Contextualizing the Gospel

Sometimes it's hard to embrace change when it comes to how we do church.  But I have to think we are not alone in this.  In the Bible we see that the early church had to deal with change.  The nearly all-Jewish New Testament Church quickly reached out to Gentiles.  And when they did, there were some that struggled with this change, to include Peter.  There was a time when the Apostles had to figure out a new way to distribute bread so it was done efficiently and fairly.  When this happened, it is possible that there was a small handful of folks that struggled with the idea of a deacon.

When Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman empire, there were likely some that felt that church should still be done in hiding, in the catacombs and under persecution.  It sounds strange, but it happens often.  It is easy to mistake how we minister the gospel for the gospel itself.

We all contextualize the gospel into a specific culture in a specific time.  The gospel does not change, but how we share it may (and should).  God's Church is his people with Christ at the head, so really we don't do church, we are the church; but that does not mean we should become overly chained to how we were introduced to the Church and the way a local church has always done church.  We latch on to what's comfortable but that might mean we are not being as effective as we should be.  And at times we reject the newest technology or the ideas that may bring with them a change for the better. (This is not to say that all change is good or we should change just for the sake of change.)

I would like to suggest that every church today uses what was once the newest technology of some year.  Everybody uses the newest technology, even if it is very old.  They have, at some point, embraced the change.  They have contextualized the gospel into some year and culture.  For example, any church using a printed Bible has taken advantage of the printing press.  And there was a time when the King James Bible was the new thing, the change.  Electricity--I wonder if there were churches that refused to install lights?  And how would you like to attend a church that refuses to accept and embrace indoor plumbing.  And what about when the organ first came out?  Every hymn was, at one point, as new as the newest contemporary worship music of today.  In 1984, the NIV was the new translation on the block.  Remember when worship was projected with the overhead projectors that required clear, plastic transparencies that a person had to manually change?  What a blessing the new projectors that work with computers have been!  Yet, even today, there are still changes happening within the Church.

Technology is not to be feared if it can (and is) being used for God's Glory.  Technology is for the use of the Church if it can advance the Kingdom.  Often the use of technology is an effort to contextualize the Gospel into the present year and culture or something close.  Where is most of America and the West communicating with the world?  Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.  Shouldn't the church be reaching into these areas--where the people communicate--and make disciples?  In 1991, how many people had a Bible on them nearly every moment they were awake?   Considering the capabilities of the smartphone, how many have at least one Bible on them in 2011?  Smart phones shouldn't be feared, especially when they make it possible to carry hundreds of different translations of the Bible and any time.  Even now you are reading this over the internet.  How helpful has the internet been in promoting the Gospel and teaching people more about theology?  How many people have found a church or even met Jesus because of a website?

Let's think of this another way.  What would we think of someone who refused to upgrade his television because he had just always had a black and white model that required the tubes to warm up?  Or what about the photograph.  While old photographs are cool, how many people would be willing to give up color photos and cameras built right into their phones?  Who thinks everybody should just go back to film?

Nobody wants to be stuck, but most of us are, if we are honest with ourselves. And why then at times does it seem acceptable that some people are stuck in a long past year when it comes to contextualizing the gospel? Why are there some who oppose any kind of change in how the Church functions?  Might it be because they have hitched what they are comfortable with to the gospel itself?  In what year have they become stuck?  1984?  1884?  1584?

While we do not change the gospel, it is at times necessary to change the way we bring it into a specific culture and time. We must not be afraid of change if that change will make the Church more effective in making disciples.  Are you fearful of change?  Are you stuck? Let's become more effective makers of disciples of Jesus.

*The photo associated with this post is the property of Megan Brown.  It is used by permission.  In this photo are William and Lena Kottke. Kids are William, Eva and Augusta (left to right). Augusta is Megan Brown's Great-Grandma. The photo was taken in 1898.