Saturday, June 16, 2007

Naming things

A train of thought kicked off by the Evanescence track 'Tourniquet', from their CD 'Fallen'. The lyric runs 'My God, my tourniquet, return to me salvation', which struck me not just because it was about God, but whether you could think of God as a tourniquet (the God who preserves my life is a theme in the Psalms...), and how new names and images can open up new ways of thinking about things.

Another example: a nearby theological college had the habit a few years ago (I don't know if it still does) of referring to modern England as Babylon. Once you name our country in that way, it opens up different ways of thinking about it, and about the place of Christians within it - a country of exile rather than a 'Christian country', and so on.

On a more mundane level, the words we use can reinforce patterns of thinking. St. Paul talks about taking every thought captive - the way we talk to ourselves about things, the words we use, the way we describe things to ourselves and to others, which in turn affects our attitudes, feelings, and actions. So people who talk about 'happy clappy' churches, for example, are using a name which distances themselves from a (percieved) style of worship and behaviour, and also using language which demeans that style of worship and confers a sense of superiority and sophistication on the speaker. (Too bad then that the Bible instructs us both to be joyful in the Lord and to clap our hands in worship.)

But names can be deceptive. To go back to the TV drama House (a posting from a few weeks ago) - 'just because you call it a dwarf doesn't mean it is a dwarf'. As well as looking for new words which give us new ways of seeing things, we also need to critique the words we already use, even if we've been using them for ages.

Take the word 'church'. Just because you call something a church doesn't mean it is one. The Moonies call themselves a 'church'. A conversation over coffee the other day led to trying to define what makes the church the church. My favourite one is the marks developed by Robert Warren:

- Mission

- Worship

- Community

- Discipleship (or spirituality, which is part of discipleship)

In diagram form, the first 3 are drawn as 3 overlapping circles, and the 4th is the area where all 3 overlap. (There's a good explanation of all this here)

If these are the marks of a geniune church (and I'm not claiming papal infallibility for them), then a church which doesn't engage in mission is not fully the church. And a church which is a collection of individuals who come for 'my communion' but don't love one another is not fully the church. And so on. And when does 'not fully the church' become 'not the church'? How far can a group which calls itself the church fall short, but remain the church? Can we critique the way we talk about ourselves, even the name which gives us our very identity, or is this too much of a risk?

1 comment:

  1. Richard Frank16/6/07 10:45 pm

    I'm sure we can - and we should.

    I've been doing quite a bit of teaching about 'the people of God' in the OT and looking at Circumcision - the external sign which (automatically) marked someone (and their household) out as belonging to 'the people of God'... and the internal sign of "circumcised hearts" (as Jeremiah vividly puts it) which describes a life lived as response.

    In other words, you could say that before we get round to critiquing our use of God's labels (like "church" or "people of God" or "Christian"), they critique us - and call us to a different life.

    Neither the OT prophets, nor the NT epistles say of someone "you've ceased to be the people of God/church"... they seem to say "you've been circumcised/baptised, so you are - now live it out".

    Just a late night rambling to add to the pile Dave!