New words?

I was provoked by a comment that Geoff made on Matheus’ post:

All in favour of the new but, having embraced the charismatic, now have some reservations about ‘apostles’ and the ‘apostolic’. Maybe new words are needed for new things?

Do we need new words? That is a big and ongoing question. I am currently reading Thomas Jay Oord’s recent book where he argues that ‘omnipotence’ as an attribute of God is dead, it is meaningless, and even for the majority who advocate it the word is so modified that it proves to be not useful. He challenges the various translations, and puts forward a new word – amipotence. He is doing more than replacing a misused word with another, he is prioritising God as (is) love over any competing attribute. A new word – I don’t anticipate that the next wave of systematic theologies will replace the omni words with his new one, but they might engage with his critique.

Words and meaning

To some extent words have intrinsic meaning. ‘Cat’ does mean a furry animal that likes to sleep all day, but that would not mean that an animal of that species is sick when in a garage a mechanic says to another that ‘the cat is kaput’… implying the vehicle will need a new catalytic converter. And if we add the word ‘big’ in front the advice would not be to stroke the animal and let it climb on your lap.

Words do have meaning in and of themselves, but context and also changes in history of the word (‘what a wicked scheme’ might not mean the same thing in the 21st and 19th centuries) make a huge difference. Etymology and usage are important, and ultimately it seems usage is more important in deciding what meaning the word / phrase is carrying.

So new words?

I have long struggled with the word ‘church’. It seems to be reduced to a place, even when we say ‘church is not a building’, with such questions as ‘where do you go to church?’ Imagine asking – ‘where do you go to family?’ I have tried to mainly use the term ‘body of Christ’ when seeking to describe those who have submitted to the Christ of God and been incorporated into Christ. Thus rather than say ‘the church is the body of Christ’ to suggest we really should be considering that the ‘body of Christ is the church’. I have tried to look at the word ‘ekklesia’ in its usage, both as the term used of a people who have come together for the purpose of hearing God’s instruction for mission (the Septuagint, in other words the OT people of Israel) and the contemporary usage in the Roman world to describe those who were qualified to plan and work toward the culture and values of their city. Do we need a new word?

Geoff raises his concerns with the words ‘apostle / apostolic’. I share his concerns with regard to how they are understood. Maybe we should emphasise that they were not used as a title – ‘the apostle Paul’ – which does give a strong hint to being above and over others, but used as a calling to live up to – ‘Paul an apostle’ – implying that he has to fulfil that ministry; he is subject to God and has to work and build carefully. Do we need new words?

I suspect that new words will be helpful, but what new words will be the challenge. And I more than suspect that the difficulty lies deeper than the words. They tend to be understood within an institutional framework and viewed hierarchically. Perhaps Mr Oord is on to something. We want a powerful God and as all other nations have a powerful god we need an ALL powerful God (don’t panic – the opposite is not a powerless god!!) and if we have an all powerful God then those that represent him (has to be a masculine pronoun here) have to also carry power, which sadly translates as ‘authority over others’.

I am all for pushing for new words, but I suspect we also have to continue to inject the current words with meaning that is more in line with the original usage, or to the corrected usage in the wider original context. After all Jesus was termed King, a very term that I consider that bottom line God rejected! (And this is why I consider the term ‘king of the Jews’ was nailed to the cross.)

Time for new words; time for old words to be modelled in a different way to how we understand them. New words, but modelling is probably more important: how the words are used in the sense of practical embodiment.

3 thoughts on “New words?

  1. If only Paul had said the body of Christ which is the church and not the other way around. Oh Paul, what were you thinking! I clearly rememeber a group discussion in which the order was deemed clearly significant. I think it revealed a hidden preconception that the body of Christ is inlusive of all believers (another word to explain) and so global and the church was the bit of it you could identify. In that case church and body are not synonymous in reality and ownership of the word church and who is in or out becomes an issue and not too inclusive- hence para-church (sic). Somehow demonstrating what it means to be body or church in order to understand seems right. Matheus’ new communities for sure- Christians or followers of the Way?

  2. I was taken aback at the use of some words today. The CBC did an investigation into a ‘christian’ group that is bent on reconstructionism, that is taking over the country and imposing their theology as law. Presumably they are doing this ’cause god says so. But what really got me was how opposite their theology is from what Jesus spoke about. Words are all twisted up to mean completely different things. Its perverse.
    A quote from the article: “Experts say reconstructionists, on the other hand, see increasing tolerance for minority rights and other progressive policies as an attack on Christianity that will lead to the decline of Western civilization.”
    So the concern is western civilization which is equated with ‘christianity’ will go? Why would we be interested in preserving western civilization? I don’t remember that as something I am supposed to be doing. Seems they missed a lot of Jesus’ critique of things. They believe society should be oriented around the 10 Commandments. I thought Jesus freed us from that? They believe that god has commanded that they make Canada christian again. And I guess however that is done is fine. Their goal is to flood the political system with candidates and politicians at all levels. And they are happy to persecute minorities to death, as well as women who are non-compliant with their theological beliefs.
    Lots of words. Words twisted to mean things that include power and authority and hatred. What came to mind for me was the injunction to be as yeast in bread, invisibly making it rise. I make bread weekly. I watch the process. The yeast does the work of helping the bread rise so that the loaf light and nice to eat. The yeast does not command or rule anything. It cannot stay all clumped together advancing as a single thing through the bread because then it does not work, can’t do its job. And it is invisible once dissolved into the water at the beginning. You see its effect but not the yeast itself.
    Jesus freed us from the law, from kingship, from authority handed to men who would lead in bad directions. These people all seek that in a quest to reconstruct some mythical society that burns in their brain but was never, ever a thing. And they would be happy to destroy the rest of us to achieve it. Words matter. How we use them matters.

    1. Should have made your comment the post and my post the comment!! Well said, Anne.

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