An Evangelistic Posture
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
1 Corinthians 9:19–23
I’ve recently been reading two books (Catechetical Discourse by Gregory of Nyssa and Pilgrims and Priests by Stefan Paas). In the book Pilgrims and Priests, Paas highlights different ways Christians have engaged the world. I’ve not finished the chapter, but some examples include an Anabaptist theology that is counter-cultural. Old European Churches have thought of themselves as folk-churches (i.e. a church of the people, where the church is almost an extension of the people). A third example, and what is of interest to me for this devotion is Kuyper’s thought that Christians can transform culture. Paas said though that many people miss that Kuyper thought the church could sit in the position of transforming culture in a situation where the broader culture was ‘Christian.’ And where culture becomes more secular, the church should take more of a counter-cultural stance. What I think is important for us to see is that Kuyper was changeable in how he thought the church ought to position and engage with the world. Turning to the second book, Gregory of Nyssa has some similar thoughts in teaching different people about the faith. For him, catechizing a Greek is different than catechizing a Jew. And we have to actually consider what questions a Greek would ask when you’re talking to a Greek and then we’d in turn ask what questions a Jew would ask when talking to a Jew. Although the doctrine of God and his word doesn’t change, the way we present it to individuals might change based on the persons’ background (and the society from which they come.)
So what we have here is something that I think is important. It is ok to be changeable in some things like how we view a Christian’s position in the world around. I think unfortunately, we tend to live in a sort of frozen situation. If we grew up in an anti-culture/transformationalist culture situation, then we will forever think that this is the posture of the church to the world outside. And I want to say no!
But first, we have got to cover a base that I think is essential: our posture to the outside world should not affect much who we are as a people (one people of faith in Christ), or what we do as a church when we gather. Just read the rest of the book of 1 Corinthians. The church still eats together, gathers for communion, gathers to hear the preached word (but not out of envy or strife), and deals with sin. In other words, the basic purpose of the local church shouldn’t change when we’re considering our posture to the world outside. Instead, we must forever be strengthening our conviction that a church ought to be a church pursuing good health through the regular means of grace (word, prayer, and ordinances).
But then we have to ask, ‘What is prudent as we seek to engage with the world?’ In these past 15 years, I have grown especially convinced that we should remember that to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. Beyond that, I am also convinced we have got to limit our work to what is needful and take care that our words do not undermine our basic confession. The internet has become a pile of refuse of foolish things spoken, and by God’s grace most of the foolish things we Christians have spoken can’t be read by most humans (although it will be read by a bot somewhere).
So what is the order of our work in the world? The first thing we should consider is how is what I am doing furthering the work of the gospel? This is one thing that I have had the opportunity to observe with some friends at the Minnesota Family Council. They are not trying to get legislation passed (at least in this initiative that pastors help out with). I think that a lot of the work of the religious right of the 1980’s was to force political change on the legislation level. People themselves were actually neglected. Instead, these pastors actually are working to care for those who have been elected to office, to meet and open up the conversation on spiritual needs. And the word of God read and simply explained even works in the State Senate and House buildings I’m told! I’m afraid we are tempted though by pursuing power at the expense of the gospel. But what if our pursuit of political power undermines our very message? I think that it has to an extent.
Of course, politics is only one realm in our world, and most of us have almost no work in that realm aside from voting. Our more immediate circles perhaps include relationships with non-Christians at work or in your neighborhood. Do we ask what it would look like to make myself all things so that that by all means I might save some? Or are we perhaps a little reluctant to be ashamed? Instead, I think it would be helpful to ask, ‘What might be the questions that my neighbor would have, and how can I answer them?’ How can I become all things in this situation?’ Perhaps they just don’t care. Or maybe they have long ago given up on things of the faith. But we can’t know unless we ask questions. I’d suggest that we treat our evangelistic endeavors as life-long works. Some the Lord will open their hearts now, and some in twenty years. We cannot know, but we can be faithfully and lovingly present.