“Can You Say Shibboleth?”

Learning “Christianese” isn’t always so easy. I learned the Southern Baptist vernacular, and then I became skilled at speaking the Assemblies of God dialect. After learning to speak both of these languages, I felt confident that any Charismatic communications would be easy enough, but found that it was a little harder because of the twisting of the tongue required to pronounce some strange words. I did learn to speak it, however.

But that was not the end. There was to be one more new Christianese assignment, and it would prove to be the most complicated one of them all—the inflexible enunciation of the Seventh-day Adventists denomination. 

The Baptists expected me to use street language, because that’s where I’d been most of my life. The Assemblies of God crowd was tolerant, because they figured I’d never been this deep into the “Spirit Realm.” The Charismatics didn’t really care, because there were so many denominations represented, that the Christianese spoken there sounded like the Tower of Babel.             

However, it was a different story with the Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs); I had to learn what not to say to an Adventist member. I was afraid to open my mouth for fear that everyone would realize I couldn’t speak their language, or that the language I used was of a foreign denominational descent. I still had the flavor of my previous associations with non-Seventh-day Adventist Christianity on my tongue. Alas, what to do? There was no Rosetta Stone CD on how to learn to speak “SDA!”

This may sound ridiculous to a second or third generation Adventist, but it’s not so funny when you’re outside the denominational language barrier. Even though someone has made Jesus Christ Lord of their life and served Him to the best of their ability and knowledge, they often feel their fellow members think that if they can’t say it right, then they must not have it right.

Although it really shouldn’t matter if you say you were “Born-Again, Saved or baptized into the Church,” for some reason it does matter to some people, and if we’re not careful, we can do great harm to those who fervently seek the truth our denomination has to offer.  We must be aware that they’re in a learning process. I’ve been a Seventh-day Adventist for close to twelve years now, and I still hear new terminology periodically. 

There’s a story in the Bible that speaks directly to this issue—a story of how words can wound, discourage, and even destroy lives.

“The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, ‘Let me cross over,’ the men of Gilead would say to him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he said, ‘No,’ then they would say to him, ‘Then say, “Shibboleth!”’ And he would say, ‘Sibboleth,’ for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.” Judges 12:5-6.

How very careful we must be with those who are trying their best to walk our walk, but are still unable to talk our talk. They may come through our doors wearing wedding bands and dripping in diamonds and pearls, but we must be conscious of a simple but beautiful truth—at least they came through our doors! They’re looking for truth, not a lecture—they’re looking for Christ, not criticism. We must allow them the opportunity to come in just as they are, and permit the Holy Spirit time to change them. I’ve caught a lot of fish through the years, but I’ve never caught a filet. Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19), but He is the only one that can “clean” them—never us! If we’ll just catch them, and allow God to clean them, it will make it a lot easier on everyone involved—especially for those who can’t say “Shibboleth.”

  Pastor Hal Steenson

2 thoughts on ““Can You Say Shibboleth?”

  1. Hi Hal,
    This hit home for me. Our new Pastor came to visit for the first time. As we talked, he wanted to know about my life! ( boy O boy Hal , you know!!! )
    I told him I was saved when I was sixteen, had back slid in my mid 20s, for the next 20 yrs. He asked me what religion I was then, I told him it was a Pentecostal church. He said, “When you said you were saved, I knew that you were not born an SDA.” I then understood why I have felt like an ‘outsider’ for the past 10 yrs. I still don’t know the language! We all must learn the universal language Jesus spoke, love.
    With His Love, and mine,

  2. Hi Hal,

    Your words ring loud and clear; especially your last paragraph which sums it all up perfectly. We are just sent messengers and He, Jesus, is the master teacher. Again, another thought provoking lesson. Thank you Hal.

    Pastor Roy

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