Tuesday, May 10, 2011

FW: Learning the Language of Faith. . .

O Lord, open my lips…


Feed: Pastoral Meanderings
Posted on: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 7:32 AM
Author: noreply@blogger.com (Pastor Peters)
Subject: Learning the Language of Faith. . .


Yiddish is a High German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken throughout the world. It developed as a fusion of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages. It is written in the Hebrew alphabet.  It is a language invented by the marriage of culture and religion, heritage and location.  Eventually it became a language in its own right but, at some point, it was a language born of people whose mother tongue was married with the language of the marketplace.  As successful as Yiddish became, it is still a symbol of a mixture of things that the Old Testament sought to make distinct -- the language and culture of the people of God from the language and culture of the world around them.

Modern Christians have come to believe that we have no common language.  We adopt the language of our location both in worship and witness.  It is as if Christianity were merely a message that had no culture or identity of its own.  Some have suggested that the success of Christianity is its ability to transcend all cultures, languages, and elasticities.  Others see success as when the language of Christianity is married to the local tongue in a fusion of faith and culture that mimics the formation of a language such as Yiddish. While there is much truth in this, there is also a fallacy or myth -- that Christianity has no language of its own.

Christianity does have a language distinct and, sometimes, in opposition to local culture.  The language of Christianity is first of all the language of Scripture.  Our vocabulary and our manner of speaking the faith is shaped by the Scriptures in the same way that the kerygma or content of that message is molded by the Scriptures.  It is not "our" story but the story of Christ that has become both the language and the message we witness to and before the world.  Our story is THE story -- the core and center of our identity and our proclamation are rooted in and shaped by the Scriptures in such way that they cannot be distinguished.  Style and substance are one for the church's proclamation of the Gospel.

Secondly, the language of the Church is the language of the liturgy.  What we do together is not an option to us or even a choice by us but that which the Lord has given to us in the Word and Table.  The liturgy is its own culture, language, and identity.  It is not, as some would suggest, borne of any particular age or "Imperial" culture but represents a development that has spanned several eras but is largely rooted in Scripture itself.  The Christian is initiated into this language and culture first through baptism, then catechesis, and finally experiences this in the regular rhythm of the Eucharist on the Lord's Day.

Finally, the language of the Church is the language of time but not the chronos of the world with its attention to the moment.  Rather, the Church is in synch with the kairos of God's acts and God's fullness of time.  The Church Year is by intention disconnected from the earthly measure of time and its passage and directs the person instead to the saving acts of God in Christ and the teaching of Christ that accompanies the events themselves.  In this way we are both prepared for and reflect the once and eternal nature of our lives, rooted in Christ's death and resurrection.

Learning the language of faith is then learning the language of Scripture, the language and culture of the liturgy, and the shape of time reflected by the Church Year.  This is no fusion of sacred and secular or even the triumph of sacred over secular but the transcendent Word and actions of God that makes the Christian in but not of the world.  I frankly do not see how it is possible to be Christian and not to learn and be formed by this language and culture.  While it may have been the sin of the past to identify the language and culture of the Church with one particular earthly culture and language, it is no less the sin of the present to suggest that the Church and the faith have no language and no distinct culture or identity (other than the one in which it is located at any given time and place)...  The particular error of Lutherans began with the idea that German was a language so crude it could not be used to speak the Gospel and then it became the idea that German was uniquely suited to speak the Gospel and English was somehow inferior.  As we laugh about this tribalism now, I fear we miss the larger point.  We do not atone for this error by stripping the language and culture away from the faith so that it is generic.  It is an exclusive truth which is the most inclusive truth of all and yet it speaks with its own voice, its own language of grace, and its own culture of mercy and service that springs from grace and faith.

It seems that today we have people who want to know God without knowing the Gospel of Christ's death and resurrection, who want a spirituality devoid of doctrine and dogma, who want worship that is little more than a reflection of the moment and the individual, and who believe that there is little importance to what has been received by those who have gone before and not much to pass on to those yet to come.  It is clear from the polls that we have not done a great job at communicating or catechizing people into the language of the faith and the language of the Church.  Yet this is certainly part of what it means to share the faith or speak in witness.  Those who refuse to or are not introduced to the language of the faith will find Christianity as strange to them as the Spanish you took in high school but never really learned.  You are left with little bits and pieces that enable you to say hello and goodbye without being able to converse between the entrance and the departure.

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