What Does Our Language Communicate?

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How does the language in which we communicate the gospel affect people? Do our words give the impression that God is irrelevant to “normal” life? Do our words help or hinder people in their relationship to the church, and more importantly, to God?

During Vacation Bible School at the first church I served, a young man asked me, "How come you pray so funny?" When I asked him what he meant, he mentioned "Thee" and "Thou" and "didst" and "wast" and other words that I never used in any other context.

What was my language communicating to that young man? That God was not relevant to our “regular” life? That in order to be a good Christian you had to have a special vocabulary when you talked to God?

My father enjoyed the King James Bible because he was raised with it, but today most of us read Bibles that use the language we speak. Most of us pray to God using the same pronouns we use when addressing a close friend, and the majority of our hymns have been revised to reflect "regular" human discourse.

Recently, we've become more sensitive to how sexist our language can be. Paul says, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup (I Corinthians 11:28) We can say to the women among us, “You should understand that he’s referring to you, too,” but some of us prefer a translation that’s inclusive, a translation that actually says what Paul meant to say: “Everyone ought to examine themselves…”

Increasingly, people in our world and churches are turned off by sexist language. There’s no good reason to put this stumbling block in people’s path when we’re attempting to communicate the gospel and give guidance for Christian living.

But what about language for God? A 1997 synodical report warned against the “balanced, equal use of both masculine and feminine terms for God—for example, Father and Mother or he/she” and against “gender-neutral terms for God—for example, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier instead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the avoidance of (masculine) pronouns for God” (Agenda for Synod 1997, p. 268).

Does that mean I may not refer to the Father as Creator, to the Son as Redeemer and the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier? Does that mean I must use as many masculine pronouns for God as I possibly can?

The committee that translated the confessions reports that it “sought to reduce the number of male pronouns for God when it could be done with felicity, but did not attempt to eliminate them altogether...On the one hand, excessive repetition of the male pronoun for God was avoided. On the other hand, excessive repetition of the word God as a substitute for the pronoun him was also avoided. In addition, when the elimination of a male pronoun for God would obscure the theological point of the passage, the pronoun was retained” (Agenda for Synod 2011, p.183).

Perhaps there are good reasons to reject the proposed translations of the confessions, but the argument about the reduction of male pronouns is not one of them. 

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Does anyone have a digital copy of the 1997 report on gender inclusive language that they could send me? Please?