I heard a phrase on a radio commercial this morning that has inspired me to start a new series here on the Pursuit of God. The series is called “Christianese 101”, and in it I will attempt to dissect and explain some of the phrases and words that you will only hear come out of a Christian’s mouth. I hope it will be at least informative, and hopefully entertaining, too.
First up, the phrase I heard on the radio commercial this morning – “Humbly Declare”
The commercial was for an area gathering of churches and people from the lowcountry here in South Carolina to worship and pray together. I want to say up front that I think that’s an awesome thing. I am always in favor of churches and people from different denominations, socio-economic levels, and ethnicities coming together to say, “You know what? We’re Christians first, and all those other things second.” So bravo to the people responsible for organizing this event. However…
The last line of the commercial exhorted people to attend so that they could “…humbly declare their faith”. That seemed like a strange phrase to me. I looked up the words ‘humble’ and ‘declare’ in a dictionary, and here’s what I found.
hum-ble (adj.) – modest and unassuming in attitude and behavior; feeling or showing respect and deference toward other people; relatively low in rank and without pretensions
hum-ble (v.) – to make someone feel less important; to degrade someone
de-clare (v.) – announce something clearly or loudly; state something formally or officially (“The chairperson declared the meeting open”); reveal something as taxable; announce action or status (to declare independence); make a decision known (declared for the presidency)
Now, I think we can safely rule out any of the definitions for ‘humble’ as a verb. Some Christians try to do that to other people, but I don’t think that fits in very well with what Jesus said, or with other scripture. I think we can also rule out ‘low in rank’ as a possibility. To say, ‘we who are low in rank declare our faith’ just doesn’t seem to make much sense.
For ‘declare’, I think we can rule out the definitions that have to do with taxing goods and formal statements. There have been probably too many formal statements on our faith through the years, and as far as I know, faith in Jesus is not taxable in the U.S. Let’s also throw out “making a decision known”. The simple fact that this commercial was advertising a gathering of/for Christians should mean that there won’t be any decisions to make known.
So that leaves us with being “modest and unassuming in attitude and behavior” and “showing respect…toward other people”. I think either one of those works. And for declaration – “announcing something clearly or loudly” and “announcing action or status”.
Now the question is, “Is it possible to both be modest and unassuming, showing deference towards others, and also to announce something loudly, possibly an action or status?” I think the answer is, “…eeehhh… maybe?” Declaration has a very bold connotation for me, and it’s a little odd to think about being humble, but also bold. I think it’s possible. In fact, I think that’s how Jesus lived his life.
I’m going to give “humbly declare” a B-. A quick BibleGateway search of KJV, NIV, NLT, Amplified Bible, and the Message, reveals that the phrase never occurs in scripture. That means that Christians made it up. I think the phrase makes at least some sense, provided you have the right definition for each of its components. The real problem is that, without checking a dictionary carefully, or writing/reading a 700-word blog post, it can seem like an oxymoron (think ‘jumbo shrimp’ or ‘limited nuclear war’) to the uninitiated.