Editorial: Insiders and Separatists, to Assimilate or to Burn?

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I am sure you watched on the news the church in Florida that is going to commemorate the anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks with the burning of the Qur’an.

One of the biggest questions we have been discussing on this journal has been contextualization. How far is too far? I think the burning of the Qur’an brings to mind the opposite question, how far is too little. Ultimately, I think they both miss the mark with unintended consequences that are very similar. Misdirecting attention away from God. The ‘insiders’ tend to focus on culture and religious systems. The ‘separatists’ like Pastor Jones, who plans on burning the Qur’an, draw attention to fanaticism and legalism. No where do I hear the gospel and saving power of Christ being proclaimed. Instead of the Word of God, we are debating the Qur’an. Instead of the gospel, we are focusing on cultural sensitivity.

I understand that under US law, they have freedom of speech, but the question ultimately should be for us as believers is “Whether or not is it wise, and in alignment with the Word of God and glorifying to Christ?” Even better, start every action from the positive, “Am I glorifying Christ and in alignment with the Word of God?” We should not just do actions and try to argue how they glorify. We should plan to glorify and create actions from that.

I will limit myself to two texts, though many could be given, that speak to this core issue. Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26), and Paul speaking to the Athenians (Acts 17:16-34). In both of these texts, we are given a situation where Jesus and Paul interact with religions that are not Judaism.  Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22 ESV) Paul says to the Athenians, “For 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.” (Acts 17:23 ESV) In both cases we see Jesus and Paul, who took his model from Jesus, clearly saying that the other religion is false. However, they did not dwell on it. They moved immediately into truth, the Word of God, the gospel, and glorying God.

This, in my opinion, is where most strategies fail. Whether you are trying to be an ‘insider’ by warming up to a falsehood to gain its ear, or attacking to such a point that makes you a ‘separatist’, both fail to point to the gospel. We are aliens on this earth. We cannot be ‘insiders’. However, we are asked to be salt and light, we cannot be ‘separatists’. The purpose of missions is not to be inclusive nor exclusive. The purpose of missions is simply, and beautifully to glorify God through displaying, teaching and preaching His fame and renown through the gospel, and that is most clearly done by presenting the unadulterated truth via the Word of God. The purpose is not necessarily to see others change. In Jesus’ situation the town repented, and in Paul’s, although most thought he was foolish, some did follow him that day. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 ESV says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Yet, we also know, not all are saved. So God must have a higher purpose than the salvation of souls, otherwise all would be saved. Thus His purpose must be something else beyond salvation, otherwise, we would all see salvations every time we share the gospel. The sole purpose of gospel presentation simply is the glory of God. Through that glory God sometimes saves, sometimes not. Jesus’ purpose was His own glory. Paul’s was the glory of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that saves, missions does not.  The purpose of missions is however to bring glory, which the Holy Spirit often uses to bring about salvation, for the purposes of glorifying Himself.

Our goal should not to be ‘insiders’ or ‘separatists’, but to be for Jesus, to glorify Him, point to Him, worship Him, adore Him, and follow Him.  For in the end, all strategies will fail, all ‘insider’ and ‘separatist’ tendencies fall outside of the glory of Christ. It is only when we focus on His person, focus on His Word and present it clearly, boldly, for His glory do we lose our own deceptive motivations that creep and crawl in our hearts, and we are enveloped by the Holy Spirit in a glory-filled moment of worship of truth and power. In other words, when we focus on the gospel, through the Word of God, God controls our motivations, and He Himself mediates the inclusivity, and exclusivity of His own Kingdom. Let us not ask how far is too far for contextualization, neither how little is too little. Let us ask, how much can we purely and clearly glorify Christ by presenting a gospel that is straight from His Word, and let Him determine through His power how He meets the needs of those in the presence of His glory.

Brothers and sisters, let us not lose sight of our real purpose, that is the glorification of the Father, Son and Spirit above all else. Otherwise, like ‘insiders’ who don the cultures and religions of others, and like the ‘separatists’ who burn the Qur’an, we will produce the opposite of glory, rotten fruit that shows our tree to be an entirely different kind of plant, produce of confusion, divisiveness, controversy, disunity, resulting in hatred by the outside world not because we are followers of Christ, but because we are followers of our own ambitions.

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5 Comments

  1. Thanks for your comment Carl,

    I’m not sure what you read in my article, as your 3 points are exactly what I’m saying. Jesus never found it necessary to go about making his _main_ point attacking falsehood. He went about preaching truth, and the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God, the gospel. Jesus was more about good news than ‘bad’ news, though he certainly didn’t avoid ‘bad’ news.

    I do disagree that Jesus _never_ criticized false living (whether a religion or not) but if the person repented, he immediately went to preaching the Kingdom. As to attacking other religions, we must remember Jesus Himself said he had come for the Jews. It wasn’t his purpose to go around talking against everything he could. He was focused. This is particularly why he attacked the Jewish leadership so strongly. Initially it wasn’t so harsh, but as they refused to turn, it escalated more and more to the point he called them sons of the devil. Paul was also very good at polemics (he did call the sophists ignorant, which indeed angered them), but that wasn’t his heart’s desire. His heart was glorifying God through preaching the truth of the gospel.

    I think this article is very pro focusing on the glory of God, or at least that was the intent.

    The negative discussion in it was to refocus the current news to something it should be focused on, glorifying God, and the Gospel message. Certainly strategy can become so important in our lives that it becomes an idol and we lose focus on the main purpose, glorifying Christ. Strategy whether it is ‘IM’, ‘separatism’, or anything else we Americans are so good at making a model of, codifying, and writing books about. We do love our methods, and analyzing methods, and duplicating them and seeing them rolled out. However, our wisdom is foolishness to the wisdom of God. The only model and only instruction manual we really need is the Word of God, and the model is that of Jesus through that Word, and we are capable of this because of the Holy Spirit in us.

    As for the new teaching comment, I don’t think it was new. Peter certainly knew what was right, he was just afraid of the Jewish group. Out of fear he pandered to the Jewish group, and it took Paul calling him and the others out to what they already knew. Certainly the apostles weren’t perfect, and that’s exactly why the Lord has given us the canon of scripture, to learn from their experiences.

    Blessings!

  2. Not so fast….

    Paul spent over two years in Ephesus, teaching daily. When protests were stirred up against the new teaching, and against Paul and his colleagues, the town clerk rebuked the demonstrators, saying that Paul and his colleagues “have stolen nothing from the temple and have not spoken against our goddess” (Act 19:37)

    Isn’t this what Peter said:

    But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

    So while you want to use one part of Acts 19 to “prove” your anti-IM methodology, I can use another part (a little later) to show how they did NOT slander even another deity.

    While you state what Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4 and what Paul said about the “god they don’t know” in Acts, 17… I can roll out a room full of scriptures to “prove” exactly the opposite points.

    Consider:

    1. Jesus is very hard on the Jewish leaders, calling them to account. But does not point out the flaws, sins, heresy in the leaders of the Samaritan religion. Saying this one thing to the woman at the well, falls far short of him actually speaking to Samaritans in general. Why didn’t he ‘call them out?’

    2. There were many religions other than Judaism in the land in Jesus’ day. Why doesn’t he address their leaders? Trash their holy books? Call out their prophets for an Elijah style contest? Because he has no need to. He is Jesus. He is completely silent on the thing you are so concerned about.

    3. Paul and Peter as well, had every opportunity to call the Greek and Roman and Pagan gods all kinds of names and their followers heretics, but they don’t. Why? Because Jesus is more than enough.

    What’s more and more interesting to me in this dialog, is that there are very few actual biblical issues between you and what I’m saying. You are choosing to spend time being against something that in my opinion neither Jesus nor Paul were against.

    I had this thought yesterday – never thought this before – in Acts 15, the great and first “Church Council” in Jerusalem. It’s interesting to think that some of the Apostles were wrong. James and the other elders and apostles in Jerusalem could not stand up to what Paul and Barnabas brought – this NEW teaching. The Apostles were wrong. Never thought that before. Interesting…

    As Andre said so well in his last reply to me (in the other post) – we all use the same scripture, but it’s not all equal. But then who decides whose is “more equal” then the other? I have refrained from bombarding this site with verses that “prove” my point. Because they don’t “prove” anything, any more than the ones you’ve used “prove” what you’re trying to get across.

    It’s a way of interpreting scripture that we’re really talking about. Hermeneutics. Descriptive versus Prescriptive – for instance.

    Anyway, big topics….

  3. Douglas,

    This article I read comments on Acts 19.

    Again, the focus wasn’t on the old religion, but on the new, and certainly the church in Florida is not made up of Christians who came from an Islamic past. So Acts 19 doesn’t play a role here. Certainly Acts 19 might be an example of why IM doesn’t work. One cannot change from their past without destroying and cleansing their idolatry away from them.

    Also Deuteronomy is again because the Jews were turning to the idolatry of Asheroth.

    I think that the Pastor in Florida is wrong, because he’s focusing on something that is not Christ. His intent solely seems to attract publicity, and get the Mosque in New York moved. Where’s Christ in all of this? Where’s the gospel?

  4. “Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19.19).

    I think we are “eaten up” with political correctness, so much so that this has become news. But the verse I quoted made me wonder what former Muslims who are now Christians think about what these folks in Scripture did? I think the Qur’an and those books in the verse are equally demonic. And I notice that the abuse of Jesus’ name by the Jewish exorcists (reminds me of the abuse of Jesus’ name by the Qur’an) and its consequence seem to be part of what the Lord was doing. It emboldened these book-burning believers to act publicly in repentance and “the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19.20).

    Their action seems to have been part of what the Lord was doing there in Ephesus. It’s time we fear the Lord, not Islam. To be more biblically specific than culturally correct should be the point . The pastor offends the sensibilities of many, and his way is not my way, but I do not think he is wrong. I think the destruction of an idolatrous item is seen in Scripture: “…for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire “(Deuteronomy 7.4,f.). Boy, the LORD seems insensitive to me. Someone should have reeled him in a bit :)

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