C. Restore the universal appeal of the gospel of God’s grace.
The worldwide power that is inherent in the gospel is that it is universally applicable to all cultures of people. One of the identities of religion is that many religions are culturally linked in some way. Even within a particular culture, the religion of the existing body of believers is often linked to the traditions of a particular generation of people within the society. Inherent in the gospel, on the other hand, is that it is never culturally linked. If we link the gospel to a particular generation of people, then it is no longer gospel. It has been turned into a religion, or as Paul described such, “another gospel” (Gl 1:6-9). When some Jews demanded obedience to the tradition of circumcision as a basis for salvation, they were preaching another gospel (At 15:1,2). If a religion is culturally linked, then it often fades away as the ways of the fathers passes away.
One of the characteristics of the Millennial Generation in the American religious scene is that this generation seeks to be unhinged from the traditions of the past. We would not say that this is something that is unique with the American culture in these times. In fact, in the general African tribal church, culture has historically identified each particular tribal group. To a great extent, this tribal identity has infiltrated many churches throughout the continent with local cultural norms. But a new and educated generation seeks to throw off the culture of the fathers, and in doing so, throw away the “cultural church.” The social media of today has accelerated this movement away from the ways of the past. Unfortunately, the past generation has linked their faith so tightly to the culture of the past, that the younger generation simply moves on from the existing identity of the local church. Any church that is culturally linked to the traditions of the fathers will not stand against those who can distinguish between traditions and Bible.
The beautiful nature of the gospel is that it is not culturally linked. Gospel links us to a “heavenly culture” where the Head is seated at the right hand of God. Unfortunately, those who are traditionally linked in their faith with the ways of the culture around them have not discovered this truth about the nature of the gospel. They may have discovered it, but when change is imminent, the reply is always, “that is not our culture.”
Those who struggle against the “change agents” have not discovered that the cultural traditions of the fathers should play a minor part in the implementation of the power of the gospel in the lives of every cultural group around the world. Therefore, if we would stem the tide of decline, then we must disengage the gospel from the traditions of the past in order to identify the purity of the simple gospel. We must be able to unlink gospel from culture. We have found that many who are against the “change agents,” have a difficult time in separating religious heritage and traditions from the pure gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
D. We must be willing to follow the incarnational gospel of the Son of God.
An illustration is in order here in reference to living the incarnational example of the Son of God. When Paul admonished, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus,” he was asking the Philippians to pause for a moment in order to consider the paradigm shift the Son of God made on our behalf. Formerly, and before the incarnation, the man Jesus was in the form of God. This meant that He was spirit (Jn 4:24). He was with God in spirit (Jn 1:1,2). But He gave up that form and environment and transitioned into the form of the flesh of man (Jn 1:14; Ph 2:6,7).
This was an incarnational transition out of the “culture” of heaven and into the culture of the Jews when He was born into the flesh in Bethlehem. When we speak of making all necessary cultural changes in order to accommodate our Savior who did the same for us, then we are living the incarnational mind of Christ. Those who are not willing to do this do not have the mind of Christ. They are not living the gospel incarnationally.
We must go further into this incarnational journey of the Son of God. We believe in the incarnation of God the Son into the flesh of man. There is no problem with this belief until we start allowing “this mind” to be in us in order that we live the example that He left us for us to follow. So Peter cautioned us with these words: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps” (1 Pt 2:21). We have found that Christians feel comfortable about applying the “suffering” of this statement only to the cross. The cross is indeed in the picture, but the suffering began long before the cross. It was the Son of God in spirit who was incarnate in the flesh of a person who could suffer from disease. He could suffer from a broken arm. He could suffer from cuts and bruises. As soon as Mary lifted the incarnate babe from the manger, that babe began living a life of suffering, which suffering was for us.
So we go into the suffering after the birth and before the cross. We would therefore ask, Into what skin did Jesus incarnate? Was the skin white, black, yellow, red, tan, or whatever we might witness in this present world? It was into this skin that the Son of God in spirit placed Himself. When the prophet said, “A body You have prepared for Me,” (Hb 10:5), then we wonder that the skin color of this incarnate body might be?
If one has been following the thoughts of this incarnational journey, then he or she should have by now concluded that there is no cause for racism based on skin color when living the incarnational example of Jesus. In fact, if there is any racism in the mind of a Christian, that “Christian” is not living the incarnational example of Jesus. Jesus was born a Jew, and certainly He suffered a great deal of racist remarks from the Gentile Romans. But He incarnationally lived without reacting to racist remarks or prejudice. He marched to the suffering of the cross for those who smeared Him with all sorts of racist remarks.
If we would live the incarnational gospel of the Son of God, therefore, we will love the skin we are in. We will be thankful for the hair under which we walk. We will neither portray racism nor prejudice toward others, neither will we allow the racism and prejudice of others to affect our gospel behavior. We live in a world of racism. If we react to any racism, then we will simply bounce from one racist comment to another. Ever hear of the statement, “The water simply runs off the back of a duck”?
Jesus was burn as a Jew into a Jewish culture. He was not a Gentile. Therefore, all His life He knew all the prejudice that the Gentile Romans had against Him as a Jew. But He still went to the cross for the Gentile Romans. The next time we belittle the culture of another people, or person, then we know that we still have problems in living the incarnational example of Jesus who suffered all things for all the cultures of the world. Any church, therefore, that is not willing to include all cultural groups, and any skin color that may come by, is not a church of the Christ who came into the skin and culture of men.
[Next in series: Jan. 17]