Sunday, May 18, 2008

Perspectives Week 5... Unleashing the Gospel

Perspectives Week 5…Unleashing the Gospel

Week 5 we had Dr. Ken Baker as our instructor. Dr. Baker and his family spent numerous years as missionaries to Muslims. Now Dr. Baker and his wife, Gwen, partner in ministry in the US reaching out to churches and partnering with those churches on how they can reach out cross culturally in their local communities. This passion and calling made Dr. Baker the perfect person (as God’s messengers always are) to present the material for lesson 5. Although the previous weeks of Perspectives had all been good, week 5 is when it really began to come alive for Jeremy and I, and God really spoke to our hearts through the lesson, speaker, and material (as you’ll probably notice by the way that I’ll ramble on this post).

Our lecture centered around the book of Acts, and how God’s people were transformed toward inclusion. They came from a mono-cultural Jewish establishment to an intercultural world movement in Christ.

Acts 1:6-8 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

In Acts 1:6-8 above you can see that the disciples were still thinking that Jesus came solely to restore Israel, and their vision had not yet been expanded to the nations. Jesus so gently nudged them from exclusion of the gentiles. In Acts 2-5 Peter gives speeches to the people of Israel, reaching out to them (2:5, 3:12, 4:8 all show that he is addressing Jews/ Israel). In Acts 6 multi-cultural harmony was beginning to be established. Finally in Acts 10, with the conversion of Cornelius, Peter finally starts to understand… Acts 10:34-35 Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.

Now the inclusion breakthrough was starting to happen! Unfortunately they had not broken through the social and cultural barriers yet. There were food laws and other cultural barriers observed as Jewish tradition that were not necessary for followers of Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. The Jewish believers needed to understand that the gentiles could be accepted as they were, without having to conform to Jewish tradition. Much like them (the Jewish believers) it can also be easy for us to enter into other cultures and impose our culture upon them, when in reality that does more harm than good. When in reality we should let each culture keep its’ own traditions, not impose ours. We should benefit and learn from the beauty of our differences in culture and the way God created us. We need to strip the Gospel down to the simplest form and then unleash that, without all of the other junk (laws) that we package it up with (e.g. our worship style, written Word, way of dress, way of talking). The primary “changers” during this process were the Jewish people, not the Gentiles. The Jewish people had to accept new ways of thinking, let go of life long rules that they had been following, watch their sacred boundaries crumble, accept the Gentiles. Ephesians 3:6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Much like this when we enter a new culture (abroad, or in our own country) we should be prepared to be the “changers”, to lay down our current ways of thinking, rules, and to accept others as our brothers in Christ.

In Acts 11:18 you can see that others are starting to catch onto Christ’s call of inclusion. Acts 11:18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life."

In Antioch believers were first given the title Christians, or acknowledged as followers of Christ and broke away from Judaism. Acts 11:25-26 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Acts 13:1 Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. Just as the city was multicultural, the church leadership was diverse. It included a wealthy Jew (Barnabas), a former Pharisee (Saul), Simeon who was likely a black man, Lucius who was also from North Africa, and Manaen who was brought up with Herod, maybe a Jew, who might have had political influence and was well educated. What a beautiful picture of a diverse church!

In Acts 13 and 14 Paul and Barnabas set out on the first mission trip. In Acts 15 the Jerusalem Council met to discusses the culture issue at hand, not of Gentile salvation, but of how Gentiles fit into the Jewish community. Acts 15:7- 9 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. "And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Upon conclusion they decided to accept the Gentiles as Gentiles and not require them to assimilate into the Jewish culture.

Acts sets the precedent that cultural assimilation is not required, but that cultural sensitivity and accommodations are. This sets the precedent for the character of the Kingdom.

So how does this intercultural unity that was first displayed in Acts, and is a vision of every tongue, tribe, and nation kneeling at the throne of our King being lived out today?

Today many of our churches are structured after the homogeneous unit principle. This approach goes after a target audience by race, socio economic status, age and so forth. It involves marketing a church, or church service, to a specific demographic like “seeker churches”, “ethnic churches”, “college age ministry” and so on. This approach works in structure, it gets people into a body, that they are comfortable in, with people like themselves… but was this God’s intended purpose for His church? Was His purpose to keep people in their comfort zones, and in the inclusion principle with people like them?

If the Lord’s purpose in the first century of the church, and in Heaven is to have a diverse, unified body, then wouldn’t that be His purpose now? To have the Kingdom displayed in its’ fullest sense to the world. If that diverse, unified body is His intention for us then are we selling ourselves short by not allowing ourselves to experience that? By forming groups with others like ourselves and worshipping with them we are staying in our comfort zones, refusing to step outside of them into a more full experience of Christ and what He has for us. If we would tear down those walls and step outside of them we would be able to cross cultural barriers and experience the love of Christ and His presence in a whole new way. Not to mention that by worshipping in an incomplete body we are misrepresenting the Kingdom and Christ to the world. We are representing only a partial Gospel, of only partial acceptance when we refuse to cross all cultural lines. If we would surrender those lines and barriers to Him and truly live out a diverse unity then the Gospel would be glorified and so would His name.

“When we see mission from a Kingdom perspective, we find God is already at work among the nations. He invites us to come and join Him in His work. Instead of a “Go metaphor, this is a “Welcome” metaphor where Jesus is asking us to “follow Him” into the nations.” -Dr. David Zac Niringiye of Uganda


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