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23 October 2007

Graciously Salty Conversation

I love Jesus. I love the Church. I love the individuals in my church fellowship. So help me, I do. Bear in mind that whatever I post always applies to me first. Eventually I'm going to have to get to specifics, but my goal here is for you to draw your own conclusions about some generalities (with heavy influence from me, of course) so that I can keep my posts short, in a very relative manner of speaking.

"Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one." - Colossians 4:5-6 (NKJV)

"Seasoned with salt..." Speak graciously (kindly and courteously), but add a touch of crude sailor humor? Add words of spiritual wisdom? Pour salt in a wound?

You'll obviously get the right answer, and there are some Scriptures and words that we may rightly expect for people to be able to take within context, but when speaking to a new believer or to someone outside typical church circles, are we wise to take this for granted? How are we to present the Gospel in a manner that truly allows people to understand it? While we don't need to assume that our audience (that's not a bad word -- it just refers to those to whom we want to speak about Christ) is littered with dummies and can't understand the words of the King James version of the Bible, talking about our faith in a language that people can understand is of paramount importance. This does not go only for people outside of the church community, but those within it, as well.

Take the verses in question. The Contemporary English Version (which is not a paraphrase, but a translation geared for a younger age group) renders them this way: "When you are with unbelievers, always make good use of the time. Be pleasant and hold their interest when you speak the message. Choose your words carefully and be ready to give answers to anyone who asks questions."

Important note: this is not a post about Bible translations, and I do believe there's a danger in simply flipping from one translation of the Bible to another until you find one that says what you prefer it to say. Be very deliberate in why you're using a given translation of the Word of God, and it's important to know what manuscripts were used. We use the New King James Version of the Bible as the standard translation at our fellowship.

As we present the world's most important Message to those around us, why would we not want to present it in a way in which those around us will understand it? Paul related to the philosophers on Mars Hill using their own terms as a basis for conversation. When Phillip spoke with the Ethiopian eunuch, he did so in an effort to help the man understand what he was reading in Isaiah. Michaelangelo utilized a prevailing art form of his day to focus people's eyes on God. The KJV was translated in 1611 as a way to make the Word of God readable by the masses in their local vernacular. Missionary Nate Saint and his team were murdered for their efforts to take the Gospel to the Aucans in a way they could understand it. Joel Osteen... Oh, wait. Never mind.

In each example above, the people presenting Christ to those around them knew their audience. Then they adjusted their presentation of the Gospel, never compromising its message, so that those around them would understand what they were talking about.

Are there any conventions we hold onto that actually wind up compromising the message we want to present? Do we feel that we've somehow given the devil a foothold if we depart from certain traditions? Music? Teaching style? Live vs. Memorex?

There have been many thought-provoking comments on this issue over the past week (notably by Cecily Hill, whom I've invited to guest-blog occasionally because of some of her points on this subject) and I can't reference all of them, but Jan Owen said something very stinging about the church, and often unfortunately accurate, under a previous post, "We are so busy defending ourselves from any possible contamination that we don't get out in the world to reach out and do any good."


Baba Ganoush said...

You ask "are there any conventions we hold onto that actually wind up compromising the message we want to present?" I'm not sure it's a convention, but one thing that particularly annoys me is when a Christian uses "we're not perfect, just forgiven" as an excuse to continue in sin. Leads to be labeled a hypocrite. I believe the phrase has it's place, but not as an excuse.

christy said...

Well, all I can say is that I am not the most outward "WITNESS" meanging that I don't approach strangers and verbally share w/ them as I should. However, were I to do that, Jesus promised that He would give me the words to say. There have been a few times that I shared w/ people and afterward I couldn't remember what I said - I think that's what Jesus meant. WE don't necessarily need to think ahead of what or how we are going to say anything. Just be willing to share what Christ has done for you and HE will supply the words.

Cecily Hill said...

I think using Colossians 4:5-6 was an interesting choice, as your purpose for this post could be interpreted two ways. First, is our speech when witnessing (or, simply, when dealing with other people) full of grace? That, I think, is a thought worthy of contemplation.

However (and correct me if I got it wrong), I think your main point is that the phrase, "Let your speech always be... seasoned with salt," is one of those "church speak" phrases that makes perfect sense to those who are believers, have been studying God's word, or have been raised in the church, but is completely foreign to an outsider.

For example, if we were using this verse to witness to a seeker, they might be distracted by the idea of our speech being "seasoned with salt." Then, because that phrase is meaningless to them, they stop listening to what you have to say because it's not making sense. Suddenly your message has become, dare I say it... irrelevant. :)

Sometimes it's hard for those of us who have been "in the church" for most of our lives to recognize that certain words and phrases we use often alienate the very people we are trying to reach.

I agree with Christy; when we are presented with the opportunity to witness one-on-one, we need to immediately seek the Holy Spirit's guidance. I whole-heartedly believe that even the most ineloquent among us can become great orators for Christ when we let the Spirit speak through us; the words will always come, if we humbly seek His help.

However, in a more corporate setting, from worship services to small groups, we need to exercise care about the phrases we use, to ensure that nothing gets "lost in translation."

If we're going to talk rapturously about being "washed in the blood of the Lamb," we might need to consider the audience: If it's room full of fellow believers in a Bible study, then no explanation is needed.

On the other hand, if there are "seekers" in the group, people still exploring this idea of Christianity... well, then, we might want to clarify what that phrase means (No, there won't be a live lamb slaughtered on the altar this morning, and no one is going to pour blood on you if you come up front to pray...) or avoid it altogether, and find a different way to convey the message.

OK, that's extreme, I know. But I do think we tend to assume everyone sitting in a worship service is "speaking the same language" and that's simply not the case.

(At least, it shouldn't be the case, if we're doing outreach and evangelism correctly.)

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