The New York Times reported on a a linguistics project by Bert Vaux and Scott Golde.They are interested in examining the wide range of English dialects. You can take the survey here. Go ahead and do it. It’s quite interesting.
The example on Vaux’s and Golde’s webpage look at variation in describing carbonated beverage: pop, soda, coke, and soft drink. Which do you use?
As a former Navy brat who traveled quite a bit, the survey did a good job at pin pointing the areas where my family originated and where I grew up as a kid.
My family had never lived in the South before my dad retired to Greenville, SC. It was a culture shock moving down here. My cousin had been here for three or four years before we moved down. I could barely make out many of the words he was saying. Many of the variants for certain things I had never heard of. Gradually, I felt comfortable in the South. I now understand the dialect and appreciate the culture--the food, the values, and the people.
Dialects within the Church
When I think about the different dialects represented across the United States, I’m also reminded of the variation within the body of Christ. I was raised as a fundamentalists Baptist who then transformed into a Reformedish type who is now a confessing Presbyterian. Getting comfortable with the Presbyterian dialect is a task. I’m so used to Baptist speak--I either describe something in a way that doesn’t click with my Presbyterian hearers or would hear one thing and relate it to my Baptist dialect/culture. For example, a word like baptism means something different from one tradition to the other.
Also, I interact regularly with Lutherans. Their tradition also has its own dialect. The example of baptism still demonstrates how a single word needs clarification when speaking with someone of a different religious dialect. It’s all too common and too easy to bulldoze ahead without listening and understanding.
An Orthodox Dialect
I’m also encouraged by a common orthodox dialect. I can fellowship with a Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, or Presbyterian and have a common orthodox dialect. You can tell that at the root our faith is planted firmly in the historic, orthodox faith of Jesus Christ. The gospel is our common dialect. The Apostles’ Creeds sum up this kind of dialect:
1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
10. The forgiveness of sins:
1l. The resurrection of the body:
12. And the life everlasting. Amen.
Some might huff and puff about all the Christian denominations, and in some ways I understand the complaint. On the other hand, one benefit to the variety of Christian dialects is way those differences should assist as we seek to understand ourselves in Church History and also to see through to the heart of our blind spots.
We all have blind spots. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists all do things well, and don’t do other things as well. We all have a spotted history in some way. In seeking to understand another dialect, we can see our own blind spots clearer. We can see where we have failed. See where we need the Spirit’s transformative work. We can celebrate where others have succeed. We can celebrate the grace of God and His sovereign work through his gifting of the Church.
So in our interactions with other Christians in different faith traditions let’s seek to understand their dialect. Let’s seek to find our common orthodox dialect. Let’s seek to humbly pursue understanding and wisdom. Let’s seek to learn from the Spirit’s work in them. Let’s be quick to hear and slow to speak. Slow to sling mud. Slow to assume the worst. Remember it’s one faith. It’s one communion of saints. One God.
“Christian community means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ” Dietrich Bonhoeffer