Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Church, Cultural Education and Discipleship

              The American church is in danger of missing an opportunity to reach a new people group. This opportunity must be met with the same resolve, resources and innovation that reaching the “uttermost” received in generations past. Ravi Zacharias declares postmodernism to be an opportune occasion for the propagation of the Gospel if the church will recognize and embrace to the occasion.[1] Just as a missionary to a foreign field is trained for the purposes of culture and language acquisition the western church must implement these some principles in their own cultural context. The culture is changing and, of necessity, the language is changing. This requires the church to accept a revised mission-strategy and a new attitude or paradigm concerning evangelism. If the western church is going to avail itself of the opportunity that postmodernism presents then the church must consider an amalgamation of topics that cannot be attained through classroom teaching and linear or formulaic curricula. These topics should be considered contextually per church or believer as it concerns practice. In principal, there is common ground that is biblical and universal that churches can embrace. For the purpose of a concise outline I have chosen to briefly develop five topics for consideration and practice that may assist the church in reaching people with a postmodern mindset with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The five topics are cultural education, creative engagement, collateral effect, church as community and Christ exalted as Lord.


                  Does a fish know that it’s wet? Does it need to know that it is wet?  The answer is no, unless the fish has business to conduct in other environs. The church has business to conduct in a postmodern culture. Therefore, understanding the postmodern world-view is not a luxury for the Church. Jesus berated the Pharisees in Luke 12:56, “You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don't know how to interpret the present times.”  They failed to recognize the time of His coming. The religious leaders were so transfixed on a self-centered, predisposed mission model that they could not identify their moment in history on God’s cultural continuum. The church must position itself to respond as the body of the One who is transcendent, objective and culturally relevant all at the same time. There are at least three approaches to cultural education that will help the church to “know that it’s wet.”

                  The church should encourage cross-cultural experiences for believers. This too often is understood as short-term mission trips to other countries to build a church, evangelize or teach believers.  These are wonderful and beneficial but a weekly jaunt to the local rescue mission, nursing home or Hospice House can be just as eye opening, educational and even more cross-cultural. When believers push outside of their normal cultural context it gives them a more refined perspective of their own culture. Postmodernism is most recognizable when senior adults choose to engage twenty-something’s in their world. If elders, pastors and senior saints were actively engaged in the lives of “postmoderns” they wouldn’t need to be convinced of the need or the opportunity that postmodernism presents.

                  The pastor-teacher must be abreast of the times. Pastors and church leaders are to serve as faithful ambassadors of Christ in a foreign land, “for the purpose of communicating accurately the position of the policies of the government he represents so that they people to whom he speaks will be brought into good relationship with the country he serves.”[2] Colin Smith describes the ambassador’s life as immersed in the culture he is serving so that he can accurately, culturally represent the interest of his authority in a relevant fashion. The church’s leaders must teach the congregation through thoughtful illustration and application how to view our culture in light of the cross of Jesus Christ. The news makes it evident enough that something is wrong, undone and adrift in the culture. Ravi Zacharias quotes Os Guinness, “It is truth that gives relevance to ‘relevance,’ just as ‘relevance’ becomes irrelevant if it is not related to truth.”[3]Culturally educating the church demands that her leaders and teachers demonstrate how the cross of Christ is relevant, powerful and efficient to reconcile wrongs, complete what is undone and provide a mooring for what is adrift. Postmodernists may have given up on a transcendent, objective and absolute truth but that does not negate the power intrinsic to the message of the cross, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Postmodernists will not come to the church looking for such a truth so we must take it to them. Is the power of the Gospel observable in those who name Christ as Lord? This is what is meant by a flesh and blood apologetic.

           Another suggestion that can serve to culturally educate the church is encouraging, advocating and resourcing believers to fulfill key roles in the local community and society at large. This practice serves two purposes. It not only keeps the church well informed as it concerns legislation, policies or community movements but it gives the church a voice. However, we need not believe that we are going to shift the culture through macro-involvement but since we are informed we can be more capable of incarnating the Gospel because we are at the very least involved and relevant to the conversation.

            Educating the local church concerning her surrounding culture mediates the tug to form a Christian sub-culture that can easily lose it's saltiness. Disciples are called to be witnesses. The whole narrative of the New Testament is about our mission calling as believers and a community in a sin-sick, dark and desperate world. "Going to church" is no-longer acceptable language- "We are the Church" captures the missional emphasis that must be re-introduced and fostered in order for disciples to see themselves as a called out community but still very much a transforming agent in the world.  

            [1] Ravi Zacharias, “An Ancient Message, Through Modern Means, To A Postmodern Mind ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 26.
               [2] Colin Smith, “The Ambassador’s Job Description ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 180.
               [3] Ravi Zacharias, “The Touch of Truth ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 41.

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