Thursday, February 19, 2009

Widgets

The Gospel & Culture (Part 1)

When crossing cultures with the Gospel just how difficult of a task is it to bring “the message” to a particular people without entangling that message in the “culture” of the messenger? Does it even matter?

If by “culture” we mean eating with silverware instead of chopsticks or shaking hands instead of bowing it’s probably not very difficult to leave our culture out of the message. However, if by culture we mean the forms, practices, and mindset of the western church system it’s another matter entirely.

The message we bring to the nations is a truly radical message and, in every respect, is wholly unlike any other message on the face of the earth. Unlike the other messages, God does not respond to what we do, we respond to what God does. Unlike the other messages, the focus is not on the outward, the focus is on the inward. Unlike the other messages, God does not dwell in a building, He dwells in human hearts. And unlike the other messages, this message is not bound to a particular earthly culture or religious system, it’s bound to a unique culture all its own – kingdom culture!

But wait a minute! When we stop to take an objective look at our forms, practices and mindset what do we see? Are they more reflective of the truly unique and radical message that we hold so dear, or are they more reflective of the other “messages” that exist in the world today?

No matter how we spin it, an objective look reveals the simple fact that the other messages have special houses of worship and we have special houses of worship. The other messages have specially trained professionals and we have specially trained professionals. The other messages have sacred days and we have sacred days. The other messages have formal religious practices and we have formal religious practices. The other messages have……and we have……and the list goes on and on and on.

Our message might be unique, but to the outsider looking in our forms, practices, and mindset do not necessarily reveal anything unique at all. In fact, it can reveal just the opposite. Sure, we can spin it a thousand different ways, but when all is said and done, the outsider often sees our forms, practices, and mindset as having much more in common with the practices of other religions than with the unique and radical message that we hold so dear.

Several years ago a missionary colleague of mine was reading the Bible with a Japanese friend over lunch. The Japanese man felt badly that more Japanese didn’t go to my colleague’s church (including this particular man) and he offered a suggestion. As he put it, “We Japanese don’t feel comfortable going into a church because we don’t know what to do, but perhaps if you place a big window in the back of your church so that we Japanese can look in and watch what goes on we might feel more comfortable joining you at some point in the future.”

Interesting idea (to say the least) but let’s just say that my colleague actually took him up on his suggestion and built an observation deck outside his church. Let’s further say that this man and others like him actually came to peer in through the observation window at each gathering. After weeks of viewing our forms and practices from the observation deck, what conclusions might this Japanese man reach about our message? Would he go away with even a rudimentary understanding of the unique and radical message that we hold so dear? What exactly would he see after weeks of observation?

Well, amongst other things, he would probably see people stand up, sit down, and bow their heads on cue and in unison many times during a gathering. He would see people up front playing musical instruments and people in the general seating area singing. He would see individuals placing money into a basket as it was passed ceremoniously from person to person and row to row. He would see a professional looking person standing behind a lectern giving a very long talk, followed by more singing, followed by a mass exodus. He might even see smiling faces and genuine warmth displayed, but after weeks of observation, what might he conclude about our message and our views on “formal religious practices"? Would he be able to understand anything at all about the unique and radical message that we hold so dear from the many hours he spent peering in on us through the observation window?

Ah, but we’re forgetting something important you might say. Observation alone isn’t enough. He also needs to hear the message in order to understand and believe. Furthermore, what he might see as formal religious practices is not at all the substance of our message it’s just how we go about “organizing” ourselves. After all, relationships are what matter most.

Yes, that’s certainly true, but that’s precisely the point. The problem isn’t necessarily in what we say, or in what we profess to believe, and it’s definitely not in the message we hold so dear. The problem lies in the centuries-old system that we've built up around the message, particularly the "forms" we deem to be indispensable to every "legitimate" body of believers.

Simply put, if those things are not the substance of our message, why in the world do we organize ourselves as if they are the substance of our message? If relationships matter the most to us, why do we organize ourselves as if formal religious practices matter most? Why don’t we organize ourselves according to the substance of our message or at least be willing to allow the new believers in other nations/cultures the freedom to do so?

Furthermore, if Jesus walked among us in the flesh today, would He come to the defense of our existing forms, practices, and mindset? Would He consider the "system" we have built as indispensable to the message? What insights can we glean from the Scriptures about these crucial issues? What can we learn about the tension between the Gospel, culture, and our prevailing mindset as we go to the nations?

If you have any thoughts fire away ... stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

29 comments:

  1. YES!
    This is exactly what I hoped to reflect in my post back to the Jailbreaker a few days ago.
    What I did in places too many to list was disregard anything that resembled the West and its attempt to box God into a form and factor we are used to. It involved completely immersing one's self in the culture and practices. Forget church. We drank gallons of tea and debated and discussed poetry (they are so very proud of their poets). But in order to debate, I had to read their text (albeit the Q'uran). Without that basic knowledge it is impossible to go on.
    So, in a soundbite, forget the orthodoxy, develop the relationship, and immerse in their beliefs.
    Open for discussion/debate/questioning.

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  2. Glad to hear it resonated with you, Patrick. Thanks!

    Wow, you really got right up close and personal with the people in the Middle East. Nothing like a cup of tea to get a good conversation going.

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  3. What I love about this post, Jailbreaker, is that it reverses our usual thought process about culture. Generally, we talk about culture as something we need to connect with: "Let's put in an Internet cafe at the back of the sancutuary ... kids these days love that". The problem with that is that ignores the way our "religion" also has a culture, which may obscure the substance of the message.

    Of course, it's become a modern cliche that Christianity is a "relationship, not a religion." As you have pointed out, that distinction is easily lost when we otherwise behave like a religion.

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  4. This article really hit home with me (as you knew it would!) but I think you are missing a major point. While you and several of your readers are dealing with bringing the message to cultures different than ours, the same problem exists right here in America.

    Many people do not truly understand what goes on in a church and if they come in off the street may leave with no further enlightenment unless the PEOPLE make them feel welcome and help them to understand. It is the PEOPLE and how they live their lives and relate to others that will show who Christ is, not the building, not the music, not the lecture.

    Our God does not reside in a building and we should not treat our religion as though He does. Our God resides within us and the way we live our lives should be a testement to that. How can we expect others to see what we believe by attending a church when we do not show them what we believe in every moment of our life? You stated that, "God does not respond to what we do, we respond to what God does." It is that very response that should be the tool to deliver God's wonderful message. For me, the "church" is for those who already believe to gather together to strenghthen that belief, to find support, encouragement, and knowledge, but I don't know a single person who came to know Jesus by attending a church. It was always a PERSON and the relationship with that person that led them to Christ.

    Just preaching the Bible is not enough. To truly deliver the message you must live it.

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  5. Good thoughts, Kerry. I was hoping that someone would say something about this applying to us right here in America and I'm glad you did.

    If people see the absurdity of bringing this "stuff" to other nations, my hope is that we would also see the absurdity of bringing this "stuff" to our own country.

    In many ways, we must "think like missionaries" right here in our own country and these issues very much apply to us.

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  6. I have always believed 'house churches' fit better as a model referencing Paul's days.. Altho they did attend synagogues, it seems the spread of early Christianity happened in homes?

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  7. The organized church looks hypocritical in the light of Biblical Doctrine, we preach prosperity and not contentment, we ridicule the poor instead of helping them, and we still practice segregation every Sunday...in spite of an integrated church after Pentecost...yes we look bad.

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  8. I thank you for this question! Sadly, we do look bad ... really bad. My son, a non believer, chooses to point out the 'christians' who have fallen ... and lied about it; those who don't love the lovely, yet alone the unlovely; those who gossip and as said above, practice segregation. It can be challenging to find a church that is truly focused on the Word of God and not on man made, religious traditions.

    When our actions match our beliefs then those peering in from outside will want what we have. They will want our joy, our caring for one another, our humility ... they will want to know how we can love in today's society, turn our other cheek when someone hurts us, and forgive! They will want to know how we prosper in bad times; they will want to know Jesus, who died on the cross - just for them!

    This topic is a wonderful reminder that the world is very eagerly watching to point the finger as my son does .... but when we, by the grace of God, walk in love as 1 Cor 13 describes, then they will see humble servants who seek to be in right relationship with God ... humbly, lovingly and joyfully ~ loving them as Christ loves us!

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  9. Great points, Michelle. I am a believer and some members of my family are non-believers, who always point to the scandals of the church to tell me what a fool I am to believe. But I think, each one of us is part of the church's image. Personally, I try to live every day as He would like me to, so although I can not control how the church looks like at least I can control how I project my love for Him to others.

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  10. “America has thousands of churches! There are some in Cathedrals, Small Chapels, Storefronts, Private Homes and Warehouses. Some of these churches are denominational and some are not, some are traditional and some are very unique, and finally some are growing and unfortunately MANY are DYING! There are a lot of churches, ministries, and Christian Centers that are on life support spiritually. Why? I believe the question is on the hearts and minds of many Pastors and church members, and the answer is available…BUT can we handle the TRUTH?

    The truth is something most Christians avoid like the plague! Why? I think we (Christians) would rather blame the devil for things that are really our fault and responsibility. Is the devil our enemy? Of course he is! But WE reap what WE sow. The church preaches a lot about sowing and reaping, especially when it comes to money and wealth. If you read the verses in Malachi about tithes, read carefully! It wasn’t the people God was rebuking, IT WAS THE PRIEST! But many churches lay this on the members and yet they don’t practice what they preach. Tithes in the Old Testament were not JUST for the priest! The Levites, The Strangers (homeless), The Widows, and the Fatherless ALL benefited from the tithe.

    Local churches are supposed to make an impact on the communities they are in by GIVING back, (Matt. 5:14-16) Sinners should have to even confess and admit that the Church in their community makes a difference in the neighborhood! I want to give you ten answers to the QUESTION! “Why is my church dying!” Hold on to your hat’s the answers may shake up your traditional thinking…and make you THINK!” It is not a sin to think outside of the box of tradition…it is a sin to stay ineffective.

    There is nothing wrong with having a storefront church! But if after 20 years your storefront church still has the same 12 members, you need to padlock the door and admit your church is dead! Saints should beget saints, we were saved to lead others to salvation in Jesus Christ!

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  11. It seems to me that the purpose of the church is different from the purpose of the church meeting. The church is the body of Christ, through which he touches the world, and draws the lost unto himself. Church meetings, however should edify (build up) the body and its members. Church service should be service to the field of ministry, the members of the body reaching beyond the boundary of the church.

    So, think of the church gathered as the place where the members of the body of Christ come together to serve one another through their various gifts. Then the church dispurses into the world, eyes open to see the needs, and hearts open to demonstrate the love and grace of Christ. Once again, the church comes together to report the needs and the opportunties to serve, pray for the needs, and determine how to respond to the needs and opportunities to serve. It is like breathing. Inhale (come together to strengthen and be strengthen, and to share the needs discovered in the field of ministry), and exhale (go out to meet those needs, serve the field of ministry, and be the channel of God's grace to the world). In the process of serving there will be people who are attracted to Christ, and who will become believers. That should happen in the place where the believers encounter the world, out in the field of ministry. The idea of a church meeting targeting the lost to bring them in to be preached to is very different from any image of the church I see in the New Testament. It is no wonder people outside of the church are confused.

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  12. Some really good thoughts brewing here……

    If you haven’t had the chance to review the post/comments on Ministry Models a few weeks back, we had a long discussion about the difference between viewing the church from an “organizational perspective” and viewing the church from a “kingdom perspective.” We also talked a great deal about scriptural “functions” vs. man-made “forms.”

    That subject and this subject are closely tied together and if you haven’t checked it out I think you’ll find it interesting. Your continued comments on both posts are welcome.

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  13. I notice that the Japanese man is looking at the building. But Christ's church is not a building, not on Earth anyway. We, the people, are His Church. So what do WE look like from the outside? For if we show Christ to those who are looking, then we have shown the seeker the Church, the Bride of Christ.

    Church meeting places are not the same. Some are grand temples or shrines; some are storefronts or houses; some are huddles in basements in secret. But the real Church, which is all of us, should shine the same; a reflection of Christ Jesus and His message to all the wold through the sharing of His Gospel. :)

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  14. I was looking for a church home 1.5 years ago and the librarian at my school asked if I had a church home while he was preparing my library card. Three months later I decided to visit his church. I walked into this church alone with hundreds of people and I was the only black person.

    I received so many hugs, hand shakes, and smiles that I knew I was home. I began to write down everyone's name because every Sunday several people would introduce themselves to me. they knew my name but I couldn't remember theirs. When I do not attend its obvious so the next Sunday, I hear, how are you we missed you:)

    Church is so much more than the music and food (and I love food), its about God's people coming together to worship.Looking in from the outside I may have been uncomfortable to enter, but I knew that God was there. And even though no one looked like me physically, spiritually we are brothers and sisters.

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  15. What I appreciate about Shoni's comment above is that it gets to the question of "So What?" It's one thing to complain about the church, it's quite another to figure out how to change it. Moreover, there are many many authentic, growing believers in the church meetings/buildings. So what do they do?

    Jailbreaker, I know you have lived out this problem in Japan, and actually have done a lot toward setting forth a positive way forward for those you led to Christ there. I look forward to you talking about some of your lessons learned, so that we can figure out how to move in that direction here where we live.

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  16. One of the things I enjoy in reading the 4 Gospels as well as the book of Acts, is how open the meetings were and how real. Can you imagine Jesus and the Apostles making sure they had on the proper attire? They were wearing the cloths they fished in all day long and they must have smelled too yet they were just like the people in the crowds and not alloof. They were focused on the message and not the show.

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  17. I’ve been away all day and am just now catching up on all the interesting comments posted today. I’m a bit torn on how much I should comment because some of what I’d like to say right now is going to be covered when I post Part 2 next week. But let me at least say the following……

    When I read Shoni’s powerful testimony of God’s love shining through God’s people, it reminded me immediately of how God used a similar situation in my own life to bring me to Himself, that is, through the love of God’s people. The forms, practices, and mindset I observed had no negative impact on me at all. I was connected with God’s people in a deeply meaningful way and, like Shoni, that’s all that mattered to me.

    What a beautiful picture was painted in that testimony and many of us “listening in” know exactly what Shoni is talking about. Unfortunately there are also many who don’t know what Shoni is talking about. For whatever reason, there are millions upon millions who simply will never darken the doorstep of a church building (especially those living in the rocky soil nations as discussed in the “Ministry Models” post a few weeks back -- if you haven’t checked it out please do so -- it’s critical to this discussion).

    I guess what I’m endeavoring to do in this particular post on culture is to suggest that, for the sake of the Gospel, we might just need to take a closer look at a few things that we have been historically resistant to examine. My purpose is not to bash the bride of Christ, but to get us looking with fresh eyes at some key issues that may not be as obvious here in the States as it is overseas (particularly in the rocky soil nations).

    My hope is that through this, we will have some very constructive discussion that will bring about change in all our lives. I don't know about you but I go away deeply enriched from constructive discussions so keep the comments coming!

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  18. I just love your thoughts, Jailbreaker!
    When I think about culture and Christianity in the context of our discussion, I guess what is at stake is the fact that our model of church doesn't (and really can't) connect with another culture. Really what we are dealing with is how we organize Christians in fellowship with one another. How did we start the journey? When did we begin to change our focus?
    Somewhat oversimplified, our Christian culture in the United States began as a community, planted in a New World (new to Europeans, at least) to create a pure church. Their vision of a church was a body of believers in covenant with Christ and with one another, accountable to each other, possessing a high view of Scripture and a mistrust of their own motives. Gradually, through our own history we traded community for individuality as we settled the frontiers. American Christians tend to think as individuals and our churches reflect our fragmentation. Consider how we divide our church worship services into contemporary or traditional and have small groups for every age group or interest. It is the penetration of the church by the market. In a broad sense, we "do church" as individuals without building community in the church. Americans select churches, not because they see people loving each other in a variety of situations, but because they "meet my needs" a phrase I interpret as "this church is entertaining or the pastor preaches interesting sermons, there are lots of activities for us and our kids, and the music is great." The church as portrayed in the first few chapters of Acts is an anomaly - people willing to lay down their lives and possessions for others, confront sin lovingly, and preach the truth. And lest someone say that I long for a golden age, we must recall that even the early church was full of imperfect people. So were the churches of 17th century Puritans.
    Right or wrong, this is the way it has been and it is hard to for the leopard to trade in his spots for a new coat, particularly as post-modernist attitudes continue to make inroads into the church. Not only wouldn't we want to impose our forms on other cultures, we really can't. No cultural form, be it social, political, economic, or religious can be "cut and pasted" onto another culture. Period. Certainly, there are absolutes which can and should be (justice, freedom, human dignity to name a few) but even these can and will be interpreted in was that are culturally accepted while still biblically sound.
    Still, in some ways I think we are asking the wrong questions. Perhaps it is best to ask, not "how do I adapt to this culture?" but "how do I bring these people I love face to face with Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the word of God?" Then, we need to ask "how can I get these lovers of Jesus Christ to love one another?"
    Josh McDowell has said that adults in our own country need to recognize that we have two cultures (I would add "at least two") in our churches today - that of the adults and that of our youth.
    As I walk into the classroom every day in a Christian school and face this youth culture head on, it is not as crucial for me to speak their language or to know their songs as it is to answer the cry of their heart, spoken or unspoken: "We want to see Jesus." And once they see Jesus, how do I then teach them to love one another instead of tearing each other apart as teens do. Unless we all see church culture in these terms, we do not see the church (or Christ) rightly.

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  19. Deep thoughts, Chief, as usual! Thanks! It's always helpful to get some perspective on how we got where we are at this point in history. As you pointed out so well, it didn't just happen overnight and it's only natural to think my preferred approach to life right now (i.e. culture, whether secular or religious) is the norm that everyone around the world should follow.

    We can't escape culture, but we can become more keenly aware of how to live out the mindset and values of "kingdom culture" in the midst of culture. That includes, by the way, how the mindset and values of kingdom culture intersect with the "Christian system" that is so deeply established in believers' minds today.

    I particularly love the two questions you recommended. A simple study of the "one another" and "each other" verses in Scripture tells us more about what truly makes a church "legitimate" than most of the usual stuff we commonly refer to as indispensable.

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  20. The Church is a place for fellow christians to gather to hear the good news. Matthew 18:20 -- For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." Hebrews 10:25 -- not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. The Shepherd or Pastor delivers the word to GOD's people to help them to live life more abundantly and to help us become the men and women of GOD that he (GOD) would have us to be. Hebrews 10:14-15 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" We are put on this earth to give GOD the glory everyday that we walk our pilgrim journey. Although it does get difficult with the many trials, obstacles and disappointments in life, we have to press on to do good. Proverbs 24:10 If thou faint in the day of adversity, thou strength is small. We are to encourage our brothers and sisters; those who are in the church, as well as those who are not in the church. Christians are supposed to be an example to the rest of the world who does not understand or choose not to believe in GOD and his son, Jesus Christ. Matthew 5:16 -- Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

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  21. The notion of a window so that the Japaniese on lookers might feel more comfortable and perhaps enter was an intriguing story. As Christians we are charged with spreading the gospel and exposing people to the word; as salvation is a gift and it is recieved voluntarily or rejected the same way. I like the metaphor of Christ knocking at the door. It takes effort to open the door, it takes a readiness to recieve, but we must be interested enough to let the Good Master in!

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  22. Yes, Jerry, for that Japanese man to suggest such a thing does indeed make for an intriguing story. Japanese just like being helpful but Westerners often take them literally when they're really only trying to show interest in our interests.

    I can't tell you how many new missionaries think they've led a Japanese person to Christ simply because they "prayed the prayer" with them - only to learn later that they didn't want to hurt the feelings of their new found friend and would have gladly done anything asked of them (including bowing down to Allah 5 times a day).

    I recall a funny story of a missionary preaching in a Tokyo marketplace shortly after WWII. The missionary sensed that one particular man was under conviction and motioned for him to come closer. The man came forward as the missionary requested, but all he wanted to know was whether the hair on the missionary's forearm was for real (since he had never before seen red hair on someone's arm).

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  23. "... the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor. 1:18)
    "... we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor. 1:23,24)

    These two verses, to me anyhow, make it pretty much indisputable that those who preached the gospel in the 1st century saw themselves as preaching a message that was hardly "culturally conditioned". Jailbreaker's post does a good job of making the point that many of us have lost sight of that truth.

    However, there seems to be a tendency to draw from this insight some conclusions that, in the end, are simply indefensible, prominent among them the notion that what we call the "visible church" is more of a hindrance than anything else, and all that matters is what we call the "invisible church".

    It would be an error to try to argue from the New Testament either that the only content one can find there for what "the church" is supposed to mean is either the "visible" or the "invisible church", to the exclusion of the other. But more than one commentator has pointed out that, if one chose to do so, it would be the "visble church" that would have much the stronger case. The very fact of Paul's letters is a case in point. They were written to particular groups of believers, organized and with officers, and it was generally expected that they would be read to particular congregations - and passed on to other particular congregations. Included among their exhortations is one "to respect those among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work." (1 Thess. 5:12,13). The writer to the Hebrews offers a similar admonition. (Heb. 13:17) It would be hard to defend the notion that these admonitions meant anything to believers who never met with other believers, and who weren't under the care of elders. Finally, Paul's pastoral letters make it clear that God does call certain men to to oppose those who will come into the church and try to corrupt its message (1 Tim. 1:3,4), and, instead to proclaim its true message (2 Tim. 4:1,2), and also to pass on their charge (2 Tim. 2:1,2). Moreover, these letters make it clear that congregations should, if they can, afford these men support, so that they can pursue this calling. (1 Tim. 5:17,18)

    So there it lies: Yes, we are one with "all the saints" in all ages and places, but we gather in particular congregations, which meet in particular places, have men in their midst who are called to proclaim God's word to them, and to "keep watch over their souls" (Heb. 13:17), and whom we are exhorted to support to that they can be free to do this, "professional clergy", if you will, or some other term if you won't. (Whatever term you choose for Christ's ministers, be sure not to make it one of denigration. One retired minister I know told me that he knew it was time to retire, when he found that he was the one who was crying in a counseling session. My personal opinion is that to treat him dismissively would be picking a fight with his Lord.)

    Of course, there are dangers in this: If we gather as particular congregations in particular cultures, we will be tempted to confuse what is merely cultural in our organization for its essence. Even worse, the church will find "false sons in her pale" who will make it their business to substitute the culture's message and agenda for God's. We have to recognize that and constantly examine and reform ourselves. What we don't have to do is to fall into the trap of thinking that we should treat the "visible church" with contempt and devote ourselves exclusively to the "invisible church". Indeed, we should be very careful that we're not falling into a prideful trap when we think that way.

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  24. Thanks for your thoughts, Presbyter, your admonition is much appreciated. Though I can only speak for myself and not for others, I very much regret that you see disrespect where no disrespect is intended.

    I agree, we most certainly do stand today on the shoulders of the men and women of God who have gone before us, and as you put it, are one with all the saints in all ages and places. To see it otherwise is not only contempt for our spiritual heritage, it’s foolishness.

    However, the essence of what we’re exploring here (as we are in the rocky soil nations) is how do we honor the past without being bound to it? Every generation is faced with new challenges and are we to assume that there are no “new Luther’s and Calvin’s” being raised up by God to meet those challenges today? Did not the reformers themselves meet with the same criticism of “disrespect” (and more) even though it was their hearts passion to help perfect the bride of Christ and not to denigrate her? Are we to say to this generation, don’t question what exists? Should our goal be to silence the questions?

    As I pointed out in a previous post, there is little doubt that we are in the middle of yet another major paradigm shift in church history. The challenge of taking the Gospel to the rocky soil nations of the world is forcing us, albeit kicking and screaming, to go back to the Scriptures to reexamine some of our deeply rooted assumptions about ministry and church. And yes, unfortunately, it’s going to be messy. There will always be those who want to criticize what exists for the sake of criticism, but that does not take away from the urgency of the moment. For the sake of the mobility and purity of the Gospel could we do any less?

    So, on behalf of all the so-called “revolutionaries” (as Jailer puts it), please accept our sincere apologies for even the hint of disrespect toward what exists because no disrespect is intended. My hope is that Part 2 on the Gospel & Culture will do more to help clarify the issues and I welcome your feedback.

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  25. Chief, Presbyter & Jailbreaker -- Actually, I think the creative tension here is very productive, and I'm happy to see it. I think this is the kind of wrestling over issues that can really help us all sort through these issues. There is a tendency to either glibly bandwagon ("Amen brother") or blindly react ("You heretic") to the Jailbreakers of the world. I think this kind of respectful but direct debate is just the kind we need to have more of.

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  26. There was a missionary who was a medical doctor in England and he was called by God to be a missionary in China. When he arrived there he saw that the missionaries there were not being accepted by the Chinese because they were aloof and the Chinese had a hard time with it. So he became Chinese, he dyed his hair black and grew it long and in a pony tail like all the Chinese men of the day. He also wore Chinese attire and got rid of his British attire. Then he went to the local people and preached the gospel. They heard and received it. That missionary is Hudson Taylor who ended up being the most successful missionary ever in China.

    The obstacle was the dress code and also the idea that Jesus is a foreign God. Hudson overcame both by changing his European dress code and explaining God was not European.

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  27. Good point, Stacey! I just showed that picture of the Cambridge Seven to my world history students today in a discussion on Imperialism. There they are all decked out and looking very Chinese!

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  28. I have just finished reading a very good book by Dave Gibbons called, "The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church" published by Zondervan, 2009. It shed much light on how we can be and why we must be a third-culture church Body. I recommend it.

    On a similar note, I find that we spend, on average, one weekend a year at a major Christian leadership conference to learn about "being one Body in Christ" and reaching out in unity, then we go back to our own churches for 51 weeks were we practice "denominationalism" and our differences. Somehow we have that backwards.

    In His Service.

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  29. You assume that the gospel is primarily a "message" that can somehow be separated from "practices" and "forms." Georges Florovsky, a Russian Orthodox theologian (does that make him "Western"?), contends instead that "Christianity entered history as a new social order, or rather a new social dimension. From the very beginning... See More Christianity was not primarily a 'doctrine,' but exactly a 'community'. There was not only a 'Message' to be proclaimed and delivered, and “Good News” to be declared. There was precisely a New Community, distinct and peculiar, in the process of growth and formation, to which members were called and recruited. Indeed, 'fellowship' (koinonia) was the basic category of Christian existence. Primitive Christians felt themselves to be closely knit and bound together in a unity which radically transcended all human boundaries—of race, of culture, of social rank, and indeed the whole dimension of 'this world'.”

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