Sometimes when I read or listen to C S Lewis it can be dusty or drab. Well last night was not one of those times. Last night fit into the category where about everything I read of his seemed bright, like a ray reflected through the living jewels or fiery gems he wrote into Narnia. I was listening to the Audible.com title, C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces.
” … you must translate every bit of your theology into the vernacular. … I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. … A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every ordination examination. ” ‘Paper read at the “Carmarthen Conference for Youth Leaders and Junior Clergy”, Church in Wales at Carmarthen, Easter 1945.
I have been thinking about the ways we talk to people, whether we are received, whether we are heard. We all do OK talking to people in our circles, after all they are our circles. As we spend time around people in our circles we learn their action, their speech, inflections, gestures and other aspects of communication. How well to we communicate in the language of other circles, age groups, cultural group, clubs, professions, etc
“Pardon me but can you …” begins a phrase that is expected in some circles but will separate you from others.”Right on” can open some circles from which you are separated. We want the easy, we want to go on speaking the language of our circles (as Christians church circles) and not always the circles to which we are called to be ambassadors.
If your role is to speak the things of Christ into the church, primarily those called already called out by Christ, this quote applies directly. You need to speak in language common to your audience.
What make this statement valuable is not that it reduces all to simplicity, the common, thought that helps. Encoding and transmitting any message in such a way that the recipients/decoders is able to recreate the message in their minds is what communication. This is the principle to which the quote conforms. It applies because a deep meaning of communication is not only words but ideas and truth.
What matters is that we learn, or more to the point that we ask God, “to what language, to what circle am I commissioned as an ambassador? To whom am I to speak and act God.
When a missionary is sent, well anywhere, they have to learn the language. That is more than word and speech patterns. I remember remember two examples for a “Nature of Language” class I took in college with professor Ellenberger.
The first had to do with simple inflection. Unfortunately I can not recall the specific language, but it had multiple words where the spelling was the same, only the inflection or pronunciation were different. These differences identified one meaning from another. Well, a missionary went up to a house and yelled out a greeting at the front door. This may seem over the top for those of us in our cultures, where you ring the door bell or quietly knock on the door and then speak in volume just loud enough to be heard, when the door is opened. So this missionary yells out the greeting and asks if the woman of the house had seen his (some mundane object he had misplaced). Unfortunately the the encoding was incorrect and solicitor, thought they thought they had the language down, made an unfortunate error. He forgot to bounce the second vowel. This change the benign meaning to a deeply personal phrase, which not only did not apply be lead to the whole village wondering why this missionary wanted to know if the woman of the hut had seen his …. Well you get it.
That type of thing can be overcome, But it might set things back a bit in most cultures. There is a difference between being understood and being accepted. We only have so many years with the people around us and time to overcome is precious.
Surprisingly the second example comes from a situation in which just such a mistake might cause acceptance as sarcasm. Here the visiting missionary had been in a village for about three years. The village had accepted the missionary. They would line up outside the missionaries hut anytime a new page of the Bible had been translated and was being rolled off an manual mimeograph. The missionary had many things in common with the tribe but was just not fully accepted. One day, as a small group was cutting across a corner of the missionary’s plot, the missionary yelled out, “Hey, what are you doing out there, trying to steal some of my yams.” That bit of sarcasm was what it took. This people group appreciated sarcasm. Trying to remain upstanding and restrained the missionary was never fully accepted. Then he just stumbled into fellowship with benign use of sarcasm.
Knowing Christ and His message is first, both for yourself and for your audience. Then learn to speak that message into the people to whom you are called. To much of the time not only do we fail to learn the language of those to whom we are sent but but we keep them at arms distance, the very people to whom we are called.
We are not simply called to live here on earth and trying to live out the best life we can. Christ has called us to be ambassadors 2 3. This calling is not some ‘special call’ commissioned to the apostles and the first followers of Christ. This call applies to us in whatever age we find ourselves. An ambassador is a person empower to speak and act for a king or country. We are ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ, ruler of all that is.
Ask God, “to who am I sent?” Learn the language, learn the culture, learn to translate your faith into the common of that/those group/groups.
What is the message? The message is the “mystery of the gospel.” The message is “reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”
Learn to speak and act God, chances are your ambassadorship is not primarily to those already in the Church. Once those from the circle to which you are sent are born into the Church, it is their language not yours which is the common.
I will need to write an article on, “I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused.”
speak God, Act God, C S Lewis, CS Lewis, Lewis, Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, translate, theology, vernacular, confused, speech, inflections, gestures, communication, ambassadors, ambassador, Christ, church, audience, simplicity, encoding, transmitting, message, recipients, decoders, decoder, recreate, missionary, language, professor Ellenberger, understood, accepted, sarcasm, Bible, fellowship, 2 Ccorinthians 5:20, Ephesians 6:20, sent, language, culture, translate, mystery, reconciliation, reconciling, ambassadorship, theology, Carmarthen, youth, Wales, Easter, 1945