36Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." 37Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice."
5And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
In the two previous installments of this series, we explored the scriptural foundations concerning Babel, and the beginnings of cultures, nations, and kingdoms of this world.
Let’s quickly review:
1. At one time mankind was united by a common language, and from that “unity” they strove to make a name for themselves, i.e. they desired to exalt themselves as a god. (Genesis 11:1-4)
2. The diverse nations, tribes and tongues of the earth came about because the Lord caused the common language of men to become “diversified”, and thus many tongues and dialects came into being. God confused their language; hence the name Babel, meaning confusion. (Genesis 11:5-9)3. This action did not put and end to man’s desire to ”be like God”.(Genesis 3:4-5) However this action ensured, for all time, that mankind’s plans to create unity through diversity, would never be successful.
4. Unity through diversity is man’s corrupt attempt to undo what God has done.True unity is found only in Christ, the great high priest over the house of God, the living temple. (Psalm 133; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:4-10)
5. The events of the day of Pentecost described in Acts 2, especially the gift of speaking in other tongues, reveal the fruition of the covenant given to Abraham by God in Genesis 12, (who was called out of Babel/Babylon, Genesis 11:31-12:1) and spoken of through all the Law and the prophets. It is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It is sealed by the Holy Spirit in this present day, beginning at the day of Pentecost.
6. The call goes forth, “come out of her my people”, from the old testament, (Jeremiah 51:45) to the new. (Rev 18:1-5)
7. This is the mystery contained in the overarching context of the covenant given to Abraham, (Genesis 12:2-3) and the promise prophesied to the serpent. (Genesis 3:14)
8. God will have a people, called by His name, for His glory, and “born again” to enter His Kingdom, which is not of this world. (John 3:3-8 and 18:36-37)
9. All citizens of this Kingdom speak the “common language” of God’s Word.
10. Jesus Christ calls men into the “culture” of the redeemed, i.e. the Kingdom of Heaven. We are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, formerly not a people, but now the people of God, aliens and strangers in this world. (1 Peter 2:9-11; Isaiah 65:1)
"Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."
9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
Jesus Christ is found worthy to open the seals of the scroll, which signifies the beginning of the end of all things, because He gave His life’s blood as ransom for the foreknown, redeemed remnant of Babel. Therefore they are seen praising their redeemer every one of them wearing robes of white (the putting on of Christ?), which is the “cultural” dress of the redeemed.The scriptural view of cultural differences and/or diversity as recorded by Paul is simply this:
27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
So Abraham, in typology, represents the “first-fruits of those who are the called out (ekklesia) of Babylon, but also is the one through whom the “seed” of the woman will come and crush the head of the serpent. This, of course, is Christ, the true first-fruits of mankind. All who are redeemed, were in "Abraham's loins" when the covenant was given, just as all of mankind was in Adam when he fell. (Romans 4:1-13 and Romans 12-21)If we are baptized into Christ and His death, then we are a new creation walking in resurrection life, being renewed in knowledge, after the image of our creator, that is, the true imago dei. (Colossians 1:13-20)We are then sons of Abraham, and joint heirs with Christ who is all and in all. He is the fullness of the new man. (Romans 6:2-4;Romans 8:16-17; Ephesians 4:11-16)Ultimately, the only culture that matters is the culture of the new man.
1 Cor 9:
19For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20To 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. 21To 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. 22To 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. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
This is a favorite “proof text” for the pro-contextual faction.
What is Paul actually saying?This passage is not dealing with cultural contexts per se. For example, is there a culture, or tribe, or nation, of the weak? Yet, there are weak ones living within every nation, tribe, and people group.I believe that Paul is telling us that wherever he was lead to go and evangelize, he did not present his particular cultural affectations as part of the Gospel. He didn’t pack his cultural baggage, so to speak.I minister on the Navajo reservation, which along with the other indigenous peoples of North America was victimized by some very bad methods of evangelization. It is a sad and bloody history. There has been much pain and sorrow caused by the improper preaching and subsequent enforcement of western culture as the Gospel.This was a worldwide phenomenon. The correct method of bringing the good news does not necessarily include “going native” I know that Hudson Taylor and others chose to take this road, but there were other missionaries who were just as successful in their work who did not employ these methods.It is safe to say that the essential thing is to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It’s the Word that brings people to saving faith. Wrapping the Gospel in any context of culture is not necessary, as we are be born again from above. There is no dominant culture in the Kingdom, other than the “culture of Christ”
22So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,28 for “In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, "'For we are indeed his offspring.'29Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
First of all, Paul makes it quite clear that the God who made earth and heaven is not bound by human restrictions, and that it is He who determines the historical shelf life, and geographical boundaries of the nations and peoples, of the earth. He is sovereign over culture. He is sovereign over all people and things.Second; this is one of, the least successful efforts at winning souls recorded in Acts. I am not saying Paul had no success; just that it did not have the same impact as other efforts mentioned by Luke.Third, nowhere in the Bible does it say that contextualized evangelism is a necessity for winning souls.God saves through Christ, and by His Holy Spirit. God foreknows all who will come. Therefore all things work together for good to those who love Him, and they love Him because he called them first. (Romans 8:28-31)Once again, it’s the Word alone.(Romans 10:17)Men’s efforts to “sneak” their way into a relationship with the unredeemed, thus saving them by befriending them, is foolishness. Our friendship never saved anyone.Last of all, Paul’s quoting of the Greek writers from two of their poems, which were written about Zeus, is not “cultural engagement”. He is telling them that the words are correct, but the God they are written for is not God. Such words would and do apply only to Yahweh. As always, men may seek “a” god, but only a god of their own creation (made in their image and likeness). The Greek stoics were no different. No one seeks the one true God. (Romans 3:9-19)
One more caution; by quoting the Greek poets, Paul is not giving a tacit endorsement of their writings, any more than Bible writers are giving approval to the apocryphal books that they quote. Whatever is placed in Scripture is true, and God given for our use. (Deut 29:29)
I would like to briefly address the debate over contextual worship. We need to be clear upfront that it is only the redeemed that worship God, ie. men redeemed from every tribe, tongue, and nation.For too long western culture has asserted itself as ‘Christendom”, that is as the primary and/or sole expression of the Kingdom of God. Western culture has just as much ungodliness in it as any other culture on earth, as it too came out of Babel. One thing the Reformation did not fully address is that while it made great attempts to rid us of the pagan syncretism, and the tyranny of Rome, (which typified both the empire and the hybrid church it became),it never dealt en toto with the fact that western culture is not the Kingdom.The scripture is explicit. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. It exists outside of the world and it’s cultures and systems. Nationalities, race, differences between men and women, socio-economic status, etc are all irrelevant in Christ. We do not live like the world.When I read of people from all nations and tribes and tongues declaring God’s greatness and majesty, singing his praises and speaking His Word, I rejoice. I cannot wait to hear what that will sound like, i.e. all the different languages exalting the Lord simultaneously. It’s the language of the Kingdom of God and we can participate in that to some extent right here and now. Arguments, pro or con, over music styles, the use of indigenous instruments, dance, etc. should not exist in the church.While the church in western culture has given us great hymns and songs, we must acknowledge that the style they are written in is a cultural expression pretty much unique to the western world.The songs of the Kingdom speak the Word, they do not promote a particular musical form.Worship comes after entering into God’s reconciliation, after entering into His Kingdom.Since only the redeemed worship God, then let that worship be expressed in the context of the culture where God has placed you.We should be able to go to any fellowship anywhere on earth and worship with brothers and sisters whether it is “our style” or not.Now I am not contradicting myself. I believe that the content is more important than the style it is conveyed in. Since the language of the Kingdom is the Word, then the only question would be; is the Word being proclaimed thus glorifying God and edifying each other?We need to see that the worship of the redeemed from all tribes, tongues and nations expressed in context of their culture is the final slap in the face of the pride and arrogance of Babel.
I offer this caveat, that while worship is expressed culturally, contextual evangelization is more problematic. As I have said, we do not save anyone. Our methods and ideas do not save anyone. Contextual evangelism may or may not attract attention, and such attention may or may not be a good thing. The fact remains that in every culture on earth, there are things that are not of God, they cannot ever be used by the church, as well as things that are neutral, i.e. things which can be used for good or evil purposes depending on who is using them. Simply stamping the name of Jesus on something does not redeem it. This is error which afflicts both the modern evangelicals, who have absorbed culture, and the post-moderns, who have allowed the culture to absorb them. A reading of early church history will show that both such circumstances prevailed in the church through the 4th and 5th centuries when the empire and the church began their unholy union. There is a reason why the next several centuries were called the “Dark Ages”.
Let God daily add those who are being saved, and let us do our assigned portion.(Acts 2:44-47) He doesn’t need our ideas or innovations, nor did He ever ask us for them.In these three posts my desire has been to motivate the study of Scripture in regard to the church and culture. Please do not accuse me of being a racist, a bigot, or hateful, or……….I am not denigrating cultures or peoples. I am affirming a sovereign God and His authoritative Word.Let us not worship in the temple and at the altar of humanism, e.g. the UN, LiveAid, Bono,Ghandi, or whatever. Diversity is not something the church so much “celebrates”, as it recognizes that it is the fruit of man’s rebellion, through which God’s incredible plan of salvation is being revealed and enacted.I have heard it expressed many times that Jesus, the apostles and the 1st century church turned the world upside-down. I submit that that the reality is; they began turning it right side-up.
Let’s continue that work in obedience to His Word. Amen.
15Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever."