Standing By Truth

I ate dinner in a church basement the other night with a group of friends and colleagues. When it was over our host dismissed us with a blessing and his assessment of our experience. It was, he assured us, the essence of Christian fellowship. This is the sort of thing one often hears at church.  At potlucks, missions conferences and the church’s services in general, we are told that we are enjoying a foretaste of heaven.

I hope not. Surely there is more to heaven than boiled beef and small conversation about last night’s game. The problem here is not really the menu or even the company-though both could stand improvement on occasion. The problem is the language we use to describe our experience. I am not condemning the art of small talk, which has a legitimate  place in the life of the church. I am criticizing the church’s slovenly approach to language and its penchant for meaningless hyperbole.

In an essay entitled “Standing by Words,” Wendell Berry speaks of the importance of fidelity to language. According to Berry “there is a necessary and indispensable connection between language and truth.” Berry states, “My impression is that we have seen, for perhaps a hundred and fifty years, a gradual increase in language that is either meaningless or destructive of meaning.” As a Church which is constituted by the Word and which worships and serves the one who is called the Word, we ought to be concerned about this decline. Language matters deeply to God. Instead, we ape the culture. We resort to cheap hyperbole to describe our Christian experience. We overstate, understate, and euphemize. We are civil tongued but inveterate liars.

The good news is that there is a remedy for this. According to Ephesians 4:15 we are to “speak the truth in love.” Unfortunately, most of us are proficient in only one of these languages. Either we speak the truth but without love. Or we speak out of love but cannot bring ourselves to tell the truth. We opt for the tired path of truism and cliché. But if  we are to speak as if language matters, such half-measures will never do.

5 thoughts on “Standing By Truth

  1. It seems to me that even the use of the word “fellowship” is hyperbole. If church dinners featured more true communion it might be a closer taste of heaven.

  2. I guess I would have to ask you what it would look like at these dinners if they were to better reflect heaven. I agree with most of what you are saying, but do you think we can’t glorify God when we sit around a table and have conversations about last nights game? Isn’t that part of sharing our lives with each other?

    1. Your point is well taken Matt. As I mention in my post, small talk has an important place in the life of the church. At the same time, I hope our experience of fellowship in eternity involves something more, or I am going to be really bored.

  3. I just want to say that I enjoy reading your posts Dr. Koessler. As a former student in your class I look forward to learning more through your blog! Thank you. -Jerry Rodriguez-

  4. Now this is a topic which the church ought to discuss over crockpot chicken! Truly, though, your post resonates with me and offers a voice to my own pent-up thoughts which come after too much talking and eating in churchy corridors. And thank you for reminding me of Berry’s thoughts and placing them on the table — right there among the plastic tablecloths and doilies. Yes, even if the prevailing table-setting is in poor taste, at least your arrangement still gives me a little faith that the conversation could still rise and break like bread.

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