With all this time on our hands because of the virus situation, rather than just sit around, I thought I’d take the time to do some reflecting on the deeper things in life. I’ve come to this conclusion—I want to think like Jesus and act like Jesus. Paul’s admonition is the longing of my heart, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
That means I need to change my thinking in some areas. Not only my thinking but the way I think. For one thing, I need a paradigm shift in how I approach language. And how I approach words. To say it another way—I need to enter the world of the Bible. I find it fascinating that the second person of the Godhead is called “The Word.”
Words matter. They matter a lot. Behind and beyond words are spiritual realities.
Understanding language is central to our Christian faith. Our American Christian culture, for instance, does not approach language as Jesus and His disciples approached language. In the West we have a different mindset altogether. There is a Western view of language and there’s a biblical view. And the two are poles apart.
The Western View
The primary purpose of language in the West is to transmit information. To inform. Knowledge for us equals understanding concepts, paradigms, principles and ideas. Our American culture has made a virtue of learning concepts. For instance, it’s entirely possible to graduate with an MBA from Harvard without ever having taken a single class by a professor who owned a business! And the sad thing, we see no discrepancy in that. I brought up the subject one day only to illicit the response, “So, what’s your point, Lynn?”
This so-called virtue (knowledge equals transmitting information) has also found its way into our pulpits. Preachers are praised for their communication skills.
“He sure has a way of getting his point across.”
“He explains the Bible so well.”
Seminaries are chosen for their hermeneutics. Students graduate for completing a curriculum. And we call it Christianity. Such thinking is foreign to, and outside of, the world of the Bible.
The Biblical View
The Bible presents another view of words and language. The primary purpose of language in the Bible is to transfer an impartation. To invoke. Not inform. Knowledge in the Bible equals experience. Not concepts and principles. The Bible says, “And Abraham knew Sarah.” Abraham didn’t have a concept of his wife.
He “knew” her. “To know” in the biblical sense means intimacy. The Old Testament prophet, Hosea, admonished, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” (4:6). God’s people are destroyed for a lack of intimacy with Him. That’s what the prophet was saying. Knowledge in the Bible is always an invocation. Always transfers an impartation. Not transmit information. As Bill Johnson says, “Biblical understanding never stops short of an experience.”
Jesus is our best example. Listen to His words and note how He uses language.
Words as Invocation
Mark 4:39: Then he arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.
Matt.10:11-13: Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worth, and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worth, let your peace return to you.
That’s a different world, an entirely different understanding of words—using language to invoke and impart. Our Lord’s spoken words created prophetic realities. His words “speak into existence” that which He’s speaking. Notice, He instructs his disciples to greet the household, to “let your peace come upon it.” And if the inhabitants of the house don’t receive their words, then “let your peace return.”
That’s not using language to transmit information. Jesus is instructing His disciples to speak into existence the experience of peace. There’s a pronounced difference between language as information and language as invocation. One is a Western notion; the other, a biblical notion. Take the matter of a teacher. I find Nicodemus’s perception of the role of a teacher to be quite telling of the culture of his day.
“Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (Jn.3:2).
In the religious culture of Jesus’ day, a teacher was recognized by the signs and miracles he demonstrated, not by his ability to communicate. In other words, a teacher was someone who invoked supernatural encounters. On a particular occasion, for instance, I was compelled to use words and language to invoke an experience from the Lord.
The Teenage Witch
In our younger years, my wife and I ran and operated a Christian halfway house called “The Upper Room.” One day while relaxing, a young girl walks in, couldn’t have been more than fourteen—plops herself down in a chair next to me, looks me straight in the eyes, and says, “Let’s test our gods. I’m the school witch.” She wasn’t joking.
These kids have never seen that many demonstrations of the supernatural in churches, so I can understand their fascination with the occult. I learned quickly, operating a Christian halfway house for street people is serious business. You had to put up or shut up. Most of the kids who came our way (I call them “kids;” they’re anywhere from thirteen to thirty-three) had heard enough preaching to last a lifetime. I like how C. Peter Wagner puts it:
Christian preachers in those days were so sure of the power of God that they did not hesitate to engage in power encounters. They would challenge in public the power of pagan gods with the power of Jesus…For instance, the author of the apocryphal Acts of Peter provoked a spiritual “shootout” in the very forum of the capital . . . All this involved the manhandling of demons—humiliating them, making them howl, beg for mercy, tell their secrets, and depart in a hurry. By the time the Christian preachers got through, no one would want to worship such nasty, lower powers . . . The supernatural power of God driving all competition from the field should be seen as the chief instrument of conversion in those first centuries (The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit, 77-82).
Multitudes were brought to Christ back in the early days of Christianity, not by arguments, not be debates, or by lectures and sermons, but by power encounters.
Not Impressed with Creeds
Times haven’t changed. Not really. Our youth especially are not impressed with our creeds and sermons and buildings and denominations and administration handbooks. Not really. They follow the supernatural, even if it leads them to the dark side. It’s the Presence that’s the chief instrument of conversion in our day and I had just been challenged.
Publicly demonstrate the resurrected power of Jesus Christ against the power of pagan gods or take my sign down. I had just been invited to a spiritual shootout.
“Whada ya say, preacher man?” said the gum-chewing teen. She was looking me straight in the eye. I was praying, “Please, Lord, don’t let her get by with this.”
Thankfully, the Lord heard my cry, gave me a holy boldness, and told me what to say.
“Tell you what. For the next seven days you’ll lose your powers. You won’t be able to hold any seances or do any of your magic. If you try, nothing will work.”
She was taken back. It’s my guess no preacher had ever spoken to her like that.
“O, yeh, preacher man! What the h_ll do you know. You’re just a preacher,” and she stormed out.
That’s the last I heard of her. To look at her, you’d never guess this young teenager girl was a witch. She looked like any other teenager. Most teens who are into that type of a thing are into it for the fun of it. They’re not aware they’re playing with fire. They don’t know the jealous God who created them and who visits the iniquities of their fathers upon the children, especially those who dabble in the occult (see Ex.20:5; Deut 18:10-12). It’s serious business. A few days later, two high school teenagers show up.
“Are you the preacher man?” one asks.
“You could call me that. Why?”
“Are you the one who stopped Jenny’s powers?” I was drawing a blank. I had forgotten.
“We had our regular meeting last night and nothing worked. Jenny said you put a curse on her.”
O, and then I remembered and chuckled. “I wouldn’t call it a curse. “Listen, guys, you caught me at a bad time. If you ever want to witness some real power, come back and talk to me about Jesus. I gotta go for now.” I left them standing in the doorway of our halfway house as I drove off. They were a little taken back.
The next day some other teenagers pull up and tell me that Jenny “couldn’t do anything at their séance last night and that she was blaming me. Jenny lost her powers for one week. One of the girls gave her heart to the Lord and moved in with us.
O, the power of prophetic words! Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (Jn. 6:63). Are words too dispel darkness and dismantle spirits. Our words can invoke His supernatural presence. Our words possess the power to change the situation. They are spirit and they are life.
The Mass and Marriage Ceremony
There are only two occasions, two ceremonies, I’m aware of that remain in our western culture where words equal invocation: the mass and marriage ceremonies. Our Catholic brothers and sisters, for instance, believe when the priest pronounces the words, “This is the blood and body of our Lord” over the elements, it’s at that moment the priest’s words transfer the bread and wine into the actual blood and body of our Lord. In other words, it’s the priest’s spoken words that invoke the very reality of that which is spoken. It’s the same in the marriage ceremony. When the minister announces, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” the marriage is at that moment “spoken into existence.”
On these two occasions, words are used to invoke the reality of that which is spoken. Other than these exceptions, words and language are used in our western culture primarily for the purpose of transmitting information. We text and we twitter. We learn our concepts and study our systematic theology. We present our three-point sermons and call it preaching the gospel. We sell ourselves way short.
We suffer in America from what I call a lack of “kingdom perspective.” There is a kingdom worldview.
- Jesus knew the spirit world was real.
- What we call “miracles” were normal occurrences in the kingdom.
- There was no natural/supernatural dichotomy with Jesus and his ministry.
I submit, we in the West struggle with the kingdom perspective because of our Western worldview. For example, I see four characteristics that are prevalent Sunday after Sunday in most American churches.
- “Church” is primarily a lecture.
- Preaching, teaching, and “ministry” are vehicles for sharing information rather than invoking the Presence.
- God’s Word tends to be reduced to something said rather than something seen.
- Our approach to evangelism and missions is a matter of technique.
Each of these I see as a stumbling block to our understanding of the biblical worldview—that words are spirit and life. Take “church” as primarily a lecture sermon. Jesus never used the lecture format only to propagate His message and mission. He repeatedly accompanied His messages with demonstrations of power. The lecture format came out of the Enlightenment, not out of the Bible.
Today’s assumption for ministry is—our hearers need more information. Peter and Paul’s assumptions were—their hearers needed deliverance. Language for Peter and Paul was used as a vehicle for the manifested power of God. The spoken word was the embodiment and pronouncement of His Presence upon the people.
It’s time we entered the world of the Bible.