Saturday, March 25, 2006

On Worldwide Missions and the Church in America

I recently read an interesting article for a worldwide missions class that I am taking. The article was written by Edward Dayton titled, "The Task At Hand: World Evangelization".

In this article Dayton mentions that Christians have 3 tasks:
1. Evangelize the nominal Christians that are in our churches and neighborhoods. (Millions of people)
2. Evangelize the non-Christians that we are in contact with on a regular basis. (This is estimated to be 2.2 billion people)
3. Witness to the unreached people groups of the world. (This is estimated to be 2 billion people)

This was a refreshing view of the task of the Church. Too often I hear views that are horribly imbalanced. "We shouldn't go overseas... there is too much to do at home" is one view heard and "The people at home can go to a church if they want to - we all need to go overseas for missions" is another view. The task is not an either/or kind of a task. The church should NOT decide between local ministry or overseas missions. BOTH are needed.

Dayton goes on to say that "no matter how earnest all the local churches in the world are in reaching out to their near-neighbors (people like them), only one-third of the non-Christians in the world can be reached by Christians who speak their language and understand their culture."

This, to me, is one of the most convincing arguments I have heard on the need for overseas missions. The task of reaching all the nations with the gospel will not happen without cross-cultural evangelization.

However, there is still much work that needs to be done at home. In America cross-cultural evangelization can occur across the street. Ralph Winter in an article entitled "The New Macedonia" asks, "Are we in America prepared for the fact that most non-Christians yet to be won to Christ (even in our country) will not fit readily into the kinds of churches we now have?"

This is a powerful question. So often in my life I have mixed my social preferences with my Christianity. Am I ready for someone's Christianity to look different than mine? Am I will to maintain the meaning (theology and biblical doctrine) of the church while allowing the form (the expression of that theology and doctrine) to change based on different cultures?

Take for example, marriage (in a simplified version). In my mind it means a bride in a white dress walking down the aisle in a church to a groom. Biblically it's a covenant between two people and God. Culturally this is expressed in many ways around the world. Not every culture has a bride in white in a church with an aisle. Can I allow the flexibility that we see in marriage ceremonies to be present in other aspect of the Church?

Winters also states, "Present day American Christians can wait forever in their cozy, middle-class pews for the world to come to Christ and join them. But unless they adopt [methods of reaching people not like them] and both go out after these people and help them found their own churches, evangelism in America will face, and is already facing, steady diminishing returns."

These are my thoughts as I am wrestling with trying to differentiate between biblical truth and social norms and understanding the need for different strategies and churches for different cultures.

Things I didn't mean to imply in this post: That truth is relative. I don't believe that truth is in any way, in any situation relative.

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