Anticipation fills the air. The game is about to begin. Suddenly, a voice booms from the stadium speakers and a hush falls over thousands of people. It's time for the National Anthem. Some stand with hand over heart while others salute the rippling flag. Before the whistle blows and the spectators cheer, everyone pauses for a moment to listen. It reminds us who we are. No matter which team we cheer on to victory, we're Americans, and our enthusiasm for the game is set against the backdrop of devotion to our country.
Imagine people protesting the singing of the Anthem before the game, saying it is boring, ritualistic, and meaningless. "I mean no disrespect," one says, "but aren't there better ways to show our patriotism than by singing the National Anthem before every game?"
One can hear the same mentality in many evangelical churches across America.
- "Why pray The Lord's Prayer every Sunday? It becomes dry and ritualistic when we say the same words every week."
- "The Lord's Supper is great, but it will lose its significance if we take it monthly. Why not quarterly, or once a year?"
- "Let's dump our Christian lingo. Don't we scare lost people away with terms like justification, sanctification, sin and salvation?"
- "Why not replace the old hymns with praise choruses that are more meaningful to the younger generation?"
The questioners make valid points; in fact, it appears that in most churches, the proponents of change have won the argument. Churches appear to be abandoning difficult terms as quickly as dynamic Bible translations are revising their lexicons.
Before we go on, we must admit - yes, our Christian traditions can become dry and lifeless. In many churches, they are ritualistic and cold. Most of the time, though, rigor mortis sets in when traditions are not understood or explained. When rituals become dry and empty of significance, the answer is not to throw them out, but to rediscover their purpose.
A revival may be waiting if the church returns to Christianity's roots. Bring back the anthems into our everyday life and Sunday worship! After all, they remind us who we are.
Christians in many parts of the world still greet each other exclusively with "Christ has risen" and the reply "He has risen indeed" for weeks after Easter. What impact could we have if in the weeks following next Easter we were to greet our brothers and sisters in Christ with "Christ has risen?" If spoken in the office or on the phone, how many heads would turn at the sound of someone proclaiming the Resurrection? And how much better would we be reminded of our own identities as Christ's followers?
Why reserve special greetings for Easter? We could begin greeting each other with the early Christian proclamation: "Jesus is Lord" and the reply "Lord over all." Surely that would be a better alternative to the "God is good. . . all the time" catch phrase.
Shouldn't our speech and vocabulary differ from those who don't know God? Most Christians believe that pure speech means to refrain from cursing or taking God's name in vain. Very good. But Paul tells us to season our conversation with salt. Perhaps we need a little seasoning in our vocabulary - not just an absence of dirt.
Let's replace "See you later" and "Goodbye" with "Go with God" and "May the Lord be with you." Then, we have reminded each other that each step is to be taken with Jesus. And please, let's get rid of "Good luck" - Christians don't believe in luck anyway. Wouldn't "God bless" be saltier?
Perhaps part of the movement to change theological terms like "justification" and "redemption" or "propitiation" is because many faithful church-goers just don't understand the meanings. Christian leaders cop out by dismissing such terminology because "the lost don't understand." The greater danger is "the saved don't understand." If our preachers, teachers and writers would reconnect the church with the depth and majesty of the theological terms so many want to throw away, perhaps the cry against hard words would fall silent.
Words are more than just definitions in a lexicon. They remind us who we are - citizens of God's Kingdom.
- Saying The Lord's Prayer in unison on Sunday reminds us of the community with which we pray "Our Father which art in heaven."
- Taking the Lord's Supper is time at the table of fellowship to remember Jesus' sacrifice and how we are the covenant people God redeemed.
- Giving thanks to God before meals (the one tradition that seems to be holding on quite well) reminds us of the Giver of all good things.
- Greeting each other with Christian phrases that we truly understand might revitalize our sense of mission and purpose in the workplace and the community.
- Ancient hymns remind us of saints gone before, helping us realize we are not the first generation of believers with a passion for God.
Let us not abandon the symbols and traditions that remind us of our identity in Christ. Let the anthems play in our churches and resound in our speech. We will play the game of life differently if before the whistle blows, we remember who is King.
- first posted in June 2007