Context is Key

Today in my History of Missions class, we were discussing the Catholic missionary movement in the era of the Crusades. Rather than focusing on all the gorey details of the Crusades themselves (cuz the raping of Muslim women by “Christian” men just doesn’t seem to fit the theme of missions unless you have a dirty mind) we focus on those men who stood up against the Crusades.

In our text book (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Birgraphical History of Christian Missions by Ruth A. Tucker), there was a mention of St. Francis of Asissi and how he believed that the Muslims should be won by love instead of by hate. And there was a focused biography of Raymond Lull, who made the comment,

I see many knights going to the Holy Land beyond the sea…and thinking that they can acquire it by force of arms, but in the end all are destroyed before they attain that which they think to have. Whence it seems to me that the conquest of the Holy Land ought…to be attempted…by love and prayers, and the pouring out of tears and blood.

We also spoke of Boniface. And some of the good Religious leaders of this time who saught to preach the Gospel in a more Biblically prescribed manner.

In the course of class discussion, a quote was brought to our attention in the book which got me to thinking about a topic that seems to really ruffle some feathers: the contextualization of the Gospel.

Context Truly Is Key

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14 ESV)

This is a favorite verse of the pre-trib crowd when trying to motivate people to go and spread the Gospel and bring more quickly the “end” (read: “Rapture”). But is this really what Jesus is saying?

For starters, I do not believe in a pre-tribulational rapture. I find it to be wishful thinking at best. God’s chosen people were put through many tribulations in the Old Testament, so what is it that makes us think that we, the church, will be spared from anything?

I find the doctrine of the pre-tribulational rapture to simply be a product of our Western cultural mindset.

Secondly, what “Gospel of the kingdom” is Jesus referring to? Well, context is key.

Immediately before he makes the statement that I quoted above, Jesus says this:

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:9-13 ESV)

So what Good news is Jesus referring to? That if you endure through this tribulation, you will be saved. This passage really doesn’t have anything to do with the Great Commission, but rather is a call for the true disciples of Jesus to encourage each other with the good news that salvation is coming. And when the whole world has heard this good news, the end will come and the Messiah will return to establish his final throne.

My Point

I share this little bit of exegesis to make a point. The context of a statement makes all the difference in the world. When taken out of context, the actual meaning is lost.

When we share the Gospel, context is vitally important. It would be a dishonor to the message that the Messiah wants preached for us to go to, for example, Africa, into a tribe that is run by women, and try to create a men’s uprising in the name of setting up a proper order with the men as the head and women in submission to them. To do so would undermine the culture and forfeit your right to share the Gospel with those people. It might be wrong for women to lead in those capacities (I’m not making any claims either way), but it would also be wrong for us to create those kinds of cultural problems in the name of Missions.

The same is true here in America. Modernity has given way to Postmodernity, and there is no changing that. Culture has shifted. We must learn to view things from a new perspective if we are to accurately present the Gospel to the world around us.

A 3 point outline expository sermon just might not get the point across the same way as a conversation in the local Applebee’s might. In fact, the conversation at Applebee’s might be the only way to get the Gospel message into someone’s hands.

Proof-texting and scientifically proven explanations for the validity of the faith must give way to proving our faith to be real by showing how it effects our every day lives. We must make every decision we make in light of our faith. Logic and facts will not cut it for my generation. We want a faith that is alive; a faith accompanied by deeds.

Rather than condemning Postmodernity, and indirectly condemning an entire generation for simply being born, we must immerse ourselves in the culture, learn the language, and become, in some manner, what we want to save.

I think Paul said it best.

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 ESV)

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