Christianese is my pet subject. It is one that I have been talking about to my family and friends for some years know. I was feeling so enthusiastic and such a pioneer for having discovered or rather coined a new term in English. So, after getting vocal about my pet subject on my Face book page for some days I decided I had enough content on the World Wide Web for the whole world to accredit me with this discovery.
After composing myself, ready to receive the title of a pioneer I went straight to Google. You should have seen the grin on my face as I typed ‘Christianese’. In all honesty, I was expecting to see my name appearing and an endless list of articles tagging all my Face book posts on the subject. Shock on me!!!!!!!! I saw nothing about me on Google, I doubt the internet has any idea about all my laborious Face book posts on ‘Christianese’. Jaw dropped, heart sank, ego vanquished: back to the drawing board, I need to discover something else, coin a word maybe.
Let us observe a moment of silence to mourn the loss of my vanity.
Can you imagine there is even a dictionary on Christianese (http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com)! On top of the endless articles and writings on the matter, talk of being cut to size!
So what is the definition of Christianese:
- “A communicable language within the Christian subculture with words and phrases created, redefined, and / or patened that applies only to the Christian sphere of influence.” (Urban Dictionary.com)
- “Christianese(or Christianeze) refers to the contained terms and jargon used within many of the branches and denominations of Christianity as a functional system of religious terminology.” (Wikipedia.com)
From my own observations this is what I would say about Christianese:
Christianese is the language and culture of Christians around the world which has and continues to evolve over time. This language and culture is mostly practiced by those in the Pentecostal movement and just like English slang it has variations depending on time zones. African Christianese is therefore the language and culture of mainly Pentecostal Christians that many a times has little or nothing to do with the Bible. If the same is Biblically derived it tends to be overstretched, twisted or even taken out of context for the purpose of perpetuating the Christianese agenda. (Joyce Mwangi)
Christianese is not just a language but it has fast become a culture especially in African Christianity. With this understanding you must wonder what I have against or for Christianese. My problem with this language and culture is how it has become and continues to become a catalyst in the merchandising on God’s people. How false teachers and prophets continue to cloak their intentions to financially exploit Christians using Christianese.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3)
In the Kenyan context one of the titles that immediately spooks me as regards any pastor is “Daddy/Mummy”. The poster couple for this title in Kenya today has on numerous occasions been the subject of many discussions. One Njoki Chege 1,2 has written two witty articles that have hit the nail on the head:
The title “Daddy/Mummy” is used to derive total submission and unquestioning obedience from the adherents or followers of the said personality. The financial ruin, emotional distress, and sadly sometimes loss of eternal hope that has resulted from such a relationship has been documented on Kenya television over and over again. Yet Christians do not seem at learn.
Apart from the extreme usage of Christianese to financially exploit the children of God, there is also another side of the language that is quite worrying if not more worrying. It is the use of phrases and words to denote spirituality especially in prayer. One of those phrases is “We/I decree and declare”. A few moons back, a video of a young American boy3 praying and punctuating every sentence of his prayer with the phrase ‘I decree and declare’ went viral. Since then, I have noted with increasing concern and great discomfort as this phrase has become an opening line in most prayers and even worse a punctuation mark in every prayer sentence.
So, a while back I asked if someone/anyone would please explain to me the Biblical basis for this phrase. The answer I got was a quotation of Job 22:28
“You will decide on a matter and it will be established for you, and light will shine on your ways” (RSV)
Some Bible versions have “you will decree…” That answer was not satisfactory to me to say the least. I only had to read the context of the verse to really see how farfetched that verse or should I say half a verse is to carry an entire ‘new way’ of praying. The context of the verse is an entire chapter where Eliphaz is coming down on Job encouraging him to in a nutshell confess whatever wrong it is he has done and God will forgive him and calamity will leave him.
Back to the popular phrase ‘We/I decree and declare’. I have been reading my Bible looking for a precedence in the usage of this phrase, specifically how it is currently being used in church circles and I have found none!
Even Jesus Himself, who is God, the Son of God did not use this phrase in prayer while on earth nor teach His disciples to use it. Check out Matthew 6:9-13; when asked by His disciples to teach them how to pray, He didn’t even once use this phrase. Am thinking if this phrase was as important as it has been made to seem in Christianity today God would definitely have included it in the prayer lesson. Turning to the prayer of Jesus in John 17, quite a long prayer with enough opportunities for the phrase; once again, no sighting of this phrase. A quick comb through the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles and the phrase ‘We/I decree and declare’ doesn’t show up, not even once!
In my reserved opinion, I would say that Christianese is a type of slow cancer. Eating away at the very foundations of our Christian faith as Africans, yet so subtly has it crept into the fold that many have been caught unawares. Condemnation for the blazen display of it has begun to rise but there is still yeast in the bread that we are not so quick to recognize. Dr. Babatomiwa4 has excellently written on one of those subtle phrases “we plead the blood of Jesus”. It is such phrases and ambiguous words that have me worried, their overall effect on the spiritual health (did I just go Christianese J J ) of the church in Africa.
The question lingers, is Christianese as a language and subculture slowly edging away Biblical based Christianity and giving rise to a false type of Christianity that has swept the masses: some knowingly and others blindly? Or is Christianese enjoining itself to the Gospel to form a modern day snyctretic relationship that is not easy to decipher?
*Joyce Mwangi holds an M.Div degree in Biblical Studies from Africa International University, Nairobi. She in an excellent thinker, writer and blogger on the diverse configurations of contemporary Christianity in Africa. You can find her at www.hiscreation.co.ke