Putting on Gentile Clothing – Part 2 – The Celtic Way

What does it mean to “put on Gentile clothing” to reach people for Christ?

We need to understand that the message the early Christians preached was a Jewish message rooted in Jewish religion.  Israel had a Covenant relationship with God through the faith of Abraham – but what the heck does this mean?

See, I have to translate this before I even begin.  It says in Scripture:

Genesis 12:1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

God’s promise, through Abraham, was for all the people of the earth.  As you read
on in the Old Testament you discover that God was defining a special relationship with Israel, but this special relationship was supposed to result in Israel being a shining light in a dark world.  Israel was supposed to be a missional nation, but the ceremonial laws, circumcision, and Temple worship became a “dividing wall of hostility” for the Gentile people (Ephesians 2:11-18 – i.e., the Jews during the time of Christ had many Gentiles [non-Jews] who wanted to convert to Judaism, but the regulations of the Law, beginning with circumcision, were too strict and so many Gentiles stopped short of conversion and some were even hostile to the Jews for being so legalistic).

Then along came the Christian message – a Jewish message with a twist – Jesus has abolished the “dividing wall of hostility” that was preventing Gentiles from converting.  And now all the pre-evangelized Gentiles (by the Jewish people) were interested in converting to the Christian version of Judaism.  But many Gentiles still didn’t understand some of the language – like “Messiah” or “Kingdom of Heaven” – and so the early Christians had to translate these terms into Gentile language:

For example: Messiah means “Anointed of God”, Christ, or King – to the Jew this meant Jesus was God’s representative King and Lord.  But to the Gentile there were many kings.  To say Jesus was king was not a big deal.  So the early Christian evangelists translated the word Messiah into a Gentile word, which has a similar meaning – and so they called Jesus “Lord.”  For the Gentile, calling Jesus “Lord” was to say Caesar is not.  This captured the attention of the Gentile.

Similarly, the term “Kingdom of Heaven” didn’t make a whole lot of sense to the Gentile.  For the Jew this meant God’s eternal reign and the faithful Jewish people being a part of His Kingdom for eternity.  And so the early evangelists translated the Jewish term into a Gentile term people could understand – “Salvation.”

Today: There are many terms we Christians use that don’t make any sense to the average non-churchgoer.  For example, “evangelism” or “witness” or “justification” or even “saved by faith.”

I was reading the other day an NPR article about “Evangelicals and Adoption” – the person who wrote the piece may have meant well, but all the terms being used (which were biblical terms) were run through a filter of mistranslation and the article made Christians look manipulative in their motivations for adoption.  In one sense I was offended.  In another sense I realized that we Christians have a totally different culture and verbiage compared to the rest of the world.  This is part of the reason people think Christians are weird or irrelevant or uneducated or judgmental.

We need to do a better job of translation: and this begins with admitting we have created a wall to the non-Christian world.  The wall we have constructed comes in many forms: we might think you have to be a certain type of person before you are ready to hear the Gospel; we might think you have to look and act a certain way before you are welcome in our church; we might make a person who is looking for help feel like they can’t find it here because they are not welcome until they have solved their problem; etc.

Examples of Translation:

  • One of the problems the current church in America is facing has to do with music – the churches that are shrinking are the churches that insist on a music style “Imported from Europe” (i.e., mainline denominations).  These churches, and the people in these churches, are sometimes so insistent on keeping the old style of music and liturgy because it is enjoyable to them that they are missing out on a really important function of the church – reaching the next generation.  Conversely, the churches that are growing in America have a style of music that is “Made in America.”

I love hymns and I love much of the contemporary music.  I love people who love hymns and I love people who love contemporary music.  When a person walks in off the street, daring enough to search for God in a new community, two questions are running through their mind: (1) do they welcome me? And (2) do they love each other?

If we welcome them, they will be more likely to come back.

If we love each other and they see this in the foyer and during worship, they will want what we have.

But if they are looked at wrong or if they see people sitting down with their arms folded during worship, they will think, “That’s awkward” – and make judgments about our community, which may result in people never coming back.

What am I saying? Love needs to be translated to people no matter their race, clothing, or musical standard – and – we need to be a community in which true, biblical love exists.

  • One reason people don’t come to church is because people in the church are not inviting people to church.  We have a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” evangelistic strategy.  There was a church that was struggling to reach people for Christ – they said, “People in our neighborhood just don’t want to come here.”  There was an author and speaker named George Hunter who was visiting the church and decided to test if what the pastor was saying was true.  He went to the local laundry mat and saw 8 young ladies in their late teens and early twenties.  He boldly asked them – “Do you go to church?” They said no.  He asked, “If you were invited to church would you go?”  Seven of 8 said yes.  Then he asked them for their contact information to give to the outreach director.  Six of the 8 women gave their contact information.  George Hunter went back to the church and gave the information to the outreach director who said, “Where did you find these women?”  George said, “At the local laundry mat.”  The outreach director said, “Oh, those people aren’t even nice.  I don’t think they would accept the gospel.”

What is the point of this true story – some Christians create a wall based on pre-judgments and don’t even give people a chance to hear the gospel.  Before we share the love of Jesus with someone we think, “Are they the type of person who would accept this message?”  And so we don’t even attempt to share.

What is translated to the world is – “Christians are not nice, not welcoming”  or “You have to be a certain type of person to go to church.”

  • Another translation problem has to do with the purpose of Church – are we to be a missional community that is living the love of Christ and seeking the lost? Or are we supposed to be separate from the world focusing what we stand against so that we can be good while we wait to go to heaven?

In the Holy Roman Empire, monasteries were built in deserts or on mountains away from society so that the monks and nuns could live lives of pure devotion to the Lord as far away from the evil world as possible.  There is a good goal in this, which is purity and devotion to the Lord.  But the result was a lack of Christians being devoted to the Lord by fulfilling their mission of positively influencing the world for Christ (Matthew 28:18-20).

There was another kind of monastic community developed by the Celts (Irish) – which was missional in nature.  Their purpose was to develop a small evangelistic team, which would move to where the people lived.  Their goal was to live in Christian community, on mission, welcoming all who entered their community to love them, pray for them, pray with them, work with them, eat with them, invite them to prayer and study groups, and allow the visitors to soak it in – with the result being that many eventually found themselves becoming Christian and joining the community.

What was translated from the Romans was – “Become the type of person Christ accepts and then we will accept you.”  What was translated from the Celts was – “We welcome you as you are, we want to know you, we want to share God’s love with you.”  And the people responded and the Celtic way saved Christendom in Europe during the Middle Ages.

May we follow the Celtic way for it is the Christian way forward in reaching a postmodern generation; this is what it means to put on Gentile clothing to communicate the Gospel to this generation.


Putting on Gentile Clothing to Communicate to a Culture of Death

When we hear the news of terrorism at the Boston Marathon, or of a fatal explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant, or of criminal infanticide at an abortion clinic in Philadelphia it makes Christians think –

“Our message is relevant, Christ is the answer to all our problems; why don’t people get it!?!”

We live in a culture of death; think about it, we are fascinated with crime scenes and are sucked into watching “CSI” or “Bones” or “Criminal Minds” or “NCIS” or even worse the new show “Hannibal” or “GRIMM” or “Vampire Diaries,” etc.  Each of these popular television shows has something to do with death, sadism, or the demonic.  I don’t watch any of these shows, but it’s hard to watch anything else on TV because during the commercials the “death culture” is promoted.  How did this happen? This is the result of our culture turning from God:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” –Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich was saying that science and modern philosophy has made God irrelevant and therefore we are now “gods” in charge of our own destiny.  Our culture will make decisions based on what our culture deems best for the largest number of people, and thus we have thrown off morality that comes from the God of the Bible as each person pursues what he/she thinks is best “…so long as I don’t get in trouble.”

The television shows and movies are the training grounds for such philosophy.  People with an agenda (and with money) use art and entertainment to try to influence culture in a new direction.  Just think of some of the titles of these shows: “The New Normal” or “The Good Wife” or “Wife Swap” or “Scandal” or “Revenge” or “Modern Family” or “Family Guy” or “how i met your MOTHER” or “Rules of Engagement” or “Two and a half MEN” or “The BIG BANG Theory” or “GLEE” or “Shark Tank” or “Hell’s Kitchen” – each of these shows teach moral values that devalue traditional values based on the Bible.

What is the result?

Do we have more STD’s or less?

Do we have more abortions or less?

Do we have more stable homes or less?

Do we have more infidelity or less?

Do we have more divorce or less?

Do we have more people on welfare or less?

Do we have more depression or less?

You get the point.  It seems to me (and most Christians) that the God of the Bible is totally relevant, so much so that you are still reading this blog.  But perhaps our method of communication is outdated.  So what is the solution to all the problems listed above and what should be our method of communication?

First, the solution:

“Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… Be saved from this perverse generation.” (Acts 2:38, 40)

The Apostle Peter preached these words 50 days after Jesus had resurrected from the grave.  Peter was saying you have two responsibilities when hearing the Gospel – repent, or admit that you fall short of God’s holy standard (Romans 3:23) and that you cannot save yourself (Acts 2:40).  Only God can save you through repentance.  And we are not talking about just any so-called “god”, we are talking about the God of the Bible who sent Jesus to this earth to live in line with all of God’s righteous values and to pay the price for all those who do not live in line with God’s righteous values.  By repenting you are saying, “I agree Jesus is God’s Son who was raised from the dead.  I agree that the resurrection proves He is the Christ and LORD of the universe.  I agree there is no other ‘god’ besides the God of the Bible.  And I agree I fall short of His holy standard and cannot save myself.”  The words of Acts 2:40 are really important – “Be saved from this perverse generation.”  The words “be saved” are one verb in Greek, which is grammatically broken down as an aorist, passive, imperative verb – this means there is a one-time moment of being saved (aorist), that it is something you need to allow to happen to you (passive), and that it is really important that you allow this to happen (imperative).  And notice, it doesn’t say be saved to heaven or be saved from hell, it says be saved from this perverse generation.  The idea of salvation is not just about our eternal destiny, but also about the solution for being saved from the sin culture that surrounds us.

God’s method of saving people from this evil culture is through repentance about who Jesus is (that He is King = Christ and Lord = God) and that I am not in charge.  Repentance is about surrender to the true King, and the outward expression of this surrender is to allow yourself to “be baptized.”  Again these words are broken down as an aorist, passive, imperative verb – this means there is a one time moment of being baptized (aorist), that it is something you need to allow to happen to you by those who are already following Jesus (passive), and that it is really important that you be baptized in association with your repentance (imperative).

Your repentance is evidence that something has changed inside of you, which is supernatural – from God.  Your baptism is the outward sign of the inward change.  And the promises Peter announces for responding to the Gospel message in repentance and baptism are forgiveness of your sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Other Scriptures teach us these promises are permanent, they cannot be taken away.  You will be saved, by God and not of yourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9), which results in your life being transformed as you allow God to work through you to change your life and this world (Ephesians 2:10).

The Bible is relevant, but perhaps our method is not.

The method:

We need to put on gentile clothes without compromising the message.  What do I mean?

Most people in our culture have a vague understanding of the Bible and they get this from television or interactions with Christians who perhaps are so separate from culture that they don’t know how to communicate to this culture and thus come across as out of touch or ignorant.  This is true in the split between the generations, especially over things like dress, music, and what is truly essential to the message of the Gospel.  If we are to influence the culture we need to translate the truths of the message into language the culture can understand.  If I as a Christian insist on cultural ways of doing things from 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, then I will be written off by most people today who live in the digital age, which is so rapidly changing it seems like shifting sand.  But this is the age in which we live and we need to be adaptable in our methods of communicating.  Church historian Michael Green said about first and second century Christians:

“Once Christianity took root in Hellenistic soil, it became necessary to do a tremendous work of translation.  Not only words but ideas had to be put into other dress.  Without such a task of translation the message would have been heard, perhaps, but not assimilated.” – Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, p. 165

What Michael Green was saying is the Gospel message was a Jewish message that was for the whole world, but which needed to be translated in a way understood by the world, which was predominately Gentile not Jewish.

Likewise for us, we live in a Postmodern / digital culture and our Christian message needs to be translated, without compromise, into a palatable message that the Post-moderns can understand.

How to do this is tricky – but let me just say in starts with humility and our living consistent with the core essentials of Jesus’ teachings.  In future posts I will explain more.


Homosexuality and the Bible

Dear Christian,

My motivation in writing the blog and sharing with you Wayne Grudem’s article on the Bible and Homosexuality is so that you as a Christian know what the Bible teaches and so that your thinking and actions will line up with what Jesus absolutely expects of you if you call yourself a Christ-follower.

In America there are many who call themselves Christian who do not believe what the Bible says (e.g., 70% of Millennials born after 1980 affirm same sex marriage). There are many more who call themselves Christian and do not practice biblical morality and ethics by following Jesus as the example. We are not just talking about the major sins, but all types of sins including attitudes of an unloving heart for which many of us need to repent.

The following article by Wayne Grudem teaches us what the Bible actually says about homosexuality and marriage. This article also outlines for us how we as Christians are to engage people in conversation and attitude of the heart as we stand for Christ. I hope the following is informative and transforming – http://www.worldmag.com/2013/04/the_bible_and_homosexuality


Praeparatio Evangelica

In our American culture we struggle with the clash of cultures and religion and people tend to swing to two sides in their approach to discussions about important topics.  One approach is the heart-felt response of concern not to offend or make anyone, including oneself, feel uncomfortable.  Or people can swing to the other side and respond emotively, making regretful aggressive, inflammatory, or belittling comments of those with whom we disagree.

Both responses in discussion about important topics lead to problems and a lack communication.

The Christian evangelists (i.e., you who follow Christ) face this challenge when prompted by conviction to proclaim the Gospel.  We know we should participate in the Great Commission and “Go…make disciples of all nations…” – but sharing Christ with people is scary.  We think, “I don’t know enough” or “What if I do it wrongly” or “What if they get offended” or “What if they ask questions I don’t know how to answer” or…  As we think through these arguments in our heads and as the conviction grows in our hearts, our palms get sweaty as the adrenaline begins to flow…and then we engage the conversation, which sometimes starts out in a sheepish, apologizing tone or a worked up and aggressive, militant tone that is not very loving.

Somewhere in-between sheepishness and aggression is a tone of bold love in the proclamation of Christ-crucified and Christ-raised.  And the more we seek to understand where the people are coming from who are in disagreement with us about religion, the more they will feel valued and begin to ask questions.  It is at this moment we can assist them in taking steps toward Christ, based on what they already believe.

The early Christians had a term for this kind of apologetic interaction, Praeparatio Evangelica, which is Latin for a preparation of the gospel among cultures yet to hear of the message of Christ.  In this view, God has already sown in various cultures ideas and themes that would grow to fruition through interpretation in a fully Christian context.  In other words it is the job of a Christian evangelist (i.e., you) to know the culture in which we live, along with the worldviews of people we come in contact with to help them see the truths found in culture, in their worldview, in their religion, and then to build upon what they already have that is true by giving them a fuller explanation, which can only be found in Christ and the Scriptures.

How did the early Christians take advantage of Praeparatio Evangelica?

(1)     The language of Greek prepared people for the Gospel.  Alexander the Great conquered the known world in 331 BC, which was followed by unity of culture and language.  By the time of Christ, virtually everyone spoke Greek.  The great thinkers wrote in Greek.  If you wanted to get a message to the largest number of people you would write in Greek.  If you wanted to be heard you would build on ideas that the common person already had heard.  The Christians took advantage of this by writing in Greek instead of Latin, Hebrew, or Aramaic.  They wanted the Christian message to be heard by as many people as possible and so they used the tool of the written word in the common tongue to get the word out.

Likewise in our world today, English is the common tongue.  We Christians in America should be taking advantage of our message by putting it into words for people to read and by trying to distribute the message via the internet through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

(2)     The peace of the Roman Empire and the Roman roads of the first century also made it relatively easy for the Christian message to be spread.  Christians took advantage of relative safety and ease of travel.  They knew that the roads paved the way to get the written word into new communities and share Christ with those who were interested.  And so Christians set out to travel to new communities as missionaries to share Christ with the average person they came in contact with.

Similarly today we not only have roads, but trains, planes, and the World Wide Web.  We can get our message out in multiple ways and we should be taking advantage of what is at our disposal.

(3)     Greco-Roman religion and philosophy prepared people for the Gospel in the first century.  As historian Michael Green points out the early Christians used some of the arguments of Plato, the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Cynics, and the Sophists who had already created a need for a God with more substance than the gods of the Romans.  So the early Christians built on what people already questioning (see Acts 17:16-34).

“The Greek Sophists had as great a power over the common people… Their ridicule of the gods must in no small degree have prepared the way for the Christian message.  At all events, the Apologists of the second century built upon the foundations they had laid, and often used the weapons of the Greek philosophers in order to denounce Greek gods.” (Michael Green, Evangelism in The Early Church, p. 35).

In today’s context we can build upon the poets and philosophers known by culture.  We should be learning about what people are watching on TV, or in the movies, or in politics, or on University campuses, or in science magazines.  Elements of the Gospel can be found in almost anything we read or watch (e.g., themes in movies, which deal with redemption.  Spiderman 3 is a great example – the black goo is like sin, it changes you and is hard to get rid of.  Notice Spiderman went to a church to take it off.  So also we need Christ to take sin away and we can meet Him and learn more about Him at church).  Know your audience and learn how to take something that interests them and find redemption in that topic of interest and then show them how Christ completes the puzzle.

In closing I need to point out that the above does not mean we compromise anything about the message we preach.  We all, if we call ourselves Christian, are called to preach the Gospel to all the world in words and deeds.  We are to do this with a zeal from God, led by the Spirit, and with love for humanity.  It is my prayer that Grace Church and all Christians reading this blog will develop a passion to see people come to Christ similar to the passion the first century Christians had for making Christ known.

“They [early Christians] looked for nothing less than total surrender to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… Had they been willing to practice their Christianity while remaining silent about other deities they could have had a comparatively safe passage.  But they insisted that there was no other God than the Father of Jesus Christ.  He was a jealous God.  His glory he would give to none other.  Indeed there were no other gods to be considered.” (Michael Green, p. 21).