Method versus Message

Today I read Leviticus 13-14 and Acts 17. In reading about Paul’s journey to Athens and what he said on Mars Hill, it got me thinking about how certain Christians would have “critiqued” his sermon. In watching what happens to Rick every time he speaks and the ways in which he is type cast and criticized for every little thing he says or doesn’t say to the liking of these groups, I wondered how these same people would have critiqued and criticized Paul for not going far enough in what he said to the people of Athens. Here is what I think they would say:

First, Paul starts out by validating their religious nature without ever condemning them for worshipping the wrong God. Not only does he not condemn them, he actually says the unknown God, which was an idol or statue set up to “hedge their bets,” he basically says he knows who that God is. Doesn’t that mean that Paul would be allowing them to pray to another God? How could he do that?

Second, Paul never mentions the name of Jesus. Sure he alludes to who he is when he says that God sent someone to die who was resurrected. But he never actually says Jesus’ name. What is he ashamed of? He definitely was trying to play up the crowd in some kind of “seeker sensitive” way. The gospel was not clear so he was preaching another gospel.

Though this was a humorous post today it is actually reality when it comes to how Christians, especially in the blog world lately, critique and criticize other believers. Their own standards of judging who is true to the gospel and their obsession with exegeting what other Pastors who do not go along with their brand of Christianity have caused them to be modern day Pharisees who are more concerned with conformity to a set of rules that were never intended or set up in the scriptures. The anger and venom that are spewed in the name of “contending for the faith” looks nothing like the love and healing brought by Christ. Yes obedience is important. Yes we need to guard against false teaching. But to major on the minors and fail to see that there are times to put our faith in context so others outside the faith can begin to relate to and understand it is wrong. When did Jesus expect people to have to understand his language and come to him on his terms? Jesus used parables and other methods to help people who had no understanding of what he was saying to begin to gain understanding. He adjusted the method to fit the person. Yet this group of people will say that there needs to be no adjustment because their failure to understand shows that they really don’t want to know. That is where you have ridiculous commentary criticizing Rick for using the Muslim term “isa” for Jesus, saying he was praying to a false god. Give me a break. If these people ever got out into the mission field they would probably use the same term to say “this issa that you admire is really the messiah, the true son of God.” Why do we limit God?

Lord, help me to not be so caught up in my methods. Help me to understand that the message is what stays consistent not the method or approach to sharing it. Give me wisdom to discern when something is truly off versus my holding on to my method. Amen.

The Gospel in Real Life

Today I read John 2-4 and chapter 9 in Integrity. I am always fascinated how Jesus talked to people about life and faith. He always had a way of first understanding who the person was and then framing their world in light of the gospel. With Nicodemus who as a Pharisee, he talks with him about the more technical aspects of faith by talking about being born again or born of the Spirit in order to have eternal life. I am sure Nicodemus felt very comfortable talking on that level due to his own knowledge and understanding. Yet he was uncomfortable in that he could not come to grips with it and understand how being born a second time could work. So even though Christ talked with him in his language and based on his circumstances as a spiritual leader, he still challenged him to think in light of faith instead of in light of all he had known.

Then Jesus has his conversation with the Samaritan woman. With her he deals with her past and lays out for her the main issue in her life of trying to find life in men. That was what she needed to help her in her faith. He then goes on to explain what it means to have water that quenches our true thirst. She then goes on to tell others what she heard and saw and that she believed Jesus was the Messiah. In both cases he uses analogies to help people understand complex truths in a way that made sense to the person he was speaking with.

In each case Jesus met people where they were instead of asking them to catch up to where he was. I think about all the ways we have attempted to share the gospel as the church at large. As I sit here right now writing this in 2008, almost 2009, the church at large tends to demand that people catch up to our understanding of the gospel. There are certain things that people have to say or they are not presenting the “true” gospel. It is almost like a secret handshake or some special formula. Any attempt at contextualizing the gospel is met with suspicion or harsh critique and criticism. There is almost the thought that because God’s word is timeless, anyone should be able to understand the truth as it was presented years ago. The problem with this school of thought is first, everyone who does not speak or understand greek has gotten an interpretation of the gospel as every translation is an interpretation. Second, the gospel has been contextualized throughout the life of the church. There is no problem with looking to new analogies to explain the gospel to many who, in our time, have never even cracked the bible or gone to any church. I like the fact that Jesus first started with the person and then explained the gospel in light of who they were. If the gospel is timeless, then it should stand up to the test of the changing language and lives of people. Besides, if the Holy Spirit is the one who does the calling and convicting my role is simply to listen, share, and testify.

Lord, help me to be quick to listen to others and understand their lives so I can share my faith with them. Give me your eyes to see the opportunities to minister to others and allow you to use me however you see fit. Thank you for the example you have given me in your word. Amen.