By Elizabeth Prata
Words matter. The words we choose to use form a basis for discourse, in teaching, and through the exchanging of ideas in a civil society.
I’ve said this many times, but when a group in one culture decides to dispense with or change the meaning of words the rest of us have commonly understood for centuries, it’s important to pay attention to the shift in meaning. The intentional use or disuse of certain vocabulary words within a language is different from the natural evolution of language. Just think Shakespeare. In Shakespeare’s day, the commonly used alack for oh no! fell into natural disuse. We don’t say alack any more. What I’m talking about today is the intentional changing of a commonly understood term.
Communication is all about creating meaning based on comprehension of what commonly understood words mean. When those meanings change, our perceptions change too.
As a journalist, I was taught that word choice flavors a story, which in turn germinate biases in the mind. Read these sentences and see how each one presents a slightly different aspect:
The protester was standing on the sidewalk.
The activist was standing on the sidewalk.
The fanatic was standing on the sidewalk.
The new health care plan would benefit Americans, the President argued.
The new health care plan would benefit Americans, the President suggested.
The new health care plan would benefit Americans, the President stated.
This is a good and balanced article about bias and the words we use.
Language is the overlay to any society’s well-functioning. Ask the builders at Babel. No longer able to understand each other, they were forced to migrate in order to preserve knowledge and advance one’s culture.
One’s culture is not simply vocabulary, but it’s also the inherent meaning inside each of the commonly used words. When one group decides to pull a swithcheroo and abandon using a word, especially when it is a word important to the faith, we must do our best not to succumb to cultural pressure but instead keep using the words all the more. As Charles Spurgeon noted in his sermon “Christian Conversation”,
The Christian is the aristocrat of the world; it is his place to make rules for society to obey- not to stoop down, and conform to the regulations of society when they are contrary to the commands of the Master…they must make others, by the worth of their principles, and the dignity of their character, submit to them.
We’ve seen such a massive change of late in the use of the world tolerance. Also, sin has been replaced by messiness or brokenness. We see sodomite changed to homosexual then gay to same sex attraction. Each intentional change dilutes the meaning and power of the word and creates different biases. The dilution causes change from commonly understood perceptions into misperceptions. The result is that civil dialog becomes corrupted and connecting through relationships gets harder.
A new one popped up this weekend. Many people suddenly started using the term “Easter worshipers” instead of Christians. Nobody ever said that before. Literally, it’s not a thing. What it is is a blatant attempt to obscure the fact that Christians were murdered.
Aside from the just plain silliness of the term, like, what do you call Christians when it isn’t Easter? Sunday worshipers? And it makes it sound like we are worshiping Easter, not Jesus.
Dr Denny Burk is professor of biblical studies at Boyce College. He commented today on Twitter on an 8-tweet thread, the following. I liked his take on the sudden influx of “Easter Worshiper” into the culture and language. I personally believe it’s deliberate, and part of a ramping up of Christian persecution, both hard and soft.
Denny Burk @DennyBurk
I’ll refrain from speculating about the motives of those referring to Christians as “Easter Worshipers.” But I will say this, people would do well to understand how God’s word uses the term “Christian.”
The term “Christian” only occurs three times in all of the Bible—in Acts 11:26, 26:28, and 1Pet. 4:16.
In Acts, the term “Christian” designates those who are followers of Christ (i.e. disciples).
The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” -Acts 11:26
In 1 Peter, the term “Christian” designates those who are willing to be persecuted for following Christ.
“If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” -1 Peter 4:16
The reference in 1 Peter is important because it commands persecuted believers to “glorify God” in the name “Christian.” The term allowed followers of Christ to identify themselves explicitly as partisans of Christ—to identify their own sufferings with Christ’s.
There is a reason that persecuted Christians want to be known as “Christians.” They want the world to know that their suffering MEANS something. They want their suffering to bear witness to Christ’s suffering.
“Easter worshipers” fails to capture this. “Easter worshipers” also fails to disclose how Christians actually identify themselves. We are followers of Christ, “afflicted in every way, but not crushed… always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).
The term Christian was originally assigned to Jesus’s disciples by those outside of Christianity. Christians later came to use the name for themselves. The key thing, however, is that the term identified for WHOM Christians suffered when they were persecuted.
“Easter worshipers” obscures the meaning of their suffering. The term “Christian” clarifies that they suffer not for any specific act of wickedness but simply for being followers of Christ. I cannot think of any good reason to deny such clarity.
—end Denny Burk—
The length that society will go to erase Christianity from collective consciousness and even Christians themselves from the world is amazing. The reason for the tweets and discussion mentioned above was that Muslims had bombed 7 targets across Sri Lanka. A zoo, three hotels, and three churches (2 of them Catholic, one was Bible-believing) were bombed on Easter Sunday, hence the term ‘Easter worshipers’ thrown about when referencing the bombings. One tweeter wryly said, ‘Let’s call Muslims Ramadan worshipers- works both ways.”
So the devil incited another round of violence against God’s people, in his never-ending attempts to wipe Christianity off the world. Though it’s always been present in the world, do you believe hatred against Christians is increasing? I do.
In response to the bombings, the non-believers reporting on the incidents also participated in wiping the name of Christ off the public discourse, by refusing even to call us “Christians.”
Dr Burk ended his tweet thread by saying “I cannot think of any good reason to deny such clarity” in simply using the name.
I can. You can. Revelation 12:17 says
Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.
Since Eve and Adam, the devil has been trying to thwart God’s plans and kill God’s people. He wants to supplant God and be worshiped instead of God. God’s people are in the way of satan’s plan. The Revelation verse is set during the time of the Tribulation, when satan’s plans against the Jews have been thwarted, so he turns his attention to killing Christians. The world began and it will end with satan trying to harm God’s people in any way he can, through lying, stealing, destroying, and killing.
Some people say it doesn’t matter what they call us. Initially we were called disciples. Then a Sect of the Nazarenes. (Acts 24:5). Then followers of The Way. (Acts 9:2). Then Christians. (Acts 11:26). It has stayed Christians since 90AD when Acts was written. For almost 2000 years, the term Christian has been used to delineate who we are and with Whom we identify. I believe that words matter. What we call ourselves and what others call us matters. Reject anything different from the Christ-deniers. Keep the name of Jesus public and prominent.
Janet Mefferd noticed the bias, too:
I believe that one tweet shows very clearly how words can render something simple into an unclear, unintelligible mess.