Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A Word I Never Use

In life all people have words they never use, usually things like swear words which are deemed culturally offensive. However in church circles different types of churches have words they never use, or hardly ever.

For example some churches never use the word "convert", either as a noun or a verb. I guess the word carries with it the idea of a sudden change. As people we fear change, especially instant and dramatic ones. Perhaps such churches are afraid if they use the word "convert" they will put people off, or perhaps they fear they will not find the evidence of such a change in their own lives.

I am not really sure why they shy away from the word "convert", but I do know the word captures the essence of what happens when a person becomes a Christian: an immediate change in their status before God (justified); and a change in the disposition of their heart (new birth). If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come. It needs a word like convert to do justice to that.

This is one of the reasons I use the word in my models, despite the inevitable objections each time I present my work, it reminds people that to be a Christian there must be a conversion. I should point out its use in the limited enthusiasm model simply means that people who were not classed as Christians are now classed as them. This could be because they start attending church, or because they have become a member of a church. There is no spiritual connotation implied in the model. But it is a good reminder to anyone looking at the modelling work that becoming a Christian is fundamentally supernatural, immediate and of enormous proportions. Oh that the word "convert" may be used more.

So what about the word I never use? I never use the word "journey". Often in church circles we hear someone say, "A Christian is someone who is on a journey", or "we are all on a journey together". At face value what is wrong with that? There is always a sense of progress in the Christian life, holy behaviour, knowledge of the scriptures and of God, responsibility in His service. This all sounds like a journey.

My problem is that it appears to fudge the region around the point a person becomes a Christian and thus undermine the idea of conversion. Now many Christians are not sure of the day they became a Christian, or the week, or even the month. Many appear to come into the kingdom gradually. However there was a point, a single point where they came in, and there then comes a point where they know they are in. That is they are convinced beyond doubt they are in a right relationship with God; they are sure they are saved. (Oops - another word many Christians do not like to use!).

Assurance is the birthright of the Christian, the most wonderful consequence of the gospel. We are no longer uncertain over where we stand, we know we are child of God. And we know it because salvation is given by God as a gift, not as something progressively attained on a journey. Once we are sure we have received this gift there is no fear of God, no fear of condemnation, an absolute certainty that He has converted us. This is black and white. Either we are right with God, or we are not. Either we are born again, or we are not. Either we have the Spirit, or we have not. Whatever our experience around the point that God converts us, and our uncertainty of WHEN it occurs, we can at some point be certain it HAS occurred.

So the word "convert" often appears in my models, but the word "journey" will not. Church growth models do not just reflect the social situation of church growth, but the underlying spiritual and ultimately more real growth of Christ's kingdom. The words are chosen to emphasise this.

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