Every generation of Christians has faced one similar issue; how does one promote the Gospel of Jesus within the cultural context of your society without compromising the very nature of the Gospel. How do you promote the Gospel inclusively when it is somewhat exclusive, what is Gospel and what are cultural tradition?
If you read much on the subject you will quickly discover people on the post-modern end of the debate throwing the baby out with the bath water in my opinion. In many cases anything that is not palatable to this culture in the Gospel must be thrown out as simply our cultural interpretations. Of course on the other end you have the fundies those people who think anything not sold in a Jesus junk flea market (your local Christian book store) is of the devil. They refuse to allow their views of how culture should be to be altered by reality.
When examining church, culture and Gospel, it is easy to live in two while discarding the third, although to be honest with ourselves and our God all three must be examined. Forgetting the Gospel turns your church into a good persons club. You will reach out to the culture to feed the poor, or change society but normally will not call people to repentance; that would not be sensitive. Omitting the Church gives you individual Christians or even Para-churches who reach many for Jesus but the only thing they have to call people to is reaching people to Jesus. They leave out their brothers and sisters. Excluding culture and your end result is inbred Christianity. The same people talking about the same ideas supporting their own arguments safely behind the walls of their church. Unfortunately they get on TV a lot and make fool out of themselves and embarrass us all by burning children’s books, or slandering an innocent Teletubby.
Culture is ever changing and there are some issues we have held onto as the body of Christ that fall into secondary categories of importance. Every generation has faced this since Acts 15, the Jews knew how to accept the Messiah in their own little world but suddenly Gentiles were becoming Christians and they didn’t know they were not supposed to read Harry Potter books, and that they had to still give their tithe at the temple. So Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem and asked the Apostles specifically about circumcision but really it was a question of culture. Do the Gentiles have to adopt Jesus and our Jewish culture and customs? After much debate they send a letter with Paul back to the Gentiles which contains wisdom astounding for it’s time, although much like the Wisdom of Solomon it seems trivial today.
Greetings. We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.7Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.
It did not seem good to them or the Holy Spirit to burden the people with more than these few requirements. I have never been a fan of what Mark Driscoll calls “Shot-gun wedding to Jesus” because to me so many times we are using a bait and switch technique on people. “Come to Jesus just as you are, he loves you and wants you to come right now. His love is unconditional”
“Now that you are here you need to change your clothes, your hair, your language, quit smoking, drinking, start reading the bible and praying, getting up early every Sunday morning, leave all of your old friends behind and start hanging out with all these weirdoes who are standing around your crying, no you ca not watch your favorite movies, and you have to dump your girl friend. You can not play Dungeons and Dragons any more but we do have Angels and Arch angels, no throw out Metallica and here is some Stryper” I think you get the point.
When St Patrick went into the Pagan lands he did not try to import the English culture as well as the Gospel. He redeemed the culture of the people, which is why his symbol was the shamrock; he used it to relate to the trinity to a people who had no concept of the trinity. He found ways for them to find God within their culture not destroy their culture for the sake of Christ.
Missionaries have, for years, looked into a culture and studied how to reach it but we consider “outreach” to be different, because, after all we live in a Christian culture right? It is time we begin to realize we are reaching to a culture as different as if we were going to Zimbabwe, Mongolia, or San Francisco. We need to find ways to reach the culture and redeem it if possible for the sake of Jesus Christ. The question then becomes how.
Keep an eye out for part two…It can now be found right here