Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hostage Crisis

Clichés are like jargon, in some ways. All groups develop them over time; they tend to serve as a sort of verbal short-hand when communicating with others who speak the same language.

But now, we've been told that certain Christian clichés will actually cause 'Millenials' to run screaming away from our churches faster than if they were fleeing a Zombie Apocalypse.

Honestly, I sympathize with what the author was saying in this article. (I've written about self-righteous Christian jargon before.) Clichés sound like fingernails on a blackboard. Or maybe that eery wailing sound á la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And the clichés listed in the article -- well, yeah, some of them bug me too.
For example: "love on".

As in: "we just want to love on people."

It should be filed under @#$! Christians Say, because nobody talks that way except (some) Christians. If one of my neighbors dropped by, and I offered him a coffee and asked him whazzup?, and he said, "Oh, nothing. I'm just here to love on you", I'd take the coffee back and start polishing up my aluminum baseball bat as a hint.
But it was the very first cliché mentioned in the article that got me thinking. Now, just so it's been said: This is not a rebuttal to the article, or even the cliché I'm about to explore. It just got me thinking, that's all, and this is where my brain went:
Which cliché, you ask? "The Bible clearly says..."
Now, I would agree with the author of the article that, as a cliché, it can sound arrogant, smug and condescending. And no doubt it's been used exactly that way by some people. (I've met the type; they make me uncomfortable too.)

At the same time, it is possible to use the mere existence of this cliché as a weapon. In the wrong hands, the general fed-up-ness with "the Bible clearly says" cliché could be used to hold pastors and leaders hostage to an agenda. (This is where I leave the original article per se, and move to a related issue. Again: Not. A. Rebuttal.)

There is a huge difference between: (A) arrogantly shutting down all discussion by using "the Bible clearly says" as a war club, and (B) agreeing that we speak humbly, but we can also affirm that the Bible is clear on some quite a lot of things.
I've been camping out in the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) for a couple of weeks now. If "the Bible clearly says" is now off-limits to prevent a potential Millenial Exodus, we would find ourselves unable to obey almost any of Paul's instructions to pastors, elders, and leaders.

For example, if we can't say anything definitely or "clearly", how do we:
  • "Command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer" (1 Tim. 1:3-4).? [Interesting note -- Paul quickly adds: "The goal of this command (stopping false teachers) is love" (1 Tim. 1:5).]
  • Follow Paul's instructions on the character that church leaders must have in order to lead (1 Tim. 3:1-13)?
  • "Command and teach these things... devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching" (1 Tim. 4:11-13)?
  • "Watch your life and doctrine closely... you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim. 4:15-16)?
  • Have the confidence to believe: "These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing" (1 Tim. 6:2-5)?
  • "Command those who are rich... to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous" (1 Tim. 6:17-19)?
And that's just 1st Timothy...
By all means, let's avoid clichés because they:
  1. Are annoying,
  2. Can be easily misinterpreted as arrogant know-it-all-itis, and
  3. Tend to create a fight-or-flight reaction in Millenials (and other generations too, truth be told).
And... Let's not confuse the avoidance of a smug-sounding cliché with a hostage-taking agenda that forces us to ignore what the Bible actually clearly says.

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