At the turn of the last century, Ferdinand Saussure, a famous linguist, made several seemingly simple yet profound discoveries about the way humans use language. He contended that (1) language is the domain of speaking out loud, or articulation; (2) each idea expressed through language is assigned a certain sound; and (3) the sound itself becomes the sign of the intended idea. He reasoned language itself was a form and not an actual substance.
Saussure, miles away from our God-centered worldview, gives the body of Christ some incredible understanding of the giant of pluralism facing today’s church. He said you couldn’t cut away the sound from the actual word because they are like one sheet of paper—it’s impossible to cut the front from the back. On the front of the paper is the idea and on the back is the sound or phonos of the idea, which are inseparable.
So, the words being used that formerly meant one thing in our culture—such as marriage, truth, or tolerance—have been reassigned by the mainstream culture to actually mean something else. Like David facing Goliath, you are facing a giant that speaks a strange and foreign language. It’s a way of speaking that some label pluralism.
We live in a time where every idea expressed is equal to every other combination of thoughts expressed. A language that says the verbal expression and sign of the actual word “god” is just as valid and equal with the verbal use of the expression of the word “God.”
This new language, just like the negative-thought spewing giant that David faced, is presenting you with new signs and sounds for words like marriage, truth, and tolerance. If you are going to do business in the mainstream spaces of the Philistines, you’re going to have to use the same vocabulary, while the sounds you used to speak in public spaces, job spaces, and academic spaces are being shoved toward Sunday morning spaces only.
Let us not be like the soldiers in 1 Samuel 17 who would get worked up emotionally, run out toward Goliath every morning, but ultimately retreat in fear. Our calling is not to conform the culture to our language and definition of words. Words are symbols and forms not substance. A rising tension is building between how you believe God is asking you to live daily and how mainstream society views your personal beliefs.
This is where the good news lives for Jesus followers. As the anti-Jesus mindsets speak up and claim more and more space around you, we realize that Goliath is a form and not a real monster. He can only threaten the faith of those who’ve never met the God behind their vocabulary.
God has always called for a contrasting spiritual community—we are not to conform. There isn’t a biblical precedent that the Spirit would call for a blending into the present culture by taking on their values. Our predominant language must be love—love for strangers and neighbors. The Philistines that surround the camp will be defeated not by slings and stones, but by the genuine love of God expressed verbally and non-verbally through His church.
Your faith is substantive and remains steadfast on an unmovable rock and cornerstone—Jesus. There is more power and substance in that name because in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God! He literally embodied the mighty love of God in the form of a man (Philippians 2).
The resurrection proved that Jesus was more than a word but the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. He was the eternal verbal and non-verbal expression of God’s very heart toward humanity. John writes, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” Jesus, the eternal expression and model of God’s love, modeled for us the way to respond to those demanding eclectic expressions from Bible-believing Christians.
The rising tension you’re feeling is culture telling you that your beliefs are no better than anyone else’s. Yet, since we know personally this God that for others is not substantive but only the form of the word “god,” they misunderstand or downright oppose your declaration. Yet, we truly believe that somewhere in the next dimension, around God’s very throne, the angels continually make the verbal and physical expression, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and we believe this because the prophet Isaiah told us so.
God’s Word to us, Jesus, is substantive and is not dependent upon sound. Even without the sound attached to the name of Jesus there is no power or substance lost. The name Jesus is not a magic word used as an incantation in our religious rituals, but represents the truest expression of the King above all other kings. All of creation groans in the tension waiting for the final revelation of all these things to the cultures of the earth.
God’s Word stands strong in the midst of another human attempt at constructing one language, one tower of Babel—pluralism. And as the power of pluralism grows in strength and is taught in your children’s spaces, we know that this giant is no match at all for one who comes like David did against Goliath. We simply come against it in the name of the Lord.
What do you think of the ruling this week? How are you responding in your lives to pluralism?