When we moved to Europe, we were immediately surrounded by foreign languages. Parituclary we live in the Tri-border region of Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The Netherlands and Belgium are both a mere few minutes away from us. Dutch, Flemish, French, and German languages are all a stone’s throw from our home. It’s easy to feel like an outsider. We have been thankful for wonderful German neighbors-friends, both Dutch and German who have befriended us and speak to us graciously in English as we struggle to learn even just a few words of their language. But still it can be daunting.
Did you know that in our churches, we also speak different languages? No, I am not referring to “speaking in tongues.” Yet words and phrases we use in church can seem like a foreign language to a visitor or someone who has never been in a church in his or her life. Likewise, our church traditions can often derail a visitor from coming to know Christ. My husband “grew up” Methodist. I “grew up” Nazarene and later Assembly of God. We met in Church of Christ, and nine years later we left and started serving at a non-denominational church. Whew wee. Talk about different churches, different languages, different protocol, different traditions. Wow!
Years after we had quit attending the Church of Christ, my husband revealed to me that he had always felt like an “outsider.” He said the constant chatter in church circles revolved around what Christian college you attended, and topics related to how you “grew up in the church.” My husband neither attended a Christian college nor was he attached to this church from infancy and childhood. We recalled one particular Sunday that a deacon stood up to deliver a devotional prior to communion. There was very little said about the sacraments and what those sacraments represent. (The body and blood of Christ) but rather this guy chose to give a 3 point dissertation on how his great great (great?) grandfather, and all of his ancestors thereafter, including his father and finally himself, were all members of this particular church, and then something about this legacy living on through him. Really? I was somewhat discouraged at this rendition of the Lord’s Supper. It sounded more like a speech for a card carrying member of an exclusive club to which neither me, my husband, or our “unfortunate” children could ever belong.
In the church I attended as a child, “Baptism” was almost solely defined as the gift of speaking in tongues. And if you had never spoken in tongues, you also were not a card carrying member of this body either. When I started personally study baptism in scripture, I found this sacred command to be so much more than what I was ever taught as a child, and more clearly defined.
I had a friend who recently told me that if I attended her church, I would not be allowed to take communion without first speaking to the pastor who would have to decide based on that conversation whether or not I am a Christian. Wow. (What if I lied to him?) Apparently, I am also not a club-card carrying member of this church.
Truly, do we complicate scripture by adding language and loopholes that are not only absent from scripture but that make it hard for someone to understand the true definition of this Christian faith-which is a personal walk with Jesus Christ that brings glory to Christ in all we do?
If there were any “outsiders,” unchurched-if you will, seekers, unbelievers, non-christians, (whatever you want to call them), someone who had never made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ-present the day that deacon in my old church decided to give an exposé on his own family’s denominational legacy- would they do so based on this “speech?” I don’t know. Maybe. But if they did, would the call on their lives sound like this: “Come and follow Jesus,” or this: “Come and join our exclusive club here at this church?”
We should be keenly aware of people in our churches who are different from we us. We don’t always have the advantage of a “common language,” with non-church goers. We should be so diligent to remember this in our conversation and our fellowship. Maybe we need to talk less and engage people in conversation more. It is essential that we give them an opportunity to ask questions and to reveal things about themselves. This action on our part is more likely to start a dialogue with someone who is desperate for Christ, than a long oratory on the traditions of my church, or my own affiliation therein. Perhaps then we can answer their questions-hopefully with grace and compassion and truth.