Just as debates ensued in the Apostle Paul's day over traditionally held points of view; over such things as eating meat offered to idols, days of worship, diet, cursing, and circumcision, so we as the church and Christians must seek to differentiate between what is gospel and what is culture.
The problem arose when the gospel was presented to the Gentiles who began to question the cultural norms of the Jewish Christians. For the Jews they saw no issue for they had resolved these questions through their knowledge and practice of their traditional laws; the Mosiac covenant. Subsequently, the Jewish Christians were upset when the new gentile believers brought into question the normative principles that were being taught or even, sadly, being "added" to the gospel. The Gentiles saw salvation as it truly is; Christ's vicarious, atoning death alone, and nothing else. Practically what does this mean for us, now?
As the church we must first recognize the many, differing cultures that are present. We must be careful to never stereotype a culture and it's values at first glance, rather we must act as missonaries do upon their first visit to a remote people group. Observe, learn, discuss, grasp, understand the culture in which we are placed. Once this is done we must then strip the pure gospel from our cultural presuppositions, so as not to confuse and dim the beauty and power that is Jesus' gospel.
The fact is that as we seek to present the gospel, free from cultural mandates, questions will naturally rise just as they did in Paul's day. Only today the questions may surrounding topics such as: do I have to go to church to be a Christian? If I'm talking about God with a friend while playing frisbee golf, does this count as church? What about alchohol , including hard alchohol? Is premarital sex and/or cohabitation really forbidden, or simply an archaic rule? If I'm gay and have an exclusive, loving relationship, can I be a Christian? How does a loving God allow so much evil to happen, especially to good people? Isn't cussing a cultural thing not a biblical thing?
We must see, recognize, acknowledge the plurality through which most of these questions will be asked, and we must then use the universality of the truth of Jesus to answer, without blinking, the new question that innevitably rise from our cultures.
It seems a major dilemma in the pusuit of mission, for the church, comes in the forms of traditionalism or innovation. A proclivity for either should be repented of as sin.
Many churches and Christians would rather enjoy the nostalgia and look back at what was, because they are frightened at the thought of attempting to answer the new questions. Whether it is a distorted sense of romantacism or niavete, many like to think that things were better, or more righteous, " back then." This mentality only lends itself to be used as an excuse for the lazy and those truly unconcerned about being faithful to Jesus' commission. I feel King Solomon knew what he was saying when he said, "Do not say,'why were the old days better than these!' For it is not wise to ask such questions." (Eccl. 7:10) The truth is no matter the age, the time, day, month, year, this world is filled with Satan, evil, sin, sinners, God's love, and commission work needed. The benefit of tradition is to examine the successes and failures of Christians past, in order to better prepare ourselves. At the worst level traditionalism will fail to differentiate between true principles from Scripture and the cultural methods through which the gospel is relayed. The cure for traditionalism that hinders mission? Repentance!
Although the nostalgic traditionalism is one enemy of mission, it is not alone. Equally as destructive is a propensity for innovation. Claiming that it is merely an attempt to be relevant, so many believers and churches seek to be so pertinent they fall into heresy of all kinds. So many times this is an overreaction to the frustration felt at the ineptitude of traditional or "contemporary evangelical" churches.
Now, innovation in and of itself is certainly not wrong, indeed it may be a useful tool for contextualizing the gospel, but it must be directly connected to truth! When the desire to be creative and relevant disconnects from the truth of Scripture, fails to call all to repentance, and does not preach the grace of God with tough words of love, it fast becomes heretical. The cure for heretical innovation? Repentance!
We Christians must seek to ever be faithful to Scripture and orthodoxy, while striving to creatively contextualize the truth of Jesus' gospel to see as many saved as possible. (1Cor. 9:19-23) We must be careful not to "perpetuate a tradition or embrace an innovation".
Let us seek to reach our ever-changing, fast-paced, pluralistic, post-modern, curious culture by walking our spirituality through Him, preaching in Him, repenting for Him, and empowered by Him.
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