Last weekend, I watched End of the Spear with my youth and was amazed at the beauty and power of the Gospel. I was also struck at how the missionaries shared it with the Amazon tribal group.
They didn’t come in, King James Bible blazing preaching about sanctification, justification and redemption. They didn’t demand the new believers in the tribe buy a piano and organ so they could sing hymns by Charles Wesley. They spoke to them in their own language using images they could understand.
As with Paul, they claimed their god and told the people they could have a relationship with God through His son who was “speared but did not spear back.” They didn’t speak of the Bible, but rather carvings on a tree that pointed out the trail left by God. They allowed the new followers of Christ to express their love and devotion to Him in their own unique way.
But while they communicated the message in a way that could be understood clearly by the tribe, they lived in a way that spoke even clearer. The Gospel was communicated in a way that they grasped, but the lives of the believers were lived out in a way that they could not understand. The message was culturally relevant and applicable, but the lifestyle of the Christians (both missionaries and tribal converts) was completely counter-cultural.
In Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson’s book Comeback Churches, they write that too often American churches have it backwards. In our lifestyle we are almost exactly like the world around us. Every statistic, be it divorce rates or premarital sex, shows little difference between Christians and non-Christians. But while we live exactly like the world, we present the Gospel in a 1950’s era (or older) style that the current culture does not understand or recognize. Instead of having a cultural relevant message backed up with a biblically distinctive lifestyle, we have a culturally distinctive message undermined by a culturally determined lifestyle.
Hears how they word it in Chapter 0 (you’ll have to get the book to get that explained):
It’s ironic that most evangelical churches are filled with people who live very much like the world but look different from it. It should be the exactly the opposite. We should look similar to those in our community but act differently. Study after study has shown that North American evangelicals engage in the same lifestyles and sins as the unchurched. Yet, their church preferences are quite different than the world. In other words, we look different to the world, yet we live the same as the world. How ironic that many churches have chosen to live the opposite of biblical commands.
If missionaries go into foreign countries, they do not base their Gospel presentations off how the nation looked after World War II. They study current cultural trends, languages and avenues where the message of Jesus is most likely to produce fruit. Why should we not do it the same in our own nation?