Getting the Paradigm Upside Down

Continuing on the familiar refrain, I was considering the latest I am hearing on church evangelism, communications, and church growth. Forgive me if I am slow, but it finally dawned on me how perfectly the biblical paradigm is being understood and taught backwards. Why didn’t I see this before? Well, because the two views come from a completely different mindset, and until now I just couldn’t see the other one (though I still think it is totally in error). When you naturally see the sky as blue, it is hard to comprehend it as green even when asked to, so to speak.

Looking at the examples that Jesus set in His ministry, what was His approach? It was pretty consistent. He went among the people, visiting them mostly in the world, in their environment. That environment might be the church of the time (the synagogue), which was socially acceptable, or it might be the secular environment, which was unacceptable in varying degrees (the home of a tax collector or a prostitute in public). In this, He cared not a wit for the optics of the situation! His response to optics problems was “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7), effectively shaming the opticians.

How did He instruct the Apostles when they went out with the Gospel? First, He sent them hither and yon, among the unsaved. He sent them, as Himself had gone, among the people in their secular environment, irrespective of the optics. Next, they went is His name, not their own, bringing any optics or blame upon Himself as well as them. Then, they were to proclaim, again, in His name alone (Sola Christos), the Good News of Salvation. Did they go without difficultly? No. Did they go without Him? No. They went solely in Him and with great struggles at times. They also went utilized only His model of evangelistic behaviour in presenting the Gospel. As time went on in the first century church, this paradigm and no other appear to continue.

As the mother of a long time Christian brother commented to me some years ago, referring to the work of the Lord and the Scriptures, in concrete terms our Lord left us only the Bible and within it His model for the presentation of Him. I would add that as Sovereign God he clearly felt that is what we needed or He would have left something more.

Contrasting the modeling we see in Christ, what did he not do? He went among the unsaved (virtually everyone it should be pointed out) in their environment, but not within their paradigm of behaviour nor their actual activities. In that environment he preached the Gospel in word and deed. He did not in any visible way emulate their activities nor tickle their ears or sensibilities using their cultural norms or passtimes of the day. He did not make any identifiable attempt to entreat people to Himself or the early church by molding Himself or His message to the appear more appealing and welcoming in a cultural sense. When the Apostles were sent forth, did they do differently? Not from what we have in evidence. They represented the Gospel as had the Lord, calling the unsaved to Salvation as He had. They did not establish nor derive techniques to entice the people to like them or the church so that they would be amenable to the Gospel message.

The Lord explicitly acknowledged the absolute Sovereignty of God in calling His sheep to Him. The Gospel had to be offered and that often had to be where the people were, but the people were not enticed to the church through popular activities. Furthermore, the church was not tasked to prove that it was part of the culture in order to appeal to people. The Holy Spirit was assumed to be in control of the actual changes and calling of the sheep, not the church or its people.

Having all this as the only Biblical model, is it not the correct one? Where is the Biblical prescription that says that the model must be developed further culturally over time and that it is will otherwise be in some manner insufficient, to added to by a more evolved form of man? Answer, there is no such prescription. In fact, there are several warning that such things are the work of the world and not of God. How much clearer can it be?

The Lord, in the only documentation and modeling He sovereignly deemed necessary, left us a clear model with many examples. That would appear to our singular mandate and model.

Next we will look at the flip side, the backwards approach…


2 thoughts on “Getting the Paradigm Upside Down

  1. cnaphan

    What about Paul’s approach, that he became Greek to the Greeks, Jewish to the Jews, Canadian to the Canadians, so to speak. He debated philosophy in Greek terms. He’d even do things that he personally considered unethical in order that he could tell anyone who’d listen about Christ.

    Now, some might take that as meaning that one’s approach needn’t remain completely insulated from “generatione ista prava” in order to be effective. I think, however, that if you don’t “speak the language” of your own generation, our God will remain an “ignotus deus” for our generation, which is the opposite of what Paul did.

    In Paul’s mind, I think, the Gospel was so different, so other than the prevailing theories of the day, and he knew that ultimately it’s only God accomplishes anything through any plan, good or bad, that he did not particularly care what the actual details of any “plan” were, so long as the Gospel is preached. He never seems particularly concerned with modelling his ministry on what Christ did on Earth. He doesn’t even care whether the people carrying out these plans do so because of their ambitions and vanity.

    Now, obviously, watering down the Gospel was the farthest thing from his mind, leaving out this detail or that, etc… But because he was so clear about what the essentials were, he was confident and bold with translating the message to the particulars of the day, as we should be too. For instance, if we need to call “sheol”, “Hades” to get the point across, so be it.

    As Pauls says in Phillipians: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

  2. kwilson

    I think partially it is that Paul still presented the Gospel up front. He did not assume that it needed his assistance to be effective, or that he needed to create programs to draw people to the church. He went among the people as Christ did, but I have a hard time believing that he adopted their practices in order to increase the size of his local congregation. He preached the Gospel (in whatever form) solely, and that is the point. No matter where he did it, he had it the right way. The preaching of the Gospel is not an “after they have been convinced this is such a great place and people that I just have to be a part of it” affair. That implies that it is men and not the Spirit to some degree. Wrong, wrong, wrong (though I am not implying that you are saying this).

    Yes, he (and we) must be in the world. And yes, you must actually speak in a way that is relevant. But no, this does not mean that the message is one of church and for church growth, as a prerequisite to the message of Christ. That is upside down.

    Look at the common message and what is communicated in required secular community activity and presentation as a necessary requirement to people hearing the Gospel. That just ain’t so.

    My next message will deal with the upside down side.

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