language, but it takes much more work (and more thought) to say the same thing, using strong words that are not considered cussing.

I wanted to address this today after a friend recently shared with me a link to a local, southern Ontario publication produced by what he called "our own version of emerging church folks". The publication link is no longer available, but I will say that the language used on the website was some of the worst I’ve read yet, on a professing Christian website. It was incredibly offensive and vulgar and I will say this also, that it should offend, the believer. If it doesn't bother you, you should be asking yourself why bad language has no impact on your heart.

I would like to offer this piece of encouragement to the ECM folks (and others) that use this kind of language and think nothing of it.

Drop the language, please.

It's offensive, it doesn't impress our Lord, it grieves Him and it flies in the face of what the Scriptures exhort us to. In addition, even if you do have something profound and encouraging to share, it's incredibly difficult (if not impossible) for others to hear or read your message, when it's peppered with language so offensive that potential readers or listeners just give up, because they can't stand the vulgar or crass terms you're using.

There's a better way...

Pastor John MacArthur addressed this issue not too long ago when he wrote Grunge Christianity. Pastor John said (in reference to Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Seattle) after listening to several of his sermons:

“To be fair, he didn’t use the sort of four-letter expletives most people think of as cuss words—nothing that might get bleeped on broadcast television these days. Still, it would certainly be accurate to describe both his vocabulary and his subject matter at times as tasteless, indecent, crude, and utterly inappropriate for a minister of Christ. In every message I listened to, at least once he veered into territory that ought to be clearly marked off limits for the pulpit.” (This post at Pulpit Live netted over 100 comments on this subject, and I would encourage you to read through the comments there).

The fact is, it’s not just a handful of us overly-prudish women out here whining that people are saying bad things - as some have suggested. There are some Godly brothers out there who have been in ministry for many many years, with much to say about such conduct, and they’re saying the same things many of us lesser known folks are saying.

In John MacArthur’s piece on Grunge Christianity, he makes mention of a book review Tim Challies posted May of 2006 called “Confessions of a Reformission Rev” by Mark Driscoll. If you’ve never read that review, or the commenting that came afterward, I’d recommend you do that. (I only briefly participated in the discussions).

Look at this:

James 3:10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

And this:

Colossians 3:1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. 5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: 6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: 7 In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. 8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

And this:

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.

In closing, I want to share with you a couple more quotes from the above mentioned post at TeamPyro:

"Dirty language and casual cussing seems to be a besetting sin in the "Emerging Church" movement. I don't know if it's a generational thing, a cultural thing, one of the ramifications of the blithe worldliness that pervades the philosophy behind the "Emerging Church," or all of the above. But I listened to the first few podcasts from Emergent, and I was floored by how freely vulgar language and "mild" profanity flows in the so-called "Emerging Conversation."


"we ought to aim at matching our words to our profession of faith"

Please know this - Christians that are offended by this language aren't "out to get" anyone or needlessly critiquing others for the sake of critique. We are genuinely offended and literally cringe when we hear this. It grieves us, and we believe it brings shame to the name of Christ to use the very kinds of language His word speaks against - all the while professing faith in Him.

I would strongly encourage those reading to pray about this. Rather than be stubborn and defend the use of such language, be receptive to what so many in the body are saying and see if there is any truth to the criticisms on this topic.

While this post may seem to single out those in the EMC, this subject is by no means exclusive to those who are a part of that movement/conversation. This is a widespread issue among Christianity in general. It should also be revealing that it is both men and women, young and old, and from a variety of denominational/doctrinal backgrounds that are speaking up with grave concern about this subject.

Part 2 of Language Matters, tomorrow.