Contextualizing is not compromising

South Carolina’s Baptist paper had an interesting article in the most recent issue dealing with reaching Sikhs with the Gospel. In the past when a Sikh came to faith in Christ, they would abandon their current culture to embrace a Christian (ie Western) culture. This led to few decisions and created a barrier to reaching other Sikhs.

Recently some believers in Indian began to worship Christ with a service resembling a traditional Sikh service. They are using a satsang style of worship, which features music similar to the Sikh singing with the leader sitting rather than standing while discussing portions of scripture. Satsang, which literally means “true company,” is a congregationally led worship service.

Those coming to faith in Christ from the Sikh religion are forsaking the false religion, while still maintaining their cultural identify. This has removed a hinderance to the Gospel because the Sikhs understand that they do not have to become Western in order to accept Jesus. The Gospel is by no means compromised by missionaries and indigenous pastors holding Sikh-style services. They are merely presenting the life changing message of Jesus Christ in a way that is better understood.

Recently, I saw a movie that depicted a contextualization of the Gospel in a beautiful way (although the special effects were laughable). The Last Sin Eater tells the story of immigrants living in the Appalachian Mountains who held to the ancient ritual of “sin eating,” where one member of the community was cast out and who only returned upon the death of a resident to “eat” their sin, symbolized by a loaf of bread on the dead body. A pastor came through and tried to preach Jesus to the community, but never got anywhere until he used their concept of the sin eater to explain what Christ did on the cross. He told them that Jesus was the only sin eater who could truly remove sins and because of His sacrifice we didn’t have need of anymore sin eaters. It was a powerful demonstration of explaining the Gospel in a cultural understood manner. It was traditional relevance.

21st Century American culture is no different from Sikh Indian culture or 1850’s Appalachian culture, the Gospel must be contextualized in a way that relates to the culture. We don’t expect a 1st Century Jewish form of worship to engage a modern American. Why do we expect a 1950’s form of worship to do the same? In some ways the 1950’s is even more removed from our current culture.

Contextualizing is how our missionaries showcase the powerful message of Christ to cultures around the world. We have to understand that we are missionaries in our own culture. We must also contextualize the Gospel, so that we don’t put up a cultural barrier between the lost and ourselves.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.