Different groups use a special set of terms to distinguish themselves, to create a culture, and to communicate specific messages to members. The terms used can unify members and exclude non-members. Many times this is normal and not considered to be unhealthy. People need to support one another in many groups, and having specific terms can allow for a certain trust in communication. I think specifically of nurses and doctors, they can share what information is needed with one another to pass on what is important about a patient without disclosing everything to listeners walking the halls of a hospital. Specific word choice is made in any group, it’s expected and even taken for granted. Sometimes though, there are code words used to initiate someone into a very unhealthy situation. Words are used to exclude the uninitiated because they will not accept what is being said until they have spent some time letting go of their protections. Words can be intentionally used that have double meanings, one meaning to those listening from the outside of the group but a completely different meaning to those inside the group. A manipulative group using language in this way is often a political group or a religious group with some sort of agenda. Somewhere, someone is meant to be fooled. Even those using the language with double meanings may be unaware they are being deceitful.
I remember when I spent time meeting with a Jehovah’s Witness for nearly two years. Most of the first several months was spent defining terms. Whenever I found myself in agreement with what the Jehovah’s Witness had to say, I would stop and ask for a clarification on the meaning of the words. Even the name Jesus meant something completely different, the Jehovah’s Witness meant the archangel Michael. I meant Jesus Christ, one of the three persons of the Trinity, both God and man at the same time. In college, when the Boston Movement was on campus, I would notice they spoke in a certain way. It was quite evident to anyone on the outside that something was not right, was not geniune in the presentation. In speaking with Mormons who came to my door, I had the same experience, I had to always listen carefully and ask questions. Again and again and again.
In my former church I learned to listen critically to what was being said. The words used were a bit of a tweaking on the words I was used to. Discipleship became spiritual disciplines. It didn’t mean the same thing. Missions became missional, this didn’t mean the same thing at all. Spiritual formation came from somewhere, and so did transformation. Holy other (and later I discovered it was really Wholly Other) and God consciousness all had their own meanings. Christ Follower is a code word, as is centered, journey, story, narrative, dna, be still, contemplate, meditate, peace, emerging, visionand on and on. All this language had not been clearly defined. It was all defined with other code words. People who “got it” and understood the deep things may have understood, but the regular attenders could nod along and have no idea. I started to pick up on this jargon and it was distracting. The noise and questions really began to get to me. I began to plug the words into Google to see where they were coming from. I ran smack into the contemplative and emergent authors. I ran also right into sites that were critical of such authors. I had my eyes opened. The things that caused a small voice inside me to whisper, “something’s wrong” started to make that voice grow louder until eventually it was screaming. People were being duped. They were being led very slowly into accepting something they had not been presented openly. My husband likes to liken our former church to a ship (especially since one pastor kept using this analogy). The ship was just moved a hair to begin with. At first, and for a while really, no one noticed. Time passed, and it became evident that we were not on course to get to where the lighthouse was shining. Sure, it looked like we’d land close, but not right on target. The further we went, the more we noticed we were getting off course. Many people still haven’t noticed, they keep looking at the stars or the water, never seeing the lighthouse…never realizing where the ship was heading. You know, I asked, my husband asked, we know others who asked specifically what direction the ship was headed. We weren’t told even after asking. One emergent youth minister who was actually recently let go from the church staff said, “that’s the problem with [the former church], none of the leadership appears to know where the ship is headed.” I think actually they DO know, they just aren’t telling. They are trying everything, and will eventually pare it all down. Those who see what’s going on and don’t like it fight for a while, but eventually they have to jump ship (or are forced off).
If you are asked to “be still” in church, make sure you are listening. Listen carefully to what is said exactly. Then take those words and research them. Find out what they mean. Check those words against the Bible.