1 Corinthians 14:18–19 (ESV) “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
Once we’ve been a Christian for a while, we settle pretty easily into the Church culture in which we find ourselves. With that comes a familiarity with certain language – what some dub “Christianese.” Some of that lingo is ours because it is the language of the Bible – and some of it not. And, because many Evangelical Christians also identify strongly with our historical roots in the Reformation and the Puritans, a certain amount of exposure to dated (albeit poetic) phraseology is also included in our hymnody.
Not surprisingly then, some new Christians have a difficult time imbibing all of this and adjusting to it. While someone like myself loves the musicality and cadence of “King James” English, and the sheer beauty of the poetry of many of our hymns – at times, such usage may be inaccessible to our newer bothers and sisters. It may even be needlessly off-putting. After all, our goal is to bring men, women and children to be followers of Christ – not 19th century hymnophiles.
Let me be clear here. I am NOT suggesting we “dumb” anything down. Where Biblical truth is at stake, we must bring people up to it. In that respect, we must educate faithfully. At the same time, we also need to “translate”. We must – without one iota of compromise in terms of content – nevertheless make the eternal and unchangeable truths we preach and teach accessible and understandable to the widest possible spectrum of people who have come to Christ in faith.
Maybe we are not “Judaizers” doctrinally, but are some of us guilty of being “Victorianizers” culturally?
This came home to me very powerfully in a recent exchange. After a worship service, a wonderful new Believer queried – “what does “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing mean?” ‘ “
It never dawned on me that such phraseology might not be instantly understood – let alone appreciated.
Paul’s caution regarding the exercise of “tongues” in the Corinthian assembly can without damage (I think) be applied to the issue at hand. Do we sometimes “speak in tongues” that do not benefit our brothers and sisters who are either new to the faith, or have no Reformation-Puritan-Victorian reference point? It is worth considering.
In my own consideration of it – I launched out in an attempt to take the august and blessed hymn mentioned above, and translate it for one who may not have been initiated into my own personal preferences. I have no doubt the poetry suffers greatly. But if the germ of the messages meant is conveyed more clearly to some – is it not a sacrifice we may need to make in some cases?
I only ask us to think about it some.
Jesus, source of every blessing, help my heart to know your grace
May your never ending mercy overflow in joyful praise
Teach me how to sing your praises, just like the angels do above
Make your name most precious to me, high above all earthly loves
Up till now your love has blessed me, and you’ve brought me to this place
So I know you’ll bring me safely all the way by your good grace
I didn’t want you when you found me stumbling, lost, outside your love
But your grace broke through and won me, and you bought me with your blood
How I owe you all I am Lord, such a debt I cannot pay
Endless love and boundless mercy make me love you more each day
Still in my sin I fail to feel it, Spirit of God renew my eyes
Capture soul, and mind and body, be alone my highest prize
To your table we have come Lord, to your body and your blood
Symbols of your death at Calv’ry, where you took our place in love
Nailed to the Cross for all our sinfulness, carrying all our guilt and shame
Satisfying all God’s anger, that we might be free from blame
Nailed to the Cross for all my sinfulness, Burying me in your own grave
Rising up to justify me, doing all my soul to save.