Christian Ministry, Free Course, Lesson 002
Ministry in Contemporary Society
Christians live in the world. They are called to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not know him. The question at hand is not intended to ask to what extent Christians can compromise with the world. Rather, it asks how the Christian can reach the world.
The Christian mission is always defined by scripture, as is the face of the church. The prevailing culture becomes the environment in which the mission takes place. Culture itself is neither good nor bad or friend nor foe. The universality of the gospel suggests that the gospel is not inherently an enemy of culture. It is what that culture embraces that determines how the Christian should work within it. Cultural forms can expedite missions through its established rules for human routines. However, the nature of the gospel may dictate confrontation with culture as was the case with Jesus and as circumstances in Crete (Titus 1) and Ephesus (Acts 19) suggest.
The standard for measuring culture is the gospel itself. At those points where culture does not violate the prescriptions of the gospel it is no threat to ministry. It may even enhance ministry. For example, in a society where people generally retire to sleep at an early hour, it would be improper for a Christian to ignore this cultural form and attempt to visit during one’s sleep period. Ministry is enhanced by defining accepted norms for routine behavior, opportune times for worship and the like. But at those points where the culture upholds concepts that can lead to a compromised gospel, then these should be either confronted or ignored. For example, the church cannot run a brothel for the support of its mission program just because it may be legal within that society and neither can it become a totally democratic institution where all members vote on what is right and what is wrong, as they do within democratic societies.
Even the church culture can have an effect on the Christian mission. The culture can play a role in determining ministry’s priorities. As was the case in Corinth, the church culture was exerting a bad influence. Circumstances generated within that culture set the agenda for what became a priority for Paul when he wrote the church at Corinth. The gospel may be permissive even beyond the local church culture, as Paul pointed out to his Jewish friends about the keeping of days (Romans 14; Colossians 2). Paul found freedom to adapt to different cultural forms, when he deemed it expedient to do so in the interest of preaching the gospel (1 Cor. 9:19-23).