The Language of the People

In the real life version of Draughting Theology, we’ve spent the last four months pondering the question, “Is the Church Relevant?”  After four months of reading and debate, we decided that yes, indeed it is relevant, which leads us to our topic for the spring, “Where is the Church Headed?”  Tonight’s reading comes from Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence, (summarized in an article in Sojourner’s Magazine, if you’re interested), entitled “Rummage Sales.” In it, she posits a thought first suggested by The Rt. Rev. Mark Dyer, retired bishop of Bethlehem (PA, not the birthplace of Jesus), that every 500 years or so, the Church engages in a enormous yard sale in order to clean out the clutter and begin fresh.  Assuming that we find ourselves in such a place currently, if one were to roll back the clock 500-ish years, one would find oneself smack in the middle of The Great Reformation.  If that same one were to evaluate these yard sales, not just from the perspective of the Church, but also within the larger framework of society, one would quickly see that technology often plays a large role in this cataclysmic shifts, and that in the case of the Reformation, it was Gutenberg’s printing press and the rising tide of literacy that brought about the desire to educate the masses and bring Scripture into the language of the people.

Despite the more than a few people who were killed for daring to translate scripture out of Latin and into their native tongue, this idea was, of course, nothing new.  The scriptures came to Latin, the language of the Roman Empire, after originally being composed in Hebrew and Greek (a language Jesus didn’t speak, meaning much of the Gospels were originally shared orally in Aramaic).  The Syriac Church has long used Syrian translations and paraphrases of the Bible as well.  But if you want to get really technical about whether or not God intended us to read the Bible in a tongue other than our own, one need only read the passage from John appointed for Sunday to see that Scripture is meant to be understood by all.

Three times in fourteen verses, John helps the reader understand the Hebraic terms being used:

  • Rabbi (which translated means Teacher)
  • Messiah (which is translated Anointed)
  • Cephas (which is translated Peter)

Which brings me to my point.  God desires to be known by everyone he has created, so our ability to share the Good News has to make sense to everyone.  As I’ve said elsewhere, “Theology has to be understood in the grocery aisle at Wal*Mart.”  If it doesn’t, if it exclusively the work of the academy and a select few who are educated (and, often ordained), then the Church is failing its responsibility.  I don’t always do a good job keeping things simple here.  I often get my nerd on and run high up the ivory tower or deep down the rabbit hole, but I’m trying to remember the importance of speaking Jesus in the language of the people.

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