The queen’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ

18 September, 2013 — 6 Comments

I’m currently outside my usual routine, having spent a month away from New Zealand. Today I’m traveling home from China where I’ve spent the last ten days. In this post I’m recycling an idea I wrote about several years ago in another context, on the subject of language, based on a song from a New Zealand band called The Mutton Birds. Being an English-only speaker in China has reminded me of this song, as well as listening to a Mutton Birds live album at my kiwi friends’ place in Beijing yesterday. Listen to the track:

“The queens English was good enough for Jesus Christ and it’s good enough for me”

According to the song, this was the supporting argument of a US Congressman who was a guest on a talk show on the subject of “language”. Among other things, this guy is a xenophobe, and wants the whole world to speak his language. You could say he has an inexcusable naivety merged with arrogance and ignorance – and that makes for a really good song.

Putting the subject of language aside, and moving now to the topic of “being-Christian” or “the church”, I wonder if there are too many people that have a “congressman” approach to the outworking of their faith and/or Christian-faith-community. In other words, it can sometimes seem that people think by default that the way we do things is the way Jesus did things:

“the way we do church/mission/teaching was good enough for Jesus Christ and it’s good enough for us…”

“the way I’m Christian was good enough for Jesus Christ, and it’s good enough for me…”

Do you see what I mean?

How did Jesus do “church”, do “mission”, be “Christian”???

It might seem odd to try to reframe these concepts back onto Jesus, but lets briefly try to do that. Or rather, if Jesus were to do these things in 21st century New Zealand, how might they look?

Would Jesus do church like we do church?

If Jesus was leading a local church would it take some other form, or have some different priorities?

Do these questions connect with any observations you have of church? Do you ever see the vibe expressed in this Mutton Birds song expressed in your church context?

Video clip: “Queens English” by the Mutton Birds (originally on the album ‘Salty’, EMI 1994).

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  • Mark

    Hmm. I think I know people who ask good questions, or at least want to ask good questions, about modelling ministry off of Jesus. What I don’t see is people asking the question which goes with it: for what purpose? For instance: many of us resonate with table fellowship as a powerful mode of connecting with others. Jesus did table fellowship, and we had some friends around for lunch. So go us! But I am challenged that it must go beyond that, because Jesus’ table fellowship was good in and of itself – as is ours – but it also had a pretty egocentric agenda. Jesus’ ministry was self-proclaiming, which is not to say self-aggrandizing, and so I think we must look to Jesus – yes, as our model for carrying the message- but also that he is the content of the message itself.

    • Hi Mark!
      This sounds good. So what would table fellowship look like then with Jesus being the content of the message? Your question “for what purpose?”,could it be, for example, inviting a lonely person to join you around the table instead of just “friends”? Would this then fulfill the message of loving people (aka your neighbour)? or do you mean the conversation actually needs to bring up Jesus and the kind of things DrDon has commented about above?

      • Mark Day

        This is a helpful line of thought bro. You should work for the church, or something.

        I work from the basis that the Gospel is the royal announcement of Jesus as King, Lord, & Saviour. For me, for table fellowship to be Christian witness there ought to involve both actions which reflect the rulership of Jesus – as you say, inviting a lonely person, or some other action which is shaped by a kingdom-of-God mentality – as well as, at some point, actual declarative words. So let’s say I embark on sharing Jesus with my next door neighbours. I don’t think that every meal must have explicit Christian content – no altar call after dessert or tithes and offerings sermon pre-canapes. It should always be shaped by the nature of the Kingdom of God. And for a fullness of Christian witness I think the words have to be spoken at some point. Because the nature of the Kingdom of God is such as it is because God is King in Christ, and that’s the kind of King he is and the way he rules. Hopefully the words will arrive naturally via conversation. If I’m taking a genuine interest in my neighbor then it should! But I wonder too if we ought to work hard at providing a good context for some of what you’ve described in my hearing as ‘curated content.’

        I reckon reclaiming the awesomeness of communion at the dinner table, in the context of kingdom-shaped fellowship, and in the presence of people who don’t currently follow Jesus, would be a great way to evangelize. Allow people to peer into the bizarre new world which we Jesus-followers are proclaiming. Paul says of communion, “for as often as we drink this cup and eat this bread, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

  • DrDon

    Thanks Mark (refer below) for bringing the focus back to the fact that Jesus is the content of the message itself. As for Mike’s two questions (“Would Jesus do church like we do church?” and “If Jesus was leading a local church would it take some other form, or have some different priorities?”), a read through the Gospels would result in a resounding ‘No’ and ‘Yes’, respectively. I believe that Jesus’ ministry focussed on three things – Doing his Father’s will (denying himself and going to the cross), training of others to continue his example of ministry, and proclaiming/sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom. All this was within the framework of leading the people away from the ‘tainted leaven’ of the religious leaders. Yes, I accept that Jesus did do ‘table fellowship’, but only as part of the three-pronged ministry that was foremost in his mind.

    It should be no different today. The one conditional statement and two commandments that Jesus left parallel his life – 1) to come after Jesus we must deny ourselves AND take up our cross daily AND follow Jesus; 2) proclaim the good news/gospel of Jesus/God (to unbelievers) and 3) (with 1 & 2 firmly imbedded in this) make disciples, teaching them to obey Jesus commands. As Jesus’ teaching methodology exemplified explanation (including interactive questioning) using Scripture to authoritise his explanation AND demonstration as an example of what to do, shouldn’t we be doing the same?

    Unfortunately, most church communities focus on a Sunday service that does none of these things. Rather I suggest that they tend towards being egocentric, using selected Scripture to promote tradition. As many people say – the church is not authentic.

    Perhaps Mike’s statement should be shortened to – ‘the way we do church/mission/teaching is good enough for us…’

    • Hi DrDon. I’ve mentioned your comment here in a reply to Mark below…

      So both you and I negatively critique Sunday church services. If you were a pastor called by a church to sustain and increase that particular faith community, where would you start? What would it look like? Because a pastor wouldn’t last long if they ditched the Sunday morning church service – it would need to evolve somehow wouldn’t it into what you’re describing above?

      • DrDon

        Hi Mike. Isn’t it interesting that we use the word ‘evolve’ when in Christianity (as a general observation) evolution is a ‘no-no’. However, nature itself demonstrates changes that can best be described as evolution (i.e. to evolve). Maybe, if evolution is not of God, then what does it mean to describe the Sunday Service as having evolved, because evolved (or changed) it has – even in my lifetime. One only has to consider music and lyrics in a service – especially the loudness of the noise (and they call that worship) – to know that it has evolved in the past 40 years.

        However, to critique anything one must start with a standard or reference – to do otherwise is meaningless. Even if one does not have a clearly defined reference, they still have one. If the reference is not based on observation of truth (e.g. a study of Scripture) it will be based on what has been communicated – even if the content or the understanding of that communication was false. This leads to tradition being the standard, and this can mean that the truth does not influence the reference.

        Questionnaires that seek opinion will produce data based on what someone considers the reference to be. To seek data for a critique that is based on opinion is meaningless. Only when the critique is based on a comparison to a standard based on truth, will it produce meaning. It is also important to realise that only a negative feedback system will bring and maintain a process close to the reference. Alternatively, a positive feedback system will drive the process into instability and most likely away from the reference. Therefore, to suggest that what we are writing is to “negatively critique Sunday church services” is what should be continuously happening. The key here is to do everything possible to promote, teach, (and to an absolute essentiality) help people to understand Scriptural truth and allow that truth to renew their minds.

        Your question “if you were a Pastor” leads to a greater discussion – too big here. I would never see the result – however, I am pleased you used the objective “sustain and increase that particular faith community”. Why? – because that assumes that faith is developed in the first place. Faith is primarily developed through a personal journey with God, through many ups and downs, with hopefully friends who believe in you and support you and help you find and understand truth in Scripture for yourself; never by what a preacher might say. You see, church tradition dictates a Pastor who is a preacher – I believe God wants a Pastor to develop his gift of teaching. As I have tried to explain to many people – preaching is not teaching. Even a request to people to join me in a study of Scripture to determine the truth has only resulted in people walking away from the invitation. That leaves me with the only explanation that I can reason – people’s faith is based on what they have heard and want to know, and their faith is not strong enough to be tested against what could be a truth that they do not want to hear.

        Interestingly, the religious leaders didn’t last long when Jesus taught and lived truth. What happened? The tradition in place at the time collapsed, and a new church of believers was established. Is our faith strong enough to want to know truth?