Author: Joe Bates
Category: Truth and Pluralism, Social Justice, Integrity and Anti-Corruption
There are over 6,900 known living languages. This is something of a socio-political evaluation, but in any case there are many different languages that Christians would need to know in order to spread the gospel. I would like to add a few.
Me and my wife’s ministry allows for the Biblical and non-Biblical education of a highly diverse group of people. We have some who know very little of right, wrong, good or bad (as indicated by their troubled past). We have others who are highly educated at levels of Masters or Doctoral levels. It would be somewhat silly of me to think that we could combine these many demographics into one class and speak about many issues using the same verbiage. Instead, we must tailor our conversations to the audience.
Long term missionaries to China are not likely to attempt ministry without first learning or already having knowledge of the various dialects of Chinese. Short term missionaries who do not know indigenous languages of the regions in which they are ministering gain the use of an interpreter. Many people need the information that we have but the burden of communication is on the minister. Those whom we would minister too, most often do not know that they are lacking information so vital to their eternity and therefore have no inclination, or many times the opportunity, to perform the work of learning new languages in order to attain it.
Paul is the ultimate precedent to become our example. In Acts 17, Paul goes to Athens to speak with the educated and philosophical thinkers of the day. It is important to understand what Paul did NOT do, as well as study what he DID do. He did not chastise them for worshiping idols. He did not chastise them for their lack of knowledge. He did not point out their errors. He did not use scripture. What he did do was build on their strengths and knowledge. He spoke truth about the personality and plan of God. He used tools such as the “unknown god” and added information that they could understand. He even used their own poets to validate his claims. This opened a forum for further discussion.
How often do Christians take the Bible in hand as a weapon instead of a tool? How often do we attempt to minister by spouting scripture after scripture and claim that this is the only way? I propose that we begin to first study the best way to communicate to whoever our audience would be and then customize our terminology and approach to meet them where they are. Do we use terms which cannot be understood in their culture? Terms or phrases such as “bathed in the blood of Christ” can have a literal meaning in some cultures. “Born again” or “in Christ” are not understandable phrases which are naturally understood and can even be a stumbling block. I even have trouble with the “thee’s” and “thou’s” of the King James translation, so I use many different translations, Greek and Hebrew to ensure (as much as possible) a thorough understanding
Another aspect of communication is the idea of giving reference or valuation of things that they would already hold dear or of value. For example, you probably shouldn’t preach about understanding a good father to a gang member coming from an abusive home. Brotherhood would be a better approach. Using scripture requiring blind faith to an atheistic scientist would be another lapse in judgment. The logic and reason which an atheistic scientist values most should be utilized to plant and water the seed and then let God be responsible for the increase. (I Cor 3). If we improperly plant the seed too shallow or we water in a deluge, then we are derelict in our duties. Just like farming is not just scattering as many seeds as possible, it’s about properly planting the many different types of seeds that we expect to harvest, in the proper manner. Ministry is about properly planting a seed in someone’s heart. It is not all up to us, but I feel that we need to have the mindset that it is, and then pray and have faith like nothing is dependent upon us.
I would hope that every minister would apply these strategies of understanding instead of having expectation. The expectation that anyone would already want what you have is foolish. The expectation that a demand for repentance because of their sin will produce anything other than rebellion is naive. The expectation of increase when we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and properly honor God’s creation is rewarded