Wisdom in Contextualization: How Far is too Far?

By Ed Stetzer

How does the word “contextualization” make you feel? Free or fearful?

The $64-million dollar question about innovation and change is this: How far is too far? I can’t think of any question in the church much more controversial than this one. We’ve been asking it for two thousand years and rarely ever seem to agree.

Most of our discussions on these issues center around contextualization. We should change our methodology to better proclaim the unchanging message to a consistently changing world. But not all change is good, even when it is promoted under the guise of contextualization.

I am all for innovation. But it should be used as means to better contextualize the gospel, not simply for its own sake. We need to evaluate where that line is, so that we do not cross it and lose the very reason God has placed us here.

Encajar.jpg

Measuring contextualization

Contextualization is, obviously enough, all about the context. Walking with my nose in the air could mean I think I’m better than you. Or it might mean I’m trying to protect you from my nosebleed. Context provides meaning to your interpretation.

Gospel contextualization began the moment Christ came teaching in synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23). Christ presented words and deeds to His audiences in ways that were meaningful in their language and culture.

The language was Aramaic. The culture was Jewish (with a bit of Roman and Greek tossed in). The reaction of the crowds, especially the religious leaders, makes it clear that Christ’s words and actions were meaningful in His cultural context.

Changing in order to contextualize is not watering down the message of the good news of Jesus. The opposite is true. To contextualize the gospel means removing cultural and linguistic impediments to the gospel presentation so that only the offense of the cross remains.

But when we think about changes and contextualization today, it is easy to think you are the only one who has it right. Everyone to the left of has changed too much and lost the gospel. Everyone to the right is a bunch of legalists who haven’t changed enough and can no longer have a conversation with culture. To overcome this temptation, we need to establish what is unchanging and look for signals that our changes have gone too far.

More art than science

God designed it so the unchanging message of Jesus can fit into changing “cultural containers” in order to reach people where they are, and to take them where they need to go. Contextualization is a skill the missional church in the U.S., like international missionaries, must learn and use.

Contextualization, however, is more of an art form than a science. Clear lines that provide hard and fast boundaries for every language and culture don’t exist, especially as it relates to our orthopraxy (the way we live out the gospel). But there are certain gospel lines that we cannot cross.

What are the signs we’ve crossed un-crossable lines? If we have lost the clear proclamation of the gospel—Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin and in our place—or we downplay repentance and forgiveness, I think we’ve removed the intentional stumbling block of the cross. That would be a first warning sign.

If we teach the message in such a way that excludes or de-emphasizes the Bible, I think that’s a difficulty as well. If I find myself underplaying the role of Jesus in salvation or the necessity to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, that’s another red flag.

What works today

Some segments of our evangelical churches have adopted some changes and are doing anything they can through advertising, media, social media, coffee houses, movie theaters, music, the arts, and other venues to have a meaningful conversation with the world. Some Christians feel that giving any ground toward what they perceive (often rightly) as compromise with the culture will eventually cross the line into a heresy and pluralism slide.

Obviously, we don’t want to be syncretists with the gospel message. But contextualization means change will occur. We will be looking for new ways to translate the gospel that help others grasp its message. This is not accommodating the culture; it’s building meaningful relationships with people and speaking with them about the gospel (on the gospel’s own terms) in ways that make sense to them.

So when has change gone too far? When the gospel no longer looks or sounds like good news and Jesus no longer looks or sounds like the Jesus found in the pages of Scripture. But if the feet of those who bring the gospel are beautiful upon the hills, it is at least partly because those who hear the gospel are able to understand meaningfully the wonderful person and work of Jesus. The feet can still be beautiful even after you change shoes.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today.

Advertisements

There’s an app for that! Well, maybe not…

By Scott Armstrong

I use apps on my smartphone several hours a day.  You probably do, too.

Twitter? Fantasy Football? Tracking your steps every day? Yes, there are mobile phone apps for all of those.

But you already knew that.  Did you know there’s an app for virtually shaving yourself? What about milking a cow? Or that there’s even an app for nothing? That’s right.  It literally does nothing.  The screen goes gray…………and does nothing.

Make sure you download it today.

There seems to be an app for everything.  There are millions of apps for things I truly have never thought of in my life.

icon-1328421_960_720.jpg

But as far as ministry goes, there are still areas that apps have not touched.

Giving me 26 hours a day instead of 24? There’s not an app for that.

Helping me to fit in seamlessly in a new culture within 1 week? No app for that.

Getting my neighbor down the street to respond to the gospel and see his life changed? Nope.

Many apps help you save time.  But they don’t give you more time.  Time is the great equalizer.

Some apps help you to learn a language or discover more about a culture or country. But the hard work of spending time with real people and eating their food and beginning to love them for who they are with no selfish or ethnocentric motives? That can’t be microwaved.

I’ve explored lots of apps that provide ways to share the gospel, but no app exists that guarantees life transformation.

The idea of apps is usually to make life easier.  They might help us get work done, interact with others, or have fun. Apps are handy ways to directly assist us in some way and streamline sometimes complicated daily processes.

But ministry just isn’t like that.  Honestly, it drives me crazy.

Recently I was lamenting to my wife that the local church we planted in Dominican Republic just isn’t advancing like I want it to.  Supposedly we are equipped, capable ministers who have been effective in many different places and ministries.  We have not just gone to the training seminars on how to impact the city; we now GIVE the training seminars! What, then, is the problem?! Why aren’t all the neighbors we love and care for flocking to service every week? Why do new Christians take two steps forward and seemingly three steps back in their walk with Christ?!  On a less spiritual level, why are our accounts always so low and why does the stupid bathroom outside our sanctuary keep malfunctioning?!  Aaaargh!

Much of our lives are dominated by apps that help us do things quicker, cheaper, and more efficiently.  But almost always ministry – genuine, roll-up-your-sleeves, incarnational ministry – isn’t like that.

I would love for there to be shortcuts.  But no app exists for this stuff.  The Holy Spirit needs to do a deep work in people’s lives, finances, and even bathrooms.

Lord, quick or slow, app or no app, begin that work in us.

More Peaches, Better Peaches

By David Busic

A few months ago, I spent the afternoon with Junior and Jaci Rodrigues. They are Nazarene church planters who have helped to birth five congregations. Although they are both from Brazil, they have planted and are pastoring a church in Argentina. The city where their church is located is hard soil. It is the academic capital of the country and home to many universities. Being very secular and post-modern, the city is more aligned with North America and Western Europe than many other places in South America. A high percentage of the population are atheists and agnostics. They are the only evangelical church in their entire urban neighborhood.

The church building is in a semi-commercial neighborhood with many apartments and small houses close by. They were able to purchase it for a good price because for many years it was an illegal abortion clinic. The proprietor of the clinic died in the clinic and was not found for several months. Thus, many in the neighborhood believe the building is cursed. The church meets on the first floor and the Rodrigues’ live on the second floor with their two children. The congregation is growing and is having a Kingdom impact among their neighbors.

The back area of their small building opens up into a little courtyard. There is a peach tree there that had never produced fruit before. However, shortly after they moved in, the peach tree suddenly began producing peaches. Lots and lots of peaches! So many, in fact, that they could hardly keep them off the ground, and a number of peaches began to fall into their neighbor’s back yard area. One day their neighbor came by to pay them a visit. Jaci invited her in and said “I’m sure you’re here because of the peaches falling into your yard. We are so very sorry. We will be happy to come and clean them up for you.”

73cf57e0-ebf7-4c5e-b3d8-bfed915bda4f.jpg

The neighbor woman replied: “I am here about the peaches, but not because I am upset. I am curious and have a question. For the last 20 years, I have lived next door. This house has been an abortion clinic and that peach tree has been dead. It has produced no fruit — not a single peach. But when you moved in with your church it suddenly came alive and became fruitful. I want to know what happened? Did you put a spell on that tree?”

Jaci was surprised but prepared. “No,” she said, “There is no spell. All I can tell you is that this was a dark place of death, but now it is a shining place of light and life. I guess that is why God is blessing our peach tree!”

Their neighbor was intrigued and began to attend their church. Today she is a new Christian and growing in her faith.       

This amazing story reminds me of what Jesus said to His disciples about missional fruitfulness: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing . . . [but] if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:5, 7 NIV).

Pastor Junior and Jaci Rodrigues are remaining in, relying on, and abiding with Jesus. Christ in them is bringing light and life to dark places. It was my privilege to ordain them as elders in the Church of the Nazarene.

In the inaugural chapel sermon for Nazarene Theological Seminary, General Superintendent J. B. Chapman challenged the faculty and students with a clear mission: “More preachers — better preachers.” I have always liked that phrase. I would like to suggest a small twist to the phrase and turn it into a prayer. What if all of our missional outposts, every local church, had a similar refrain: “More peaches — better peaches.”

More fruit — better fruit. May it be so for all of us.

How to Stay Motivated in Language Learning

By Joey Shaw

It’s been a year or two, or perhaps more, and you are still unable to converse in your host people’s language at the level you had hoped. You get stuck, locals have to slow down, you are constantly embarrassed, you can’t “be yourself,” and you just … don’t … want … to … study … anymore! Let’s face it, learning another language is tough.

Many of you are in this critical phase of your ministry. Without good language ability, you will, inevitably, cut your ministry short of maximum fruit bearing. So you need it, but “success” in language seems so far away. You need encouragement.

How do you stay motivated to keep going with language learning? Here are a few suggestions.

uu-va-nhuoc-diem-cua-viec-hoc-nhieu-ngon-ngu-cung-mot-luc.png

USE WHATEVER LANGUAGE YOU HAVE FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

If you know a few phrases, find ways to use them to magnify God. I always like to learn the religious phraseology of my host people first: “glory to God,” “God is great,” and so on. It helps me talk about God early on. And there is nothing more motivating to study language than the thrill of magnifying our Savior, even in the smallest way possible, in the local language. Each new word is a new tool to magnify God to your host people.

DREAM ABOUT USING YOUR NEW WORDS TO PERSUADE OTHERS TO FOLLOW CHRIST

The languages the remaining unreached peoples speak are most often very difficult for native English speakers. So, perhaps, our job is harder today than a few hundred years ago. Be that as it may, the greater the disparity between our native and learned language, the greater the opportunity to display the love of a God who humbled Himself to become like us. Think about that during your study times. The word you learn today may be the critical word of persuasion to Christ for your host people one day.

EVALUATE YOUR MOTIVES

Are there any idols to repent of? Perhaps an approval idol: You just want your supporters to know you are not “wasting” their money. Perhaps you are believing the lie that once you speak the language, then you will be useful to God. Watch out for negative emotions: complaining, anger, impatience, grumpiness. These are all common symptoms of idolatry. The problem is that idols are horrible motivators. Idols are fake gods, and as such, they don’t come through on their promises. So if idolatry is at the root of your motivation to learn a language, then you will be left unsatisfied and, eventually, unmotivated.

PRAY FOR MORE LOVE

No matter how hard you work, no matter how good your language ability, no matter how many people you share the gospel with, no matter how effective your ministry seems to be, no matter how early you get up or late you go to bed, no matter what others think of you, … if you do not have love, you have nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Let that sink in. BUT, if you have God’s love for the people, it will compel you to endless hours of language study and practice so that your host people might know God and make Him known (2 Cor. 5:14).

This article was originally published at: Verge Network

Slogans that Awakened the Church: Intensely Missionary

By Howard Culbertson

“The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” –Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia.

Henry_Martyn.jpgKnow anyone who views world missions support involvement as being only for those who happen to be really passionate about it? I know people who think that way.

“It’s their thing,” they dismissively say.

If Henry Martyn were still around, he would object. “It is not just their thing,” he would protest, “It is Christ’s thing and it must therefore be a ‘thing’ of every Christ follower.”

Martyn, early 19th century missionary to India ad Persia, saw world evangelism as a central passion of God’s heart. That means, said Martyn, that the more Christ-like we become, the more we will share Christ’s passion for world evangelism.

Paul’s words in Philippians 2:5 call us to “think the way Christ Jesus thought” (Easy to Read Version). Although that exhortation occurs in a passage about Christ’s humility, it appertains to every other context. Being Christ-like to the point of thinking like Christ includes embracing His desire that all the world hear the Good News.

hands-600497_960_720.jpg

Pastors sometimes lament that those in their congregation supporting world mission are often the senior citizens. Where that is true –and sometimes it is– it may be because those older people who support world evangelism have walked with Christ over a number of years.  With the passage of time, as they have grown closer to Him, they have become “intensely missionary.” Because Jesus Christ is passionate about world evangelism, it should not surprise us when older, mature believers become passionate about it, too.

So, global passion in those older “saints” validates Henry Martyn’s words: “The nearer we get to [Christ], the more intensely missionary we become.”  On the other hand, Martyn’s statement does not limit mission passion to those who have been believers for decades. He is simply stating something that is clearly a Biblical message: If we get our hearts in tune with Christ’s heart, we will become passionate about proclaiming in all the world the Good News that God has come in Christ Jesus to redeem fallen human beings.

This article was originally published at: nazarene.org

 

Salt of the Earth

By Charles W. Christian

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” — Matthew 5:13

Salt has, in some ways, developed a bad reputation these days. It can cause high blood pressure and heart issues when it is over used. Part of the reason salt has developed its reputation is that it is so accessible. That has not always been the case, of course. In ancient times, salt was relatively rare. Salt that could be used for consumption was even rarer.

In ancient times, salt could be a method of payment, and until the invention of canning and refrigeration, salt was the main way in which food was preserved for storage. While the overuse of salt can have ill effects on health, salt is an essential mineral for human life.

sea-salt-powerful-remedy-that-cures-many-diseases.jpg

Jesus calls His followers the “salt of the earth.”

This means we are God’s agents of preservation and health for this world. That is a big calling! God actually wishes to use us to help keep the world from rotting. We are agents that prevent the decay of our world by sharing the good news of God’s love and grace. When we choose not to participate in God’s agenda for us and for our world, we “lose our saltiness” and can actually become part of the problem.

As Nazarenes, we define holiness as both an individual experience and as an ongoing experience of participating with all of God’s people in the furthering of God’s ways in the world. In other words, there is both an individual and a social component to holiness.

Individually, we are transformed by God so that together we may be the “salt of the earth.” May we look for Spirit-led ways to be agents of God’s transforming love in the world this week and always.

Prayer for the Week:

Lord, we are Yours. As we surrender to You, may you move us from the ways of darkness to the ways of light. In so doing, may we become your instruments of peace, love, and preservation in the world, so that others can be prepared to receive your Holy Spirit and walk with us in the eternal glory of Your presence. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

*Charles W. Christian is managing editor of Holiness Today.

This article was originally published at Holiness Today.

“Restricted…but not Silent”

By Diana Gonzalez

A few days ago I had the blessing to be a part of Third Wave 2019 in Hyderabad, India.  I will never be the same after this experience.  I found new perspectives –  new ways of seeing life.  I was also challenged to hear the needs that exist, and what the Church of the Nazarene is doing to meet them in the name of Jesus.

People from more than 60 nations met to worship God. We shared our experiences, strategies, and ways of doing youth ministry in different contexts, just to share a few examples.  It was indescribable to be among so many nations, languages, cultures and flavors, but all with the same passion for the Lord.  I experienced a small taste of what it will be like after Jesus’ return.  On top of that, in some way, the world became smaller for me, because now I have friends all the way on the other side!

50481812_485426148652870_5208591747067674624_n.jpg

 

50437954_447724335764950_2678421380508155904_n.jpgThe most significant thing for me in all of it was hearing the testimonies of the missionaries that work in Creative Access Areas.  In those areas, patience is part of their strategy, and what we understand in our contexts as “good results” must be reconsidered and valued in a different way.  In countries where they do not have the freedom to meet together for a service or the people are simply not interested in hearing about Jesus, the Word of God is “restricted, but not silenced,” as the Eurasia Regional Director shared.

I have learned about relational evangelism in a Youth Ministry class, and how Jesus established his kingdom through friendship and paying attention to important details. In Creative Access Areas, relational evangelism is crucial.  It is through years of friendship that someone is able to share the Good News.

50343489_1823382504438644_2274089585849925632_n.jpg

It is difficult to express how grateful I am for this experience.  It was a time in which God reminded us that this is our moment, this is our place, but it is also our decision to act!

*Diana Gonzalez is a youth leader and the Global Mission Coordinator in El Salvador.