Sunday, April 25, 2010

Say what you mean - The Trap of Jargon Part 1: What is the true meaning of 'Conversion'

The Genesis of Jargon – The Hand of Man

In many dysfunctional groups, terms are used that become the jargon of the group. In other words, what is meant by a word ‘within’ is not what the standard and classic definition is outside of the group. So, those who know and love the ones in the group may ask very good questions using these same words and receive acceptable answers but there is an overall uneasiness felt by those who have asked those questions. Most likely, there is an entire jargon that masques the depth of what is really being said.

This is not deception in the classical sense. There is no nefarious force that causes the damage eventually experienced by those who exit. This is nothing more than mankind performing what it does worst. We all know from history the harmful deeds that have been done by mankind in God’s name and so reveal the darker angels of our nature. This is the tragedy of it.

How does jargon originate? Well, it is mostly a by-product of sequestering of the members of the group into a tight unit. In this microcosm, words take on different meaning and application over time as ‘revelation’ is experienced by the hierarchy and then communicated to the membership. As these ‘deeper understandings’ occur, the group becomes more aware of the meaning of words that once meant something else to them. It is not a mind trick. Usually, it is presented in such a away that it ‘builds upon’ the common definition and meaning but takes it to a ‘deeper level’. In time, the members of the group have a change of emphasis on the real application from its classical definition to its revised one. Here is a very good test. Ask the one in the group about a common word or concept used by all or most of Christendom. For example, ‘conversion’, ‘being born again’, or ‘the kingdom of God’; if there is a lack of ability to communicate a simple definition about what these words mean, then chances are the person is under such teaching. If you hear such things as ‘it took me a long time to understand what is…Now I see it for what it is.’ this maybe an indicator of the presence of jargon. In addition, the attainment of these basic gifts from God is now not attainable by the Christian who does not understand or perhaps is not under such teaching. The bottom line is in these three examples that I have provided are main departure points for the group into dysfunction and are indicators of its real purpose – to exercise power over the group. These classic signs have been indicated by many studies and recent tragedies both within and without Christendom. The Branch-Davidians (Waco) are a classic example of this manifestation. One thing to keep in mind, it is not about such base things as immorality when it comes to the exercise of power, this is a classic indicator but it is not always present. The behavior of the group and its response to the overall economy of God – that is the church, is what should be the main focus. Is the group becoming self-contained and introverted? This feeds the cycle and inertia of jargon that morphs it into its toxic form.

In the next three posts, I will take each of the words or phrases I have used as examples and illustrate them as a form of jargon.

The First Example: The word ‘Conversion’

This is a common word amongst Christians of all types. In a general sense this word can be applied to a basic and fundamental religious experience – encountering the Savior and hearing His call and so forever altered by the experience (see it is not hard to define it).

However, in certain groups, this basic experience is not what is meant. What it means in some groups is that one has reached a point of maturity that has caused them to be raised above the fray and to have experienced a next level of growth - thus making them both different and even superior to all the rest of Christianity. While this could be explored in depth, it leads us down the rabbit hole that is not our purpose. To keep jargon within a proper framework, we must return to classic biblical examples of these expressions’ true meanings. These can then be compared to what is being taught and so the jargon can then be identified.

In continuing our example let us get to a good working definition of conversion using the scriptures. If we look at the apostle Paul in the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, we would see a good working example of scriptural conversion. I have heard it put this way by David Bromely in A TALE OF TWO THEORIES: BRAINWASHING AND CONVERSION AS COMPETING POLITICAL NARRATIVES: “In its strongest form, conversion connotes unifying with a positive transcendent force…The implications are that an external force operated unilaterally to reorient Paul's volition and behavior and that the result was an agentic relationship.” What was the impact: A changed life and not a life in change. To Paul, it was an event upon which a person used as a foundation to build upon – namely the receiving of Christ as Savior. It is on this basis one gains reference and a compass to keep them on track. Most of Paul’s writings referred to this event to quell all controversies concerning the pursuit of Christian maturity. To paraphrase Paul ‘…you did not learn Christ in that way…’ Conversion according to the scriptures is a sudden and radical change that alters the life view and purpose of the individual. Some would respond and say there are many conversions in the believer’s life and to that I would say, in a sense but they are all sourced on the one event: The Savior’s call. If we look at Paul’s life what we see is a personal quest to follow that Savior and do what ever The Lord would direct and so with excellence. This is the epitome of Christian Excellence. It is a positive choice by one’s own volition. He served and went on to maturity not because Paul was told to but he wanted to do so. It was the driving force of his life (see Phil 4). Conversion just happens, it isn’t a pursuit. Yet in some circles it is more. I think of the Judaizers in Paul’s day. The epistle to the Galatians is a classic response to those who would misuse the word conversion. In this epistle, the Galatians had come under the teaching that although they had accepted Christ, they were required to be circumcised in order to fulfill the type of life that God desired for them to have. They must comply with Mosaic law. To the Judaizer, circumcision was the road to maturity and pleasing God and also the road to perfection. After all, the law was the scriptures and so by doing, the ‘word’ would be fulfilled. It is to this Paul responds that they had believed in another gospel – which was no gospel at all. How can we apply this in our time? Well, those that would attach to the ‘Christ-event’ further events such as the rite of water baptism or perhaps the baptism of the Holy Spirit or something else. If these are seen as requirements for the obtainment of righteousness and becoming a child of God (the huios kind – see Vines Dictionary of New Testament Words for good definitions), then this is more like the Judaizer than genuine Christianity. Granted these are in themselves experiences for the Christian and adds significantly to them, but it must be remembered they can never pre-cede or super-cede the ‘Christ-event.’ It is from this they get their power. So it is with conversion. It might be augmented by these events and others but it is never established by them. This is the difference. We are not Christians because we have been baptized or filled with the Spirit of God, we are baptized and filled with the Spirit because we are Christians. Let’s not get the cart before the horse. So, we are not converted because we are Christians, we are Christians because we are converted – this is Paul’s classic premise. If we continue to look at Bromely’s article, he defines brainwashing as well: “Brainwashing involves unifying with a negative transcendent force that reorients individual volition and purpose. Since brainwashing is a secular theory, the nature of the transcendent force is not quite parallel to its counterpart in conversion theory. The forces at work are powerful secular forces that exceed the individual's capacity to cope with them…, for example…, thought reform programs are organized to destabilize individuals' sense of self by getting them to drastically reinterpret their life's history, radically alter their world view, accept a new version of reality and causality, and develop dependency on the organization, thereby being turned into a deployable agent of the organization operating the thought reform program" So what is the difference? From Bromely, the difference is the position of the individual…are they empowered by conversion? Definitely yes! Yet, in brainwashing, they are stripped of all empowerment and become completely dependent on the organization. Tragically, the mission of the believer, to preach the gospel, is changed into the mission of the group – to preach the teachings of the group. How does one assess if one has been brainwashed? It is simple, look at the results. Are you empowered or emaciated?

The Next Steps, Retrieving the Lost Axe-head

It is a story out of the Old Testament. Elijah makes the Axe-head lost in the stream float. In other words, make that material perform something that is completely different than its nature. If one has been buried and over-whelmed by the teachings received, then they must go back further to something more fundamental. Whatever the impact of the group upon the individual, it did not in any sense cause the believer to repent and believe: Jesus did. It is the Holy Spirit’s work and no other’s. Teachings are good in their own right but at best they are interpretations of the Bible, they cannot save anyone. One must always look at the fruit of them and ask themselves ‘am I full or starving? The bottom line is, conversion is solely a God-sourced work and cannot be evoked by our own exercise of the faith. If this were possible, it would intrinsically change the meaning of the word –conversion. If there are extensions of this basic concept and application of the word, then there has been a confusion of terms. The rule is groups use jargon to brainwash: they brainwash because they cannot convert, only God can do that.

God can make you float again: That is the purpose of this blog: projectEzraRising

1 comment:

  1. I liked this one. It puts the proper place of things> We cannot make ourselves better one iota. It is the working of God that has the power to change. Thank you.