Are We Speaking the Same Language?

At the senior’s residence where I work, I handed a man a pill that would help ease his cold symptoms.  It’s a common aches-and-pains reliever but he’s leery of all these newfangled drugs and he asked, “Exactly what  all is in it?”

So I began to read, “Non-medicinal ingredients: Colloidal anhydrous silica, co- processed polyvinyl acetate phthalate…”

One of the other elderly gentlemen interrupted me with  “Read the English!”  And we all had a good laugh about it.

You know, a lot of our half-way common English words have their origins in Latin.  I say “half-way common” because certain segments of our society use certain words that others of us barely understand.  Doctors know what scoliosis is, but do you?

Some words you think are very common until you use one and get a blank look or a protest to “speak English.”  I asked my sister if a certain fellow she knew was quite conscientious and she said, “What does that mean?  I don’t understand your big words.”

How could she have grown up in the same world as I did and NOT know what conscientious means?

Then think of words like salvation, conversion, redemption, justification, evangelism.  Words in common use amongst a certain segment of our society but perhaps misunderstood or even unknown to those outside these circles.

Visiting with a friend one day –a United Church* Minister’s wife, no less– I made a comment about our church being evangelical.  She looked at me in horror and said, “Your Church is EVANGELICAL?”  I might have told her we’re a group of snake handlers.

I was stunned.  “Yes it is.  Isn’t your church evangelical?”

“No!  Not at all.”

Now I was really surprised.  Doesn’t the United Church make any profession reaching out with the Gospel anymore?  Then I stopped to think.  Is it the term that she doesn’t understand?  So I asked her,  “What does evangelical mean to you?”

“Evangelical means certain religious people who have some mystic Holy Spirit experience and speak in different languages and believe that they are the only ones who are saved.  I met some of them in High School.”  (And the encounter definitely hadn’t been a pleasant one, I gathered.)

The light dawned.  “Those people are called CHARISMATICS.  Evangelical just means trying to reach out to others with the Gospel.”

How could she have grown up in the same world as I did–and belong to a church, too–and NOT know what evangelical means?

I used the word submission one day and the woman I was speaking to bristled.  When I asked her to define submission, she replied, “Slavery or subservience.”  I have no problem with the idea of submitting our lives to God, or of being submissive to the brethren (Hebrews 13:17; I Peter 5:5) but she didn’t comprehend me and resisted the concept she thought I was proposing.

There are common words, too, that we often use as part of our religious-speak that carry a whole depth of meaning others may not know.  If you tell a wandering soul that they are LOST, do they understand you?  I can remember when neither my husband nor I understood the meaning of “born again” any more than Nicodemus did when Jesus coined that term.

Are you speaking English when you tell someone they need Jesus in their life?  Do they have a clue WHY?  Yeah, this Jesus is supposed to love them and want to do good things for them and maybe they should sign up under His banner for the perks it will bring, but do they really understand the plan of salvation enough to make a heart-and-life-surrendered commitment?

Perhaps we need to bring the dictionary as well as the Bible–just to be sure we’re speaking the same language.

(* The United Church of Canada was born of a 1920’s merger of the Methodists, roughly half the Presbyterian churches, and the Congregationalists.)


4 thoughts on “Are We Speaking the Same Language?

  1. Oh how I understand this post. Too many times we lose people at the beginning of a conversation about God because of the words we use. I try so hard to not talk in religious-speak because I know that there are many words that are an immediate turnoff to people.


    • Or how MUCH we speak. Sometimes the simplest thought-provoking introduction is more effective and sticks longer than a half-hour sermon. Some people will tune out after so and so much religious language.


      • One day we attended a funeral where the focus was on getting the message of salvation to the unsaved family members. One man had a scripture reading (mini-sermon), then the minister stood up to speak. He said that The Bible has all the answers to all the important questions of life. Is there life after death, etc.

        Good thought. He could have quit there and left people thinking, but he went on to expound on what the Bible does say about these important questions. I believe that for those who weren’t used to sitting in church listening to sermons it was way too much to digest at one time.


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