Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Belarus Entry #3 - Speaking in Contemporary Language

3 of the 4 members of our team had the privilege of preaching in the Sunday morning and evening services of the Church, which is located on the property of and connected with the seminary where the EAAA conference was held. The brother who had the opportunity to preach in the morning service got quite the earful from the pastor once the service was over. Here's what happened ...

During his introduction, our designated Sunday morning representative emphasized the need to present Christianity, the Bible and the Gospel in contemporary language so that hearers can understand what you're talking about. If you use Christian terms like "Gospel" and "justification" with certain people, and you do not explain them, they will, very likely, not understand what you're talking about. As an example, our brother explained how a certain Pauline word in the passage he was preaching from had negative connotations in the original Greek while the particular Russian word translating the Greek had positive connotations. The contextual meaning is weakened, if not lost altogether, if someone does not explain this fact. This all sounds very simple, logical and obvious, right?

WRONG!!! For at least 15 minutes after the service, the pastor, to put it nicely, gave counsel to our brother, stating that "normal" Russian language is all that is needed, the Bible doesn't need "contemporary" explanation and that he has Bible studies with nonbelievers and they all understand him despite the fact that he doesn't use such newfangled speech when explaining the Bible to them. And just in case we weren't sure how much he disapproved of the idea, he decided to instruct me before the evening service that I should not give an introduction to my sermon if I was going to go on and on about the need for contemporary language and the insufficiencies of "normal" Russian language.

[Note: if you are as confused about such a hard and fast distinction between "contemporary" language and "normal" language, don't worry, so were we. There is no such distinction in modern, spoken Russian, just like there is no such distinction in modern, spoken English. And our guy was not making a hard and fast distinction. He was just stating the apologetically obvious: you should speak truth to your audience in a way that they'll understand. Sure, there are older English words that we don't use anymore and the Russian-speaking world has its equivalent of the King James Bible with its accompanying linguistic antiquities, but there is nothing that makes sense of the pastor's diametrical distinction between "contemporary" and "normal" Russian. It was hard to fathom what he was so upset about.]

Now, this story isn't all that interesting until you understand what happened during the conference in the days following the above incident. You see, the EAAA is made up of the top Evangelical institutions in the the former Soviet Union and they are all doing everything they can to educate, equip and assist the Slavic Church as it strives to reach the countless lost among them. They are all united in doing this in "contemporary" forms and methods, using "contemporary" language and ideas. How do we know this? Because almost all of them told us so, using the same word over and over, during the course of the conference. Normally, this wouldn't be funny; it would just be timely and relevant instruction. But every time a presenter told us about the necessity of doing anything in a "contemporary" way, the 4 of us just lost it. I'm sure it's about as funny to you as it was to those sitting around us. But, let me assure you, it was a hoot and it created an inside joke that should fuel our discussions for months to come.

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