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…