This is happening in the public square and one could argue it's happening within the Church.
What I mean is, easily recognized and often used words and phrases that express Christian values are rapidly disappearing from everyday life. Vocabulary or analogies drawn from Scripture that were once common currency in American culture are at the edge of extinction.
Why does this matter? Well, if language is lost, our ability to communicate our ideas, values, and theology are lost. Our influence is lost. Our capacity for sharing and our ability to perpetuate the faith are lost.
I find it interesting that linguistic scholars regularly lament the loss of languages worldwide. Some indicate that, "Today, 61% of languages around the world that were spoken as a first language in 1795 are doomed or extinct." Loss of languages means more than loss of vocabulary. It means loss of cultural knowledge and the loss of the unique vision of who a people were and how they lived.
The same can happen or perhaps is happening to the language of the Christian faith at this moment in history in American culture.
Now I don't want to overstate this. I realize that God is sovereign, that his Word will last forever, and no earthly effort or culture will ever dislodge it. In Psalms, we're reminded, "Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens" (119:89). And again, in Isaiah, "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever" (40:8, along with 1 Pet. 1:25).
So, I am not suggesting the Word of God is somehow at risk of being conquered and eradicated. This will never happen.
But it is possible for Christians to reinforce the declining influence of their faith by failing to maintain and teach their beliefs (biblical worldview) to the current generation.
One practice of the Church that I believe contributes to the loss of a language of the Christian faith is the use of multiple versions of the Bible. I've written about this before, when I called the plethora of versions we enjoy today a "mixed blessing." I have no problem with new translations as long as they maintain fidelity to the ancient and original texts. But I do think our embarrassment of riches in multiple versions has meant we've paid a price of unintended consequences:
• people no longer carry their Bibles to church,
• people are considerably less familiar with handling the Word, do not know books of the Bible, and cannot quote a verse to one another that everyone recognizes because others learned different versions, and finally,
• with our scattergun approach we've inadvertently contributed to declining biblical literacy in the culture.
I've used some of the new versions, and I think they enrich the Church, but this diversity makes unity more challenging. It contributes to a loss of a common language of the Christian faith in the Church, and therefore also in culture.
Another practice of the Church I believe contributes to the loss of language of the Christian faith is the use in church services of a seemingly endless array of new (unknown to the people) songs or choruses, rather than the old hymns of the faith.
I am not against new choruses or songs as such. I see nothing wrong with developing new music. I'm am certainly not saying only old hymns should be sung. My point is a different one.
In many churches, new choruses or songs are sung every service. OK, setting aside any judgment on the quality or the theological integrity of these pieces, just the fact that a new piece is sung every service means that most in the congregation cannot possibly learn the lyrics. Unless this given song or chorus is already played on the airwaves as an expression of a popular artist, many in the congregation will not know the lyrics and will not likely commit them to memory with an exposure of once-per-week or once-per-month or longer.
I recognize not all music ministries do this, that some repeat their favorite and best pieces, but I do not fear exaggeration in saying most do not repeat, because being new, presenting something that ostensibly fits with the next sermon, is our current modus operandi.
In the meantime, old hymns are rarely sung. This, of course, also varies by the church and exceptions can be found to this statement. But many more fit the comment. Old hymns are, well, old, and they don't get the play they did even thirty years ago. They don't seem to lend themselves to current instrumentation, though some have been adapted.
Not all old hymns are worthy, but a goodly number became classics because the theology and poetry represented in the lyrics make them masterpieces of artistry. Singing these old hymns repetitiously, which churches used to do, instilled the words, i.e., the Christian theology, in people's hearts where the message could be remembered at some later time when some life challenge presented itself.
Now, how often do you remember the lyrics of new songs and choruses? Is this because the songs and choruses are "bad"? Not necessarily. Not even likely. It's because they are unfamiliar. You haven't sung them often enough for them to resonate in your soul. Consequently, when a life challenge presents itself you have no reservoir of Christian music, no language of the faith to draw upon.
Or let's say your church does indeed ask the congregation to sing certain new songs or choruses often enough that you remember the words. This is good. But Christians in the Body of Christ in many other churches are singing different songs and choruses, such that once again, if these people are brought together, except maybe for two or three songs, there is no common language of the faith they all know as presented in their music.
There's another point about music I must raise. In my Christian experience, I've found that churches generally present a fairly defined, which is to say limited, style of music in their services. This in itself may not be "bad," for the style presented may be spiritually uplifting and enjoyable.
However, for a church music ministry to present only one kind or style of Christian music over a long period of time is, I believe, to rob the congregation of the opportunity to be exposed to the rich history of Christian music produced by and for the Church.
For example, to sing only contemporary choruses or to sing only hymns written in the past three hundred years is to signal this is all there is. Yet Christians across twenty-one centuries and Christians across continents and cultures today have developed extensive, beautiful, diverse, edifying music to the glory of God. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be exposed, at least periodically, to this smorgasbord of musical enrichment? This helps Christians today understand that they are not all there is, that the Body of Christ is trans-cultural and trans-time, that we are part of the Church Universal with an abundant language of the Christian faith.
I affirm Christian liberty. I believe individuals and churches should be fully convinced in their own mind what Bible version and what kinds of Christian music, including contemporary songs and choruses, they should use. If this process happens in a manner that respects the integrity of Scripture than by all means pursue this blessed freedom.
But with freedom comes responsibility and sometimes our "cause" produces an "effect" we may not have anticipated. That seems to be the case with the unintended consequence: loss of a language of the Christian faith. I don't think anyone planned this in some sinister plot. But here it is.
Part of exercising our Christian liberty is to do so considering the impact of our choices upon others. "For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone" (Rom. 14:7).
I'm suggesting that the loss of a language of the Christian faith is happening within the Body of Christ today due to what appear to be good choices and practices in the Church. It's a by-product of a freedom yielding diversity but not unity.
Perpetuating the language of the Christian faith is far more important than it may sound. It's part of the glue of our identity and our fellowship.
This can be addressed. It's not necessary to toss out all Bible versions but one, nor ban all contemporary songs and choruses. We simply need to acknowledge the challenge—loss of a language of the Christian faith—and plan worship services that encourage parishioners to carry and open their Bibles, memorize Scripture together, include and sing a few great old hymns periodically, and repetitiously sing key songs or choruses with an intent to commit them to memory. The point is: we should intentionally reinforce a language of the Christian faith.
Dr. Rex M. Rogers, President SAT-7 USA,