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.