I often have to think about the challenge of communication, not only in our articles or public teaching but also in my day-to-day interaction with others. Sometimes when talking with someone, I get the distinct feeling that, although we may be using the same language, we somehow are not tracking together. Later, I may realize that the communication was not clear because we had different definitions, which had been assumed and not clarified.
For example, when Joy and I were dating, (several lifetimes ago, I think), she asked if I wanted to go shopping with her. Now to me, “shopping” meant getting in the car, driving to the mall, parking near the door, going into the store where she could buy her blouse (or whatever), and going on our way. Twenty minutes tops. . . . With that definition of shopping in my mind, I agreed to the errand. Off we went, and after wandering the mall for nearly an hour with nary a purchase in sight and sitting in the food court with a cola, I found myself a bit flummoxed. I had discovered that what she meant was “Do you want to go shoooooooooooping?” Shoooooooooooping does not require an actual purchase. It’s an outing. Yes, by all means, it involves looking at various items of clothing and such, but it’s also about checking out the merchandise in the kiosks (none of which was on our list), sitting in the food court watching people walk by, and generally having a good and leisurely time. Twenty minutes? In your dreams! Same language – different understanding. . . .
We all see the world differently, and we bring those different perspectives into our communications. Even if we share a common language, we may have very different definitions in mind that we assume the others understand.
The challenge of communication plays itself out in talking with others about the faith. We might ask different people if they believe in Jesus, and their response may be, “Of course,” but that does not mean they believe in the SAME Jesus that you do. I can’t tell you how many times I have had someone call me to say that they had just spoken to a Mormon, and had been told Mormons believe Jesus is God, prompting the caller to conclude that Mormons must be Christians.
Okay, but WHAT Jesus, WHAT God, do the Mormons believe in? We must define our terms. Yes, Mormons believe Jesus is a god, but so you will eventually be, if you are a good Mormon in this life. The Jesus of Mormonism was born on another planet near a star they call Kolob1 to a Mormon god and one of his Mormon wives – both of whom were previously born on yet another planet and eventually became gods and goddesses of their own planets. Jesus was born a spirit being on the planet near Kolob and eventually came to earth to receive a physical body in order to work his way up to godhood like his father before him and his father before him, and so on. There are millions of gods in the universe, and our job as human beings is to keep that “god train” moving, becoming gods over our own planets through our own efforts, and producing yet more gods, ad infinitum.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe Jesus is a god, a “little g god” who was originally created as Michael the Archangel, who in turn created everything else for their “big G” God Jehovah. Michael then ceased to exist; God created the human Jesus to replace Michael and to be born on Earth. By and by Jesus was killed on Earth and ceased to exist, but, happily, God created a brand-new Michael the Archangel to replace Michael/Jesus in heaven. So, although they may talk of a “little god” Jesus, Jesus NO LONGER EXISTS. There is no real connection between Michael-Jesus-Michael, except for the supposed memories that Jehovah planted into the new entity.
Hindus would also say that Jesus is god, but again, that isn’t any really big deal, since there are other humans who are divine, and Jesus is just one among a myriad of deities within Hinduism.
Our Jesus is God Almighty. He has always existed and exists today. He created everything and holds all things together. Only our Jesus can truly save. All others merely offer vague assistance to us as we try to save ourselves – an impossibility!
Even people who may attend Christian churches often have a very different definition of Jesus than we do. They have never really understood or accepted the Jesus of the Bible. Millions of people vaguely believe in one Jesus or another, and, generally, we find this “other Jesus” agrees with them about nearly everything, which is quite handy. If they don’t like biblical morality, neither does their Jesus! If they don’t see themselves as sinners, neither does their Jesus! If they think everyone is bound for heaven – so does their Jesus! It’s truly amazing how that works out. They’ll tell you right out that this is so. My Jesus (or My God) would never judge people for who they love. . . . My Jesus would not condemn anyone. . . . Their Jesus keeps up with the times! Their Jesus is not the God of the Bible, who never changes.
Our job as Christians is to KNOW the real Jesus and to learn how to communicate who He is to the lost and dying. Our job is to know the Scriptures well enough to refute error, to be fully prepared to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 1:3, NIV) This is not so we can look like know-it-alls, but to rescue the lost. “Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted faith.” (Jude 1:22, NIV)
It is also very helpful to know where people are coming from, and to learn as much as possible about their Jesus, so that you cannot be hoodwinked or become confused. This is not always possible, since a conversation with a complete stranger may drop in your lap, but it will be a great benefit if it is possible.
In addition, we must reach out to them in pure love with respect. We find this in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (ESV):
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Treating others with kindness and gentleness isn’t always easy, especially when we are ourselves treated with disdain by those we are talking to. Our tendency is to want to defend ourselves, maybe even to the point of destroying someone else. Paul is not saying we cannot defend ourselves, but that we should be circumspect and patient in the process of clarifying and correcting.
Being “able to teach” requires that we know what we are talking about. That is going to require study; study also includes making sure we are defining our terms in ways others can understand.
Further, we should pray for the people we are witnessing to – before, during and after any encounter. We should do this even – or perhaps especially – if our attempt goes badly. We should pray even if we think we have blown the opportunity by not knowing an answer that we should know or by becoming angry when attacked. We pray because even though they may not recognize this, they need to know the real Jesus, and find peace with God.
It is very important to keep in mind that God is ultimately the One who saves. We can only do our best and leave the outcome in God’s hands “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:25, NIV)Ω
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- The LDS writings sometimes refer to Kolob as a star and sometimes as a planet. ↩