A few years ago, after, providentially, finding a blog through Christianity Today, I nearly dropped my computer. The posting outlined an amazing event at a church in Denver--Scum of the Earth. The pastor was in a bit of a quandary: you see, the church celebrated Christmas through a service that included poetry readings. And the woman they asked to compose a poem included the f-word--not once or twice, but multiple times. At the end of the day, after much consulting, it was decided to let her read a modified version for the Christmas Eve service-including "only four expletives" and those as quotes from another character in the poem.
Naturally, there were strong reactions from the audience.
Such verbal vomit reflects more than a desire of a pastor to "connect" with a sub-culture. It displays a basic misapprehension of what the third commandment entails. Although clearly sinful, it is a barometer of the level of rebellion found in churches today. A wandering mass of vagabonds seeking any means to stretch the limits of credulity, some in the wasteland of American Christianity (whether in the mainline churches or not) have no sense of shame.
At first blush readers may condemn my language as harsh. Please bear with me: I acknowledge that churches have a zeal for evangelism-but more often than not, it is not according to knowledge.
I have not the time to elucidate the breadth and depth of this commandment; nor explain the differences between false swearing, oath taking and cursing; nor expound how using God's handiworks-creation-in a flippant and coarse manner demeans God Himself; nor explicate the psychology of how sinful men verbally vomit on others as a form of emotional expiation for their anger, guilt, self-righteousness and the like.
Language is neither private (God is everywhere) nor unlimited and infinitely pliable (only God is unlimited). Thus, individuals or even a group of individuals do not have the right to do anything with language. In other words, language, although conventional, still expresses cultural values-and since all cultures are rooted in religion, that language expresses one's religion. And all religions have standards of right and wrong, which, again are reflected in language. So, when a sub-culture wishes to express its rebellion against the larger cultural mores it turns toward those things that are taboo, obscene or shocking. Shame is the first thing to go.
Besides the obvious fact that we should offend people with the Gospel (Christ preached more about sin and hell than grace) and not our speech, it is patently clear that Christians should avoid coarse, filthy speech (Col. 4:6, Eph. 4:29). "Filth" in the Greek means "foul speaking, low and obscene speech" [Thayer]-the Greek background points not to blasphemy per se (language against God) but coarse or crass words.
Followers of Christ do not need to act out their old ways to bring shock to their audience. Imagine: instead of reading a poem about sinful acts, one acted it out instead-that by voyeuristic proxy the reader of the play gestured as well as cursed?
One cannot have speech be a free-for-all without denying absolute truth. If this were so, what words would express rebellion, dissatisfaction or dishonor? One could say anything with moral impunity.
Although most of this posting is related directly to abuse of language, the third commandment involves false doctrine as well as false speech. So, even though many Christians would be offended at verbally transforming the marriage bed into a crass cursing, they should be more offended at doctrinally filthy mouths. Besides the obvious pragmatism of the situation, with its disregard for the third commandment and apparent therapeutic usage of filthy words, the last installment on the blog made a passing remark that was shocking in its simplicity and amazing in the fact that no one commented on it:
"Most non-Christians I know do not hate God; they think that God and the church hate them because they are considered vile. We want to reverse that deception..." ---Mike Sares
Really!? Romans one through three clearly declares that man is self-deceived, loving sin and hating God: to love the world is to hate God (John 15:18ff.). Thus says the Lord:
The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. -John 7:7
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. -Romans 8:7
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness...backbiters, haters of God-Romans 1
Since this false doctrinal stance is maintained, false speech is allowed. It is that simple. The sub-culture under question is not assumed to be in rebellion against God through its language; thus, it is acceptable to use such language to communicate to them. Since they "do not hate God" then the language they use does not express hate; therefore such language is proper to use.
It is too bad the entire situation is setup as an either/or fallacy in which that church is supposedly taking a stand for people perceived as "vile"-I do not perceive them that way and my church welcomes them. The real fact is that many of them do not want our churches because we make them uncomfortable (or should!) with the Law and the Gospel.
James reminds us that our tongue is a powerful member: we must choose--through His power--between breathing sweet truth or vomiting lies. Between ingesting golden apples or digesting garbage.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11