The Convert Files: The Language of Modern Christianity

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Latter-day Saints don't celebrate the liturgical calendar as other Christians do. Converts to the Church notice this. Should we change it?

Lent, Maundy Thursday, Advent, Palm Sunday, Pentecost, Christmas Eve Services—these were all classic Christian events I grew up with. As many converts know, when you join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are many things you leave behind. Some are more noticeable than others. Those who give up habits to follow the Word of Wisdom are more obvious. Other things like language or celebrations, you don’t think about that much. When you get immersed in a new way of doing things, you sometimes forget those pieces of culture from your past. It can be easy to forget the steps in your faith journey that were important in your spiritual development. I touched on this briefly in a previous post about praise music.

My experience was not just dipping my toes in the Latter-day Saint culture. I jumped in head first, ready to embrace it all.

Geoff and Jared bring a sense of nostalgia

During TWIM Episode 505, Geoff and Jared were discussing the season of Advent, and it hit me like a 747 along side my head. Most people think of Advent as a calendar filled with cheap chocolate, but it is a larger piece of modern Christian worship. My head began swirling, thinking of everything from my youth. There was so much culture I was involved with before becoming a Latter-day Saint, that seemed so important at the time. I had mostly cast it aside. Not because it was bad, I just had many new and important things to focus on in my new faith.

In the church of my youth, Advent was a large part of the Christmas season. Then there were things like Lent, Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. Each of these days presented a unique way to celebrate the Savior and our connection with God.

There were liturgical colors and decorations which accompanied each season, from the purple of the Lenten season to the white of the Easter season.

I continued to ponder on Geoff and Jared’s discussion and came face to face once again with echoes of the past. As I drove home, listening to the Y Religion Podcast, the professor whom they were interviewing discussed Paul. He made a comment about the letters of Paul being at the core of modern Christian learning. It’s true, most of our Sunday sermons revolved around the Gospels, but spent a significant amount of time in the letters of Paul. He then went on to say that we could make significant inroads in our missionary efforts with our evangelical brothers and sisters, if we better understood the language of their worship. Namely, the gospels, and the letters and epistles of Paul. But more than missionary work for me, there is value in creating true connection and ecumenism. By being aware of language, we can create deep connection with other believers in Christ.

Is our language that different?

In a lot of ways, yes, our language is different. Just like any culture, we have terminology that is unique to us. When we say things like stake center, family home evening, general conference, and mutual, among some, it could be easy for someone outside our faith to get lost. If we look closely, there is more in common however, than we may have previously thought.

By no means am I calling for a change in our vernacular, but maybe a heightened awareness of what brings us closer together.

End Times and Tribulation

“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”

When modern Christians speak of the End Times and tribulation, they are speaking of the time when the world ripens in iniquity and the believers face all sorts of tribulations. If you’re familiar with the book series Left Behind, this is a good depiction of modern Christian end-time theology. Some believe the Rapture of the believers is a part of this, and some view it differently. All tend to agree however, that at the end of times, the world will set it sights on the believers in Christ. With those sights come all sorts of persecution and tribulation for believers.

Now last time I checked, we are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints. End times could be called Latter-days. We are taught that we are in the dispensation of the fullness of times. If we believe our teachings, Christ will return in this dispensation, and without a doubt, before that happens, the world will face more and more tribulation.

Grace

Wow, I think grace has been the topic of discussion for many a member, often in the context of grace versus works. I think as Latter-day Saints we are learning to sit with the concept of grace, though we may not have always referred to as that. It doesn’t have to be a competition of our works versus the grace of Christ.  In modern Christian churches grace is unconditional love towards those whom continually sin and fall short. It can be seen as the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, because of the eternal love of the Savior. Christians speak of being saved by grace, which is part, what we may miss is the being changed by grace as well.

In his talk, His Grace is Sufficient, Brad Wilcox said this of Grace.

Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements.

“While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48).

Witnessing

“I’m going to witness to that person!” This is more common in evangelical circles. To witness to someone is simply sharing your testimony and the good news of the Gospel with someone else. Missionaries do this all the time. As members we are called to let our light shine before the world and declare our testimonies boldly. When our Christian brothers and sisters talk of witnessing, they are doing what all disciples are called to do, Declare the good news. They are to share that Jesus is the Christ, and he willingly gave up his life for you and me. That’s a message we can all get behind.

Communion

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”

Communion in the church I went to happened once a quarter, or a couple times of year. It involved the elders of the church or the pastor, administering bread and grape juice in recognition of the Savior’s sacrifice. Sound familiar? What we call Sacrament, is what many Christians call communion. And on the subject of Sacrament, in some Christian circles, communion is one of many Sacraments, baptism being another. Sacrament is more a collection of sacred ordinances performed in the church, than one single thing.

Born Again

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

How many of you have heard someone say they were a born again Christian? This label simply means that a person has rededicated their live to Christ. It can also be used to describe that moment when their personal relationship with God is solidified. While we may use differing terms, we too are called to have our hearts converted to the Lord. Both of these processes aren’t a one and done thing. A continuous conversion, or being continually Born Again are a part of the discipleship process. Even if you have been a Latter-day Saint your whole life, at some point you have to make a conscious effort to turn your heart to the Lord. Thus we are all converts alike, born again daily to something better than we were the previous day.

The Take Away

Should we change our language? I say no. I love what we have in the church. But self-awareness and cultural understanding never hurts. If we can find ways to bridge gaps and build connections, we will be doing exactly what the Savior wants us to do. Ecumenism is not something we can run away from. We can’t be a completely insular people. President Nelson is the perfect example of building bridges with people across all faith, social and political boundaries. Being aware of language is what allowed me to preach effectively to a congregation of Presbyterians and Methodists while being a Latter-day Saint, and being asked to come back again. Now I realize, that is an uncommon event, but what if you could connect better with friends and acquaintances by understanding their language, and maybe being able to speak it? If the truth of God is to go forth across every continent, and sound in every ear, than we need to find ways to create connection, and build on common values.

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