I remember hearing about one of the students who had graduated out of the high school youth group before I joined. She was the sort of believer who took everything seriously. So she requested to work at the restaurant that employed her on Sundays so that she could wait on the tables of the ‘Sunday Crowd’ after Church services had let out. It was well known that the Sunday Crowd was the most obnoxious of all customers. For one, they lacked patience. And two, they tended to leave Bible tracts as their tips. She had arranged to be their waitress so that their bad witness would not leave a bad impression on the unbelievers with whom she worked. That impressed me.
Which is why I took the opportunity to look at the translation section of the language-learning website I frequent and realized that that I should translate the Christian sermons that had been uploaded for the same reason. I’m already familiar with Christianese which isn’t easy to translate into another language. And I’m also somewhat resistant to the various teachings. I can see when verses are taken out of context and applied incorrectly. I hope to be able to do more of such translations. I wouldn’t want the ‘witness’ of these sermons causing other users of the site any harm.
I assisted in the translation of two sermons recently, one about the necessity of prayer and another about the six characteristics of a born again believer. Both expressed restricted thinking: “The man that doesn’t pray isn’t a true believer.” “The man that displays these characteristics is a true believer, but the man that does not display these characteristics is not a true believer.” And yes, both sermons were riddled with that kind of language – ‘the man’ ‘ ‘he is’ ‘that man’ ‘a man’ ‘his’ and ‘he’. The only times that women were referred to were few and far between. I asked myself: Would a non-believer understand that this one-hundred year old sermon used masculine language in the general sense much as we would have used: anyone, anybody, or inclusive language today? Or would they assume that a plain, literal reading is the correct one and the intended recipients of this sermon are exclusively men? What sort of witness is that to a modern person?
Neither sermon really cares to ‘soften’ it’s language in terms of circumstance. I can imagine instances where a person is too shocked, too sad, too scared, or too angry to really pray about anything – it does not mean that they are less of a Christian or aren’t one altogether. It also notes that all of the great men in Scripture were people of prayer. So were the Pharisees. They would pray in public, on the street corners, in the marketplace, anywhere and everywhere they could be seen but even that wasn’t enough to set their hearts right before God. Yet you hardly see pastors preach on how to pray in secret, as Jesus taught. The truth is, you can’t make a list of characteristics of prayer or being born again from the Bible and expect everyone to meet every single one of them. Then you can’t call people out for not meeting these characteristics by calling them nominal Christians or not Christians at all. That’s sort of like saying “All Americans love football, but anyone who lives in America and loves soccer isn’t a real American.” What sort of witness is that?
In all these scenarios, it would have been nicer had Christians considered the witness that everything they say and do shows others about who they are and what they believe. That doesn’t stop being true even on the internet. It would also be nice if outdated one-hundred or so year old sermons were left squarely in the past. But since reformed thinking has had a resurgence in the last decade or so, it’s adherents will have to find a way of turning essentially andro-centric sermons into more inclusive messages or risk irrelevancy in an increasingly inclusive society. But that’s their witness to worry about, not mine.