Recently I was talking with my daughter-in-law. She was explaining some of her course work for her doctoral studies in statistical analysis. I was completely lost after the third word. It was as if she was speaking a completely different language – so I glazed over and phased out. My son looked at me with a smile and whispered, “Welcome to my world.” As I was thinking about our conversation, if you could call it that, I wondered how many times, when sharing my faith, I used that same kind of non-understandable language.
In World War Two the Japanese began to listen in on allied radio communications so the American army began to look for a way to use the radio without the enemy being able to understand. They recruited a number of Navajo Indians and trained them to use their very obscure native language for military radio dispatches. When the Japanese listened they couldn’t understand a single word. This detachment of Navajo radiomen became known as the Code-Talkers and in the entire war not one of their transmissions was ever “DE-coded.”
So, I’ve been thinking, am I a Code-Talker when it comes to communicating with non-Christians in my life? Do I use a language that has no meaning for them, so they just glaze over and phase out? Imagine something like this…an acquaintance asks, “How ya doing?” and I answer, “I’m blessed, because my salvation is assured, I’m covered in the blood, sanctified, glorified, and praisin’ the Lord for His propitiation and intercession.” I would have sounded very spiritual but, just like a Navajo Code-Talker, I’d have lost my friend after just a few words.
In 1 Corinthians 14:9-11 the Apostle Paul said,
“So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian [Code-Talker], and the one who speaks will be a barbarian [Code-Talker] to me…
Paul is talking about communicating not just babbling some unknowable words which are totally meaningless to the hearer. Later in verse 19 he says he’d rather speak five words that he understood and that were understandable by others than ten thousand that were not. I feel challenged as a Christian to think through the real meaning of “Christian Buzz Words” so that I can more simply communicate what God is doing in my life. In the church we get so used to Code-Talking that often we don’t even communicate with other believers. We can hear words so often we just smile and nod but never learn their meaning.
I meet with a number of people every week to discuss what the Bible says to them. When we read verses I find myself regularly asking, “What does that word mean?” and more often than not, I get blank stares. It becomes obvious we’re using words that sound good but that have no real meaning in our lives. If that’s the case, are we teaching anything? – or learning anything?
I can remember one of my early spiritual mentors asking me to explain the meaning of a Bible text as if my audience was from a completely different planet, with none of the usual cultural or social references. It was very difficult to do. Yet, non-believers are actually from a completely different worldly realm. They speak a different language and, unless we take great care in our conversations, they will have no idea what we’re talking about. No wonder our efforts to tell people about Christ can be so weak.
In a recent article by “Money Talks News” it listed a number of things for which kids born in 2011 would have no experiential understanding. If a teacher referred to things like video or cassette tapes, movie rental stores, paper maps, wired telephones, long distance calling, dial-up internet, encyclopedias, film cameras, fax machines, or handwritten letters – the student would have no idea what they were talking about.
Every year, Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., releases its Mindset List to give a snapshot of how the incoming freshmen class views the world. The list for the Class of 2016 includes the comment,
“The Biblical sources of terms such as “forbidden fruit,” ”the writing on the wall,” ”good Samaritan,” and “the promised land” are unknown to most of them.”
If a young person doesn’t know where the Good Samaritan comes from he certainly won’t know what “saving grace” is all about.
Can you communicate the good news about Jesus without using code words? Ask yourself if you even understand them. If you don’t, the non-believers in your life certainly won’t. The Barna Research Group has reported that one third of Americans have never been to a church of any kind. Do you think these neighbors and friends understand spiritual jargon? No!
The Bible clearly commands Christians to “Go and Tell” the people around us the good news Jesus offers. But are we clearly going and telling – with no code-talking?
Think about it….