Reaching the community
The church’s response to culture has always been a hotly debated issue among believers.
Denominational leaders and local church pastors have always been challenged with how to reach out to the society within which the church ministers; a society which is dynamic and ever changing.
At this time of the year most local churches hold a week of prayer and fasting as they seek God’s guidance in charting the course for the months ahead. And the evangelism questions usually present themselves afresh. Just how are we going to reach our community, our constituents this year? What programmes should we use, what evangelistic tools should we employ this year?
These questions normally lead to discussion of how far the local church should go in its efforts to reach unbelievers without compromising its witness.
In one camp, there are those who do not see anything wrong with the church sacrificing the biblical message and mission in order to blend in with the culture and thus reach it for Christ.
It is all a matter of being relevant and impacting the society, so the adherents of this camp trade the pure Gospel of Christ for liberal views regarding sex, homosexuality and a general anti-biblical world-view.
This similar-to-the-world attitude of such churches makes the call for repentance and commitment null and void.
These churches have long forgotten the meaning of the word “church” — actually derived from the Greek ekklesia which means a “called-out assembly”.
To the other extreme are those of the camp that have taken the “called-out” designation too far. Their objective is to preserve the purity of the church.
As Pastor Rick Warren writes in The Purpose Driven Church: “They fail to see the distinction between the sinful values of our culture and the non-sinful customs, styles, and preferences that each generation develops. They reject new translations of Scripture, current musical styles and any attempt to modify man-made traditions, such as the time and order of the worship service that they are accustomed to.”
Churches in this group effectively thwart the concept of freedom in Christ.
So, we have two completing Christian world views above: liberalism and legalism. And none is effective in reaching the unbeliever, and convincing him/her to let Christ be Lord of their lives.
There just has to be a better way. Pastor Warren suggests a solution.
“Just as saltwater fish exist their entire lives in an ocean without becoming saturated with salt, Jesus ministered in the world without being of the world. He ‘made his dwelling among us’ (John1:14), and was even tempted in every way we are, ‘yet was without sin’ (Hebrew 4:15).”
Jesus went out of His way to socialized with the vilest sinners in order to win their hearts. An example of this is when He became a guest at the homes of tax collectors (Matthew 9:10) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5, 6).
Paul later explained this similar approach to evangelism: “When I am with the Jews, I become one of them so that I can bring them to Christ… When I am with the Gentiles, who do not have the Jewish law, I fit in with them as much as I can. In this way, I gain their confidence and bring them to Christ. But I do not discard the law of God; I obey the law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:20, 21).
This then should be the present-day church’s approach to reach those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
In 2013, we cannot afford to blend the Gospel with the philosophies and modern views of the culture around us; nor can we stand aloof and claim we are defending the ‘purity’ of the church.
Let’s “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).