Missions Musings 17: Reaching the churched


Good-News-Art-F1-600x300Many of us who live and work in foreign contexts are working with the churched.

When I say churched I am speaking about those people who have been enculturated within a society where the institutional church looms large.

In such contexts the Church’s function is often to dispense salvation.  The church is the one-stop-shop that’s attended twice per year to get what is needed for eternity.  More often than not the churched know of God in a vague abstract sense.  They know about Jesus and his death in as much detail as you or I know about Joan of Arc and her death.  Yep, we’ve seen the movie:)

How does one reach these people?  That is, how does one communicate the life-giving truth of the gospel to those who have not heard it yet?  Here are a few things that have become a part of the way that I do it:

1.  Know their theology

If we do not know what they believe how can we with good conscience rip them away from the church through which they think they are being saved?  We need to be very diligent in understanding what they believe and why so that we can be sure that our actions and message is not in fact dividing the body of Christ.

What should we get to know?  Understand the role of their church in salvation.  Get know what they mean by salvation.  Clearly understand  the place of the sacraments and the role they play in salvation.  Work out what authority they attribute to the Bible and also to tradition.  These points in particular are crucial.

2.  Understand their theological language

This is distinct though closely related to the first point.  Just because you hear the same words being used does not mean that you are talking about the same thing.   So for example, when an Eastern Orthodox believer states that they are saved by faith, we protestants should on face value heartily agree.  Yet if someone was to probe a little deeper the disparity between what the EO christian believes and what a protestant believes becomes apparent.  Ask questions to understand what they mean when they use theological terms.

3.  Use common points of agreement for discussion and study.

It’s a no-brainer, but rarely done.  What normally happens is that we jump to the differences, like icons, candles, papal authority, etc.  Engaging with commonality was Paul’s method at the Areopagus that day in Acts 17.  This is a good starting point because there is often commonality to be found in the person and work of Jesus.  Well, great!  Why don’t we start with Jesus.

Avoid the contentious issues and begin with Jesus.  In Colossians this is how Paul worked.  The church is struggling because fine-sounding arguments have permeate the church which has displaced the gospel.  What does he do?  He doesn’t tackle the apparent error head on until he has prepared the foundation.  Paul firstly explains who Jesus is and then he goes on to explain the gospel.  Only then does he get stuck into the issue at hand.

4.  Don’t treat them like a non-Christian

This is an interesting point that taps into our need to be sensitive.  The churched consider themsleves to be Christians, and they often assume to know everything (don’t we all!) that they need to know.  Therefore to come at them with all the answers and the ‘truth’ is a fast track to causing offense and shutting down any opportunities for good discussion.  Be careful with how they perceive your take on their Christianity.

5.  Use the Bible

Once again it sounds like a no-brainer, but so often the Bible is often sidelined in favour of topical and spaghetti style discussions.  Get the Bible out and establish what the Bible has to say about the common points of interest.  Avoid saying things like, ‘God said…’  and ‘The Bible says…’ and ‘Jesus said….  Unhelpful!  Demonstrate the authority of the Bible in your own faith by using it properly in discussion, taking into account the context of the passage and its place in the Bible’s big picture.  Use the Bible to deal with the issues, but also model its importance and how to use it.

5.  Be open to learning from them

In my study of Eastern Orthodoxy over the past 4 years I have come to appreciate some of their theology.  Let’s give credit where it is due.  Let’s show humility by genuinely wanting to understand what they believe.  It is poor form indeed to merely want to reach them without giving them the opportunity to convince you of their ideas and beliefs.  If we ourselves are seeking the truth then there is no need to be scared of genuinely weighing up what they will present.

6.  Don’t discount the idea that the churched might be in our own (protestant) churches

Don’t assume the gospel, teach it.

Pope Benedict XVI: Not a bad sort


popWe’ve just learned that the Pope has given his notice.

How is a protestant supposed to react to such news?  With sensitivity, I hope.

While we might struggle to come to grips with the theology that the Pope symbolises, we can reminisce on Pope Benedict XVI’s contributions.

Let’s start with the negatives.

I think that it is fair to say that most people expected the Pope to tackle the sex abuse scandals in North America and Europe with a little more vigor than has been demonstrated.  The issues to this day are still floating because no decisive action has been taken by the papacy to deal with them.  Bags not being the next pope that has to clean it up.

colnelAnd who could forget the 2012 incident regarding the butler, in the library with the secret letters.  I don’t know what to make of it, but surely it’s not a good look to have a Cluedo-like scenario unfolding in the Vatican.

Then there was the 2006 speech (or should we call it a blunder?) when he claimed that Mohammad brought the world only ‘evil and inhumane’ things.  Ok, so even if you believe it, as the Pope you can’t say that.

The final blunder of note, in my books, came in 2009 when he decried the use of condoms with reference to stemming the spread of HIV.  Interestingly, in a stroke of human biological oversight (let’s be generous) he claimed that the use of condoms would make the problem worse.  Now, the Pope can argue all he likes about the merits of birth control, but to say that using condoms would increas the HIV problem is a little naive.

Why don’t we move on the positives.

Pope Benedict XVI was a warrior in the face of a growing tide of secularism, especially on the continent.  He pushed for Christianity to persevere in the marketplace of ideas.  The ‘New Evangelisation’ was a message he took not only to the Church, but also to the most powerful leaders in the world.  Indeed, Michael Cameron has stated that the Pope’s visit to England in 2010 with this message had a bearing on his political position on the matter.

human-and-robot-handHow could we overlook the Pope’s re-humanisation of the human.  Benedict was a conservative and this is reflected in his view on life.  I liked this.

I also liked his hands on style.  Remember back to 2012 when he wrote a letter to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to let him know that he didn’t appreciate the way that Christians were being treated in Iran.  That’s what I’m talking about.

Finally, and on this note I will finish the post, he demonstrates wisdom in stepping from the office of the Bishop of Rome before he could not carry out his duties anymore.

This takes humility, wisdom and love for the church.

6 Days to Christmas…


twitterWell, the Pope’s been at it a week now.

He has the world at his fingertips, well, 1 245 470 people to be exact, plus those that happen to somehow chime in on his 140 characters of wisdom.

I waited and waited for the first tweet.  I wondered what it would be.  A few of my friends on face book gave some suggestion of what he might say.  One hinted that he could be coming out of the closet to profess that justification is by faith alone.  Another one of my witty friends thought he could come out with, ‘Holy Tweet!’,  hahahaa.

What was it?

A bit of a let down really – ‘Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.’

But I tell you what, the full stop was the 140th character – it’s his first tweet and he’s all over this game!

maryHis latest tweet was this: ‘Mary is filled with joy on learning that she is to be the mother of Jesus, God’s Son made man. True joy comes from union with God’ – no full stop (129 characters).

What do you reckon?

Mary, as one who was bearing Jesus (or in union with Jesus) was filled with joy – a reference to the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).  If you want true joy as Mary did then you must be in union with God.

True or false?