frozen chosen

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With Thanksgiving around the corner, the weather will soon be chilly (if it isn’t already in your part of the country). It’s the perfect season to think about God’s “frozen chosen.”

The Christianese term frozen chosen is one of those interesting expressions that has a lot of different meanings — four to be exact. Some slang terms are just so fun to say that they catch on in several quarters of the wide world that is the Christian church. Frozen chosen rhymes, it has a vivid mental image (frozen!), and it uses the Bible word “chosen” (think: God’s chosen people). There’s a lot to love in this slang term.

So, about those four meanings. Primarily, the term refers to those Christians who are more reserved in their religious life. “Holy Rollers” these frozen chosen Protestants most certainly ain’t. The stereotypical frozen chosen are the the folks in the Presbyterian and the Episcopalian denominations, though really the members of any church (in any denomination) can be labeled as “frozen.” It just has to do with how stiff and reserved they are. See the first 2006 citation in sense 1 below for a subtle reference to someone’s old Methodist congregation as a bunch of “frozen chosen.”

The other senses of the term are less common, but they’re still worth reporting. Sense 2 is very similar to the sense just described, except it focuses on a low amount of emotion or joy in life. Whereas in sense 1 the emphasis is on churches that have a more liturgical and formal style of worship, sense 2 is about Christians who seem glum and torpid, despite the fact that they presumably have “the joy of the Lord in their heart.” You might say that in sense 1 the frozen chosen are frozen with respect to their style of worship, whereas in sense 2 the frozen chosen are frozen with respect to their personality or demeanor.

A slightly more disparaging use of the term is when charismatic Christians use it to poke gentle fun at Christians who aren’t as enthusiastic about the use of the spiritual gifts. It’s easy to find charismatics who will climb over pews to lay hands on you for prayers for healing, or who will get down on their knees, sometimes in tears, to pray for the power of God to manifest itself in people’s lives. When you compare that kind of vigorous praying and worship, then I suppose by comparison some of the other denominations would seem a bit frozen. Probably some charismatics wish that Christians who aren’t as keen on the spiritual gifts would thaw out a little and get “on fire” for the Lord!

Lastly, there is a particularly tongue-in-cheek use of the term: some Christians actually use frozen chosen to refer to Christians who live in cold-weather parts of the world. The one good published citation I was able to find referred to Christians in Wisconsin (where it does, in fact, get very cold around this time of year), though the usage of the term isn’t restricted to Wisconsin, nor do only Lutherans use it. I also found some references to Jewish people using the term, but since this is a Dictionary of Christianese (not a Dictionary of Jewishese), I couldn’t very well include those references, could I?

Have you heard the term frozen chosen? If so, in which of these senses did you hear it?

(P.S. You can find the definition of First Church of the Frigidaire at the blog post for Bedside Baptist.)

frozen chosen n.
1. Also: God’s frozen chosen. Christians in mainline denominations whose church services and styles of worship are more formal and orderly than the services of other denominations such as Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and charismatics. Christians designated “the frozen chosen” are usually Presbyterians (see citations for 1978, 1991, 1993a, 1995, 1997a, 2000, 2003), Episcopalians (see citations for 1984, 1993b, 1996, 1997b), or members of other mainline denominations (2000, 2006ab, 2010),
See also *First Church of the Frigidaire 1.
1978 Cassidy, Osei-Mensah Together in One Place 69 : In fact in South Africa the Presbyterians who used to be referred to as the “frozen-chosen” are now being re-Christened the “hot-scots!” 1984 Flake Redemptorama 221 : Popular pentecostal speaker General Ralph Haines, Jr., a retired cavalry officer who had become the comedian of the charismatic circuit, liked to describe his staid, complacent role as traditional Episcopalian, before he was “zapped” by pentecostalism: “I was sacramentalized but not evangelized. I was one of God’s frozen chosen.” Whereas evangelical worship services tended to be predictable and nonparticipatory, … pentecostal prayer meetings were spontaneous and personal. 1985 Treat Setting Your Course 81 : God desires for us to clap and lift up our hands. I specifically put this in here because a lot of people come from the “First Church of the Frigidaire.” There are many people who are a part of the “frozen chosen,” so they get nervous when you start clapping and praising the Lord. 1985 Seamands Healing of Memories 188 : They have then become withdrawn and unable to form close and intimate interpersonal relationships. With such persons, sometimes known as “God’s Frozen Chosen,” it [=therapy] can bring release from buried resentments, forgiveness, and the freedom to move on to genuine emotional and spiritual maturity. 1991 Perspectives vols. 6–8 68 : Presbyterians, especially, are masters of being reserved in worship. “God’s frozen chosen,” as we have begun referring to ourselves lately, with a perverse pride, like to be in control of ourselves. 1993 Costen African American Christian Worship 16 : To assume, for instance, that all African American Presbyterians should be numbered among the “frozen-chosen” is to ignore the dynamics of “Spirit-filled” churches such as those in rural sections of North and South Carolina and Georgia. 1993 Taylor Ordinary Miracles: Life in a Small Church 278 : “Surely these are not members of God’s ‘frozen chosen,’” she wrote, using the term for aloof, high church Episcopalians. 1995 Cincinnati Mag. (May) 5 : At Knox Presbyterian Church … the men wore coats and ties, and the women were in heels and nylons. I had understood that things had loosened up considerably, that I might see some jeans and flannel shirts. “Some have,” laughed a woman in the congregation. “But Presbyterians are not called the Frozen Chosen for nothing.” 1996 Myers Larceny and Old Lace 119 : The last time someone clapped during a song, it was revealed that she was an undercover Methodist with no plans to convert. We Episcopalians proudly bear the label God’s Frozen Chosen. 1997 Teykl Pray the Price 81 : The Presbyterians, sometimes affectionately referred to as the “frozen chosen” because of their strict adherence to traditional protocol, are taking some bold, innovative steps in calling their body to prayer. 1998 Todd Tales and Irreverences of a Country Parson 452 : As Episcopalians, we have always prided ourselves on being the “frozen chosen” people of God. Everything we do in worship is written word-for- word in our prayer book; we always know exactly what everyone is going to say and do, with no surprises. 2000 Bloesch The Holy Spirit 204 : Pentecostalism may contain more heat than light, but the communities of God’s “frozen chosen” (the mainline churches) need heat as well as light, the Holy Spirit as well as the Word of God. 2000 Foote, Thornburg Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt 54 : Can the Presbyterian frozen chosen be thawed? … For Presbyterians, the label “frozen chosen” has often been aplied as a joke about our discomfort with emotion. In most Presbyterian churches, worship is a rather staid affair. 2003 Stroupe, Leach O Lord, Hold our Hands 20 : Presbyterians are not often accused of enjoying God in worship in a glorious fashion.6 Indeed, our nickname is the “frozen chosen.” 2006 Bass Christianity for the Rest of Us 175 : In the 1970s, while my best friend valiantly struggled with boring mainline religion at Scottsdale Congregational, I left my Methodist church in favor of a lively evangelical congregation. There, former mainline Protestants ridiculed their old churches as God’s “frozen chosen” and congratulated themselves on having found a new church where faith was vital, exciting, transforming. 2006 Sloan Flirting with Monasticism 14 : We were a mix of frozen-chosen mainline denominations, liturgy-loving Catholics and hand-raising Pentecostals. 2007 Browne The Sweet Potato Queens’ 17 : “Daddy was brought up Baptist, but the only church within walking distance of their first house was Presbyterian, so apparently we were predestined to be the Frozen Chosen.” 2009 Garrett We Get to Carry Each Other 48 : Think of those denominations sitting in American church buildings who are sometimes referred to—or call themselves—the “frozen chosen”; they may have chosen a less-emotional—and perhaps, inspired—worship and faith practice. 2010 Guice From Pentecostal to Episcopalian 127 : The mainline Protestant church has often been referred to as the “frozen chosen.”
2. Christians who show very little emotion or excitement in their religious life.
1998 Van Pelt Intensive Care 35 : As God’s “frozen chosen,” we often go about our spiritual duty with little evidence of joy or spontaneity. Kids enjoy being around people who have a good sense of humor. 2001 Page Becoming a Woman of Passion 218 : God doesn’t want us to be the “Frozen Chosen.” He wants us to be women of passion … and He wants us to feel passionately about Him. He offers us a love affair of the heart, the soul, the spirit. If you aren’t feeling an emotional connection. 2011 Martin Between Heaven and Mirth 29 : If you’re Catholic, you may know priests who make you wonder how they can “celebrate” (the official term) the Mass when they never crack a smile. If you’re a member of another Christian denomination, you may know pastors, ministers, or elders who exemplify the “frozen chosen.”
3. Label occasionally applied by charismatics to Christians who are reluctant to indulge in the more spectacular spiritual gifts; people who are accused of being reluctant or unwilling to participate in the use of spiritual gifts.
See also *First Church of the Frigidaire 2; *HTR.
2009 Klassen Strange Fire, Holy Fire : Have you ever jokingly referred to non-charismatic churches as “God’s frozen chosen”? … Many of us charismatics looked (or still look) down on noncharismatics.
4. Christians in colder parts of the world, such as the northern United States.
1989 The Northwestern Lutheran vols. 76-77 59 : There is a little evangelism chuckle going around amongst us [here in Wisconsin] that sets us down as “the frozen chosen.” (It should be noted that the epithet was first used to describe Episcopalians, not WELS [=Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod] folk.)
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