I have always been interested in power - probably because I have never had any of it. I find it interesting to read my newspaper and try to understand where power is in different situations. Sometimes it is very obvious, perhaps the American military, or the wealth of the extremely rich, or perhaps the inventor or discoverer of something new and of great benefit to humankind, or perhaps the opposite. However, sometimes the power is the newspaper itself. This is especially so nowadays, not so much in newspapers, as in social media, where anyone can expound wild theories about any subject or any person with impunity.
When I was a child a popular party game was Chinese Whispers, where a sentence was passed from one person to the next in a whisper. They then had to pass it on to the next person and so on, until the person at the end of the line was asked to state it out loud. The original sentence was then read out and it rarely bore any similarity to the final version. This is how facts get distorted, and at the time of the early Church when very few people were able to read or write, there was great opportunity for falsehoods and exaggerations to arise.
The New Testament that we read today evolved after much debate in the three centuries following the life of Jesus. In the first century after Christ the written word was of less importance than the sayings of Jesus that were remembered in the oral tradition by the Apostles and those who had known Jesus. The writers of the Gospels, The Acts of the Apostles, The Epistles and the Revelation did not write their contribution as part of a “New Testament”, but were inspired by the Spirit to put pen to parchment to spread the good news about Jesus Christ and evangelise the future Church. The early Church had to scrutinise a great many writings that were circulating in the second and third centuries to ensure the fundamental doctrine of Christianity was correct in their understanding. These documents became the canon, or the New Testament, we see today. How well they did, that we will never know until we meet Christ, but to Christians they give us the words of faith, hope and love that change lives.
Words can be very powerful and sometimes a speech can resonate for centuries. I am sure that most of us can remember the “I have a dream” speech of Martin Luther King, or “The few”,or the “Fight them on the beaches” speeches by Winston Churchill. We then have the words of the great writers such as Shakespeare, Dickens, etc. who’s quotations still form a great part of our language today.
Having a “way with words” is a gift which is greatly valued, although sometimes when I see the language of texting or even emails I do worry about how our vocabulary will develop over the next generations. The language of younger generations, different ethnic groups and classes seems to be diverging from what was taught to be the Queen’s English with BBC pronunciation when I was at school. Having said that, perhaps the strictness of the formal rules of language restricted many people (including myself) from daring to experiment and play with the multitude of words that overwhelm us in our lifetime. I was always amazed at school when I saw a friend reading his dictionary, when I was much more interested in playing football. I turned out to be a useless footballer and he became a play-write and Hollywood scriptwriter. Perhaps I should have “swallowed my dictionary” as they say.
As Christians we talk of living by the word of God, and the beginning of St John’s Gospel starts with the sentence, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. St. John wants us to understand that the whole story of Jesus and our salvation is seen in the words that have come to us through God since the beginning of creation. St. John knew the power of words - that power still exists today.
In his “Battle of Britain” speech, Churchill said “Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation”. As Christians we now have another great battle - against secularisation and indifference. Churchill also said “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”. Speak up for your faith as best you can with the word of God.