Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Problem of Modern Evangelism Part 2

By S. Michael Durham

The following blog post is second in a series. (The first is here.)

Several key passages of Scripture give us special insight into the evangelistic methods of the apostles. One text of Scripture often cited is 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. It is a key passage stating Paul’s missionary intentions.
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
The famed apostle tells us that there is a pre-evangelistic work to be done. He would not argue against lowering as many barriers as possible to the hearing of the gospel. There is some truth to being relevant to audience. Whoever heard of someone trying to sell his products speaking a language the consumer did not understand? Surely, there needs to be some point of identification. Even Jesus became a man in order to win men. Thus, Paul’s cultural behavior took on the customs of the people group he was trying to reach. If he was preaching to Jews, he said, “I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews.” This in itself is a remarkable statement considering Paul was a Jew. What does he mean, “I became a Jew”?

The answer lies in the fact that after Christ saved him Paul did not consider himself a Jew, but a member of a new race of humanity. He tells the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul no longer saw himself under the law with its ceremonies, rituals and traditions. But when ministering to a Jewish audience he complied with their customs so they would not be offended. Paul knew the Jewish regulations no longer had meaning. He was clear in his teaching that observance to these laws and traditions had no saving benefit. Christ was the fulfillment of all the laws of Moses. However, he would not use his Christian liberty to close the door to the Jews. If he insisted on his liberties in Christ, he knew the Jews would not grant him audience.

The same was true when ministering to “those who are without law”; that is, Gentiles. However, Paul was quick to tell his audience that he did not in any way sin against God or violate his conscience. He added that he was not without law but was under the law of Christ. Why say this? So no one would misunderstand him to think he believed the end justified the means. You cannot disregard the will of God in order to fulfill it. Paul was strenuously opposed to trying to reach a sinner by being ungodly. In other words, Paul would identify as much as he could without compromising his new humanity, his identity with Christ. Paul wanted his readers—including us—to know that he was not lawless but obedient to the moral teachings of Christ. And not just outwardly, but also he kept the spirit of the commands of the New Covenant. He would not be involved in anything that opposed Christ’s spirit of holiness. Not even a soul is worth that price tag.

What is holiness? Short hair cuts, ties and long sleeved shirts? No, not at all! Holiness is to be other-worldly. It is not a difference in appearance, but in heart and mind. A holy man is a man who lives by the standard of anther world—heaven, not earth. He separates himself from anything that would spoil or stain his love for Christ. He will be more concerned that you see the glory of the Savior rather than some reflection of yourself. Therefore, the Apostle Paul lived as close to the Gentile customs as he could without being in conflict with the holy gospel he proclaimed.

Paul did not participate in worldliness or anything that would have given the appearance of evil. He tells the Thessalonians to “Abstain from every form of evil.” To the Corinthians he warns, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? . . . Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.’”

Yet, Paul is often used to defend compromising with the world. This text is the main barricade many hide behind to defend their personal infidelity with the world. And yet, Paul is very specific within this very text that he was not lawless. He carefully followed the footsteps of his Master and lived out Christ to the maximum.

Paul’s method of relevancy was not based upon how much he could be like his audience without sin, but what barriers could he remove so that his audience could hear what he had to say. It is not, as many have said, that Paul is advocating that you have to be like someone in order to reach that person. If you are to reach a biker, do you need to go buy some leather and a Harley Davidson? He is not saying that only bikers can reach bikers. But in order to reach a biker, any barrier that would keep a biker from hearing your words (other than his own hardness of heart) must, if possible, be removed.

Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Ministries (now known as OMF International) followed this same principle of accommodation. Born in England in 1832, Taylor became one of the most influential foreign missionary pioneers in modern history. A trained physician, Taylor went to China with a burden to reach the interior of China for Christ. The Chinese government made inland China off limits to foreigners. Much of the Christian work in that vast country was very small and located in a few costal cities. All European missionaries lived separately from the Chinese and maintained their western European culture. The message the Chinese received from missionaries was to become a Christian you had to become like the Europeans, which were considered foreign devils.

Hudson Taylor refused this logic. He realized that the missionaries had erected barriers between them and the Chinese. He chose to dress like the Chinese, eat like the Chinese and live among the Chinese. Greatly criticized, his principle began to work. Chinese men and women began to listen to him with a different perspective. Taylor himself put it this way:
In (Chinese dress) the foreigner though recognized as such, escapes the mobbing and crowding to which, in many places, his own costume would subject him; and in preaching, while his dress attracts less notice, his words attract more.
The issue to Taylor was removing the distractions so the unsaved could hear the message. This makes sense and does not require a man participating in questionable activities or immoral issues in order to prove his sincerity. This is all Paul was saying in the text we are examining. To make the apostle say anymore than this is to misrepresent him. It is the very
As also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16).
In conclusion, if my oxford shirt, khaki slacks, and penny loafers is a distraction for my biker audience, then by all means, I shall put them aside and get me some leather. But my leather does not have to have demonic symbols or worldly advertisements on it. Nor do I need to compromise the Spirit of holiness and grieve Him by speech or actions not in keeping with Christ.

Surely, the apostle Paul did not mean that we have to be like sinners in order to reach sinners. If that were true, then what alternative are we offering the world? The greatest attraction a Christian has to the world is his difference from the world. Otherwise, why preach to the world “be like us” when we are so desperately trying to be like it?

However, as important as this text is, it is not the end of the matter. It is one principle concerning evangelism and not the sum. There is one principle that trumps it. And it was the heart of Paul’s missionary proclamation. It was so important that it influenced this principle of accommodation that we have examined in this article. In our next article we uncover this consuming motive.

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