Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Crossing the Divide

There is a cultural divide between Christians and unbelievers. At one time in the United States unbelievers at least seemed to understand Christian assumptions. But today we have developed two conflicting philosophies and often are speaking past each other without  communicating. Now I do not want to minimize the power of the Spirit of God. But I do not believe this lets us off the hook of needing to do the best job we can to communicate. We have an obligation to be God's servants, to put forth God's truth (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Luke 24:46-48). Also, we have an obligation to do this in a spirit of love and gentleness (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Colossians 4:5,6). But how do we do it across the growing cultural gap?

 We need to define our terms and cannot assume people know what we mean. I have no problems with terms like "born again" or "accept Christ," but if we use them with an unbeliever without explaining them, they can be meaningless or convey the wrong idea altogether. There is no Christian expression we can simply assume the unbeliever will get. We have to take the time to explain. Frequently this will require more than one conversation. To do it, we need to have some idea of what the unbeliever thinks. (Notice there is not simply one kind of unbeliever to understand. There are many kinds of beliefs out there, and each person is an individual.) This means listening and asking questions. Also, studying up on where the other person is coming from can be helpful.

There is a careful Biblical balance between meeting people where they are at (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Matthew 9:10-13; Luke 19:10) and ourselves becoming conformed to their way of thinking (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). But I think we can become so fearful that we never reach out, which is a mistake. Also, the greatest barrier to reaching out is self-righteousness (Luke 7:36-50; 18:9-14; Isaiah 65:5). We need to remember that we are also sinners who have been saved by the grace of God (Romans 3:21-31; 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9).

But it is important to realize that the gospel is a stumbling block to those who do not accept it (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; John 15:18-25). There is a difference, then, between meeting people where they are at and telling people what they want to hear. We need to be gentle and loving. We need to reach out and make God's truth clear. But even then we can be rejected because someone does not want to hear what we have to say. We do need to be honest enough with ourselves to ask if we are presenting the message well. But we should not jump to the conclusion that we have not if it is not well received. Nevertheless, we should endeavor to present God's truth in such a way that what they reject is God's truth and not a caricature of it. 

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