One of the tensions we face as Christians is the call to live in a world that is not in total agreement with our belief system. It may come as a surprise to some, but this is a new problem. Christians have always lived in a world that is at odds with the values of Scripture. So how can we be faithful to God and to our values in a world that does not understand or accept the message of Jesus?
Lamin Sanneh argues that the gospel must be translated into each new culture. Christianity, especially since the Reformation, has encouraged the translation of the Scripture into the language of every tribe and people. But translation raises an interesting question, how do we relate the message to each new culture. According to Sanneh there are basically three ways Christians have approached their relationship to new cultures. First, some choose to stay secluded from the world, they strove to live completely separate from the world. A second group strove to find as many connections between the gospel and the culture. This group may even exclude some cherished Christian practices for acceptance. A third group worked to be a prophetic witness that spoke against those who are no longer reaching people with the Good News because they have chosen an approach that either has compromised the truth (syncretism) or led to a withdrawal of Christians from the world (quarantine).
The challenge is to be a prophetic witness without becoming secluded from the world or compromising the truth. It seems our challenge is to be a people who are known for their love without losing our message. In the words of the Ephesians 4:15, we need to speak the truth in love. What is the essential message that must not be compromised? When we examine our message, there may even be things we believe are essential, that in fact are not essential, and may even be doing damage to our witness.
I wish we could hear again for the first time the story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10). Can you imagine Peter’s shock when God told him to eat something unclean? Why did Peter have to eat something unclean? Because God was doing a new thing, with a new people. God’s requirements seemed to change as Christianity moved from a Jewish religion to a religion for the whole world. Of course, there were those who held to “the truth” and argued that what Peter and Paul were doing was against the will of God. As I write this I realize that some may misunderstand what I am saying. I am not saying we can lay aside the truth. I am saying we need to examine our beliefs and make sure they flow from the word of God and not our cultural background. Do we have values that we have learned which are tied more to our culture than to the word of God?
I had to address this in my own life several years ago. I realized that what I was watching on TV was molding me into something which was not in line with the word of God. Instead of exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit I was filled with anger and hatred. I was not worried about winning the world for Christ as much as I was worried about how ungodly the culture I lived in had become. I was more concerned with politics than with sharing the healing love of Jesus. Because this had become an addiction for me I had to go cold turkey. I chose to stop watching TV news. (I still read the news, but this does not have the same negative effect on me). I have seen one major difference in my life. I am no longer angry and worked up about the latest issue on the news. Of course, there may be other places I may need to give up least it draw me back into an unrighteous anger.
What about you? Do you error on the side of truth or of love? Is there anything in your life that keeps you from experiencing the fruit of the Spirit?
Gal. 5: 22-23 (NRSV)
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture.