In a translation effort, a group came across a plural form of diakonia, a Greek noun that can be translated “ministry” or “service.”
Oh, no. . . .
Each of those English words has become so corrupted by Christendom’s recent history that one ought to be especially careful when using either one. These days, ministry/ministries and service/services both connote institutionalized, programmed religious practice that seems quite different from what I read about in scripture. This observation begs the question of cultural shifting, i.e., what was appropriate then wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate now, but I persist in speaking against causing church to become a business-type enterprise. That just can’t be what Jesus and Andrew and Thomas and Ananias and Paul and James and Lydia and Epaphras and Onesimus and Barnabas and Mary and John and countless others were so compelled by.
In discussing worship words, Karen Jobes commented that a certain word had become ” . . . too conditioned by Western culture to adequately capture . . .”. I want to apply that wording here in the context of “ministry” and “service” words. Some words ought to be reexamined because of their ubiquitous misuse.
Focusing in on one of these two words . . . I’d estimate that 99.2% of the uses in Christendom of “service” or “services” are referring to “liturgical stuff people do during a specified hour on Sunday mornings in a church hall.”
A shame, that. . . .
Sure, people do also speak once in a while of serving others or serving the poor, and these are far better uses. But the sheer number of inappropriate uses of “service” totally eclipses the appropriate usage. Even those who know better can be rendered theologically impotent when the word “service” is used ineptly in their hearing. (It that struck you as gratuitously mean-sounding, just put this in the context of my wanting to share an apt quotation below. This is a critique of concepts and words in current use, not anything against individuals.) Even if one is aware of the distinction between proper usage and common, erroneous usage, it’s so much easier to fall into churchy patterns by perpetuating the mistaken reference—by using the word “services” to mean “worship and edification activities,” even though scripture does not speak like that.
In a completely different context, attorney Alan Shore from the TV series Boston Legal said,
“Somebody around here has to get angry about it. Otherwise, you’ll just go off blithely and do it again.”
I’m re-appropriating those words, too. And while I’m at it, I’ll add more dialogue from the same show.
Denny Crane: “Doesn’t do any good to sit back and criticize.”
Alan Shore: “Sometimes it does, Denny. Sometimes the most patriotic thing you can do is criticize. Liberty in this country was founded on that very ideal. How did it happen that dissent became some form of heresy?”
Apply that at will, with your own discretion and purposes.
(But please don’t make the mistake of thinking I used these quotations because of any temporal, political concerns. My biggest concerns, and those that impel most of the posts on this blog, relate directly to more lasting matters.)