The words we use #LukeActs2014

But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found. (Luke 15:32, NRSV)

I had a conversation with someone not too long ago who said it was offensive for the church to speak of “the lost.”

The gist of the complaint was that it imposed a category on people that they did not choose themselves. The sense was that this was a kind of verbal colonialism or oppression.

I have to confess, I always think of Stanley Hauerwas when I hear these kinds of statements.

Hauerwas argues that one of the fundamental challenges of the church is to get our language right, to learn how to name and describe the world as Christians. What we are generally offered instead of Christian speech are the words that pass for noncontroversial in our consumer society. To the extent that the world is not Christian — and it manifestly is not — the world will always resist the names Christians use.

Put another way, Hauerwas writes that it is a great moral achievement to be able to call ourselves sinners. It is a moral achievement because it means we are speaking in ways that only make sense if Jesus Christ is the defining center and focal point of the community we call church.

And so, we do use words such as “lost” and “found” and “sinner” and “saved.” We do it because these words — properly used and understood — describe the world in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These words give us the vocabulary to understand who we are. These words give us reason to celebrate like the angels in heaven when something as ordinary happens as a man getting down on his knees and asking God to lead him home again.

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