As stated in my previous post, I’ve been reading on the birth of Jesus in preparation for Christmas. Today I was in the first chapter of John, and thought I’d jot down a few quick notes on what Jesus’ incarnation means to our own ministry on earth.
The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1:14
The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us:
Jesus performed his ministry here on earth. He didn’t seek to establish his kingdom among us without being one of us. Christ didn’t attempt to save the lost without living among them. He gave up for a time equality with the Father and the God powers that came with it, and set out on a journey. When he arrived, he promptly pitched his tent and unpacked his backpack right here on earth, where we are. As we seek to continue his ministry in our world, we too are expected to do so incarnationally, living among those whom we seek to serve and influence. We don’t live like them, but we live with them — we live blatantly spiritual lives into among them, so they see our good works and praise God, who is responsible for our good works.
If I’m not able to spend time with sinners, I’m not meant to be a missionary. If I have an aversion to lost people using bad language, my role is not that of an evangelist. If I expect everyone, Christian or not, to abide by God’s commands, ministry to the fallen world is not my calling. But I will go further — if these statements describe us, we are not living like Christ. And we’re certainly not living Christ into the world around us. If all our friends are Christians, and every event we attend is a gathering of believers, we have no ministry that even resembles Christ’s. We’ve adopted a man-made and man-ordained strategy to reach the lost. And we’d better be careful with that….
We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father:
Christ came to earth so that God’s glory could be displayed through him to mankind. We didn’t and couldn’t know what God looked like, until Jesus made him known to us (see v. 18). And now, in the person of Jesus, we have seen the glory of God. We should strive always to lead others to witness the glory of God in our lives. If our ministry is bringing glory to ourselves, we’re necessarily robbing God of at least some of his glory. We exist to glorify God and show others his glory as well.
Our task in contextualizing the gospel is to remove as many obstacles as possible…
without covering up, hiding, or removing the fact that the gospel itself is not going to fit into a non-believer’s current system of belief.
Full of grace and truth:
Churches often exist in one extreme or the other. We either preach a lot of grace, while hiding or ignoring important truths, or we get so caught up in truth that we think we find salvation in knowing it. Jesus was full of grace AND truth, and in verse 17 we see that Jesus not only possessed them, but came to give them to us. We have been called to be grace and truth in the world; and we must be both. We must, when serving others, share with them the truth behind our graciousness. And we must show people love if we intend to give them truth. We must fully embody both grace and truth to the fallen world.
Contextualization is the way in which we share the truth of the gospel in any given culture. It is basically seeking to remove as many obstacles as possible when presenting the truth of God’s word to non-believers. Paul described it as being all things to all men — a Jew to the Jews, Gentile to the Gentiles, etc. Contextualization is important, because there exist so many possible barriers to the gospel in cultures around the world (ie. language, race, gender, age, nationality, socioeconomic background, dress, music preference, favorite sport, etc). And we mustn’t allow these obstacles to deter non-believers from becoming disciples of Christ. But today I’m afraid many are “over-contextualizing” the gospel in attempts to make it look more attractive to their target cultures. Rather than making the Bible easier to understand in a given culture, they are simply modeling the gospel after that culture. And, as a result, their churches look and act exactly like the cultures in which they serve. These churches demonstrate an approach to mission which consists of grace without truth. When we masquerade the gospel in the costume of our day and culture, we’re in essence removing truth.
We cannot seek to remove EVERY existing obstacle when presenting the gospel to an unbelieving world. Because the truth of the gospel itself is always going to be an obstacle. It represents an whole other belief system and worldview, that is in constant conflict (or should be) with any culture in which it is presented. Our task, then, is to remove as many obstacles as possible… without covering up, hiding, or removing the fact that the gospel itself is not going to fit into a non-believer’s current system of belief — and that the kingdom of God will never pledge allegiance to, or be ruled by, any other kingdom. Many churches today are selling in their neighborhoods an over-contextualized form of Christianity that borders on syncretism. My guess is their numbers are growing, but their ability to make obedient lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ is not. And this is being done in the name of “contextualization.”
- As Christ lived and ministered here on earth, we must also be among those whom we seek to serve. Ministry is done in our communities, not in our buildings.
- As Christ demonstrated the glory of the Father who sent him, we must seek to glorify God in all we do, pointing others to his glory. That means there remains no glory for us — not here on earth at least.
- As Christ was full of grace and truth, and came to give them to us, we must also be full of grace and truth, while being careful to share both with the world around us.