Having just returned with Karen from two weeks in the Horn of Africa,

Having just returned with Karen from two weeks in the Horn of Africa, I’ve had the chance to ponder the meaning of a word we don’t use much in daily conversation.  But as we spent time in the company of two very different communities of people there, the word has taken on a new meaning for me.
Paul never used the word.  But in a letter he once wrote, he described it graphically.  “To the Jews I made myself as a Jew, to win the Jews . . . to those outside the Law [I made myself] as one outside the Law . . . to the weak, I made myself weak, to win the weak.”  And all of this for what?  “I accommodated myself to people in all kinds of different situations, so that by all possible means I might bring some to salvation” (I Corinthians 9:20-22 NJB). 
Reread his words a few times, and I think you’ll agree with me that this intrepid missionary is advocating a radical modus operandi for the mission of God!  Namely, the good news of the Kingdom is most effectively communicated when the communicator is “in context” with the community he/she is seeking to reach.  I.e., to reach Jews, become as a Jew, embracing the common ground of their faith, affirming the shared truth of their beliefs.  Paul did.  To reach the weak, take off your power suit and tie, and wear the garb and display the mind and heart of the humble, the weak, the disenfranchised.  I.e., become one of them in order to reach one of them. 
That little used word?  “Contextualization.”  And the reason it’s been on my mind these past two weeks is that I’ve been wondering if Paul’s strategy could also be expressed, “To the Muslim, I became as a Muslim”?  And what about, “to the Pentecostal, I became as a Pentecostal”?  I.e., is being “in context” as essential for the divine mission today as it was in Paul’s day?
But how far does “contextualization” go without compromising your own faith?  How closely do I need to resemble the one I’m trying to reach without sacrificing my own spiritual identity, values and truth?  Someday perhaps you and I can share a story or two from the Horn of Africa as a part of seeking the answers.  But in the mean time, we can share the prayer that God might enable us as he did Paul to accommodate ourselves to people “in all kinds of different situations, so that by all possible means [we] might bring some to salvation.” 
After all, wasn’t that God’s personal mission two thousand years ago, when he became “one with us” in order that he might save even one of us?  Clearly “contextualization” has a most compelling precedent, wouldn’t you agree?

Comments

Pastor, I applaud your essay for pointing out that reaching the "lost" for Christ, is in effect walking in His footsteps. Meaning, we take on the "likeness" of those we need to reach as our Lord did for all. I wish our church (SDA) would sincerely embrace this concept, as it breaks my heart every time I hear someone whisper some derrogatory remark about one of our visitors (few and far between though they be). Something about too much makeup, strange clothes, weird hair, was that a tattoo or jewelry, etc. Why can't we be more like God who looks upon the heart instead of the outward appearance? Obviously, these people have come to church to worship and/or seek God. So, why do we as God's professed people drive them away instead of embracing them for the children of God that they are? And, yes, I do reach out to them, but sometimes one person is not enough when there is a crowd that persists in pointing, whispering and frowning. No matter what I say, these folks are set in their ways. I sometimes feel it is a hopeless endeavor to even go to church. At any rate, thank you for your sermons. I believe the Holy Spirit does work through you to the good of your listeners. God bless you always.

Greetings to you in the Name of the Lord, Pastor Dwight! To your the question you posed in the last sentence of your blog, I respond, "Absolutely! I totally agree!" What you wrote helped me to remember Paul's admonitions; and I was so blessed by what you wrote, that I needed to respond. The Son of God, the only Son that our heavenly Father would ever have, who shared the heavenly kingdom with His Father and the angels, chose to allow Himself to experience the physical pain of being born of a woman...coming to earth as a human being...in the most humble form possible--a helpless, vulnerable human infant, cared for by two human beings. Special and blessed human beings, they were--to be certain! However, carnal-natured human beings, imperfect and subject to human error, nevertheless. He grew to be a full-grown adult...at the same rate of growth...with the same needs and feelings as His contemporaries experienced. He became vulnerable to the same physical, emotional, mental, financial and spiritual experiences and needs that other human beings are vulnerable to. He was a human being of this world whose mission during his first 33 years on this earth was to please and be faithful to His heavenly Father, to reflect God's character to others, and to draw as many human beings to His heavenly Father as possible. Therefore, He was usually "out of sync" with the way most other human beings thought and behaved during His years on this earth. Nevertheless, He remained faithful to His Father's ways. What was the reason that He allowed Himself to experience all this? It was because He loved us--ALL of us--and His love is still the same. In order that we, as human beings, might fully comprehend, no matter what level of spiritual growth we are currently experiencing, that there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that He would withhold about experiencing the human condition, personally! There was no duty too inconvenient; no pain too great for Him to bear. He knew this was necessary so that we would know what His heavenly Father is like...so that we could know that His heavenly Father is our heavenly Father, also. He also knew that He must succeed in being faithful to God's eternal plan or He would relinquish the right to give His Life for all human beings. If He did, humandkind would be lost, forever. His Life had to be lived perfectly...without sin...even in His thought life...if giving His Life for us was to have any meaning, at all. In addition, He wanted to be a Living Example for us, encouraging us that we, too, can be overcomers, each and every moment...of each and every day...in each and every circumstance...in His Name...through the power of the Holy Spirit. IF we, too, will live to please our heavenly Father, as He did...because of His perfect Life and His death in our place, we will someday live with Him...after sin, Satan and His angels have finally, completely been destroyed. Therefore, we can be certain that He has compassion on us for what we, as human beings, experience. He, therefore, speaks with Authority when He assures us that we CAN overcome the Enemy. He wanted us to be assured that He knew, firsthand, on a deeply personal level, what it feels like to be vulnerable to a hostile environment...to be misunderstood and rejected by those closest to Him...to be misrepresented and lied about by those claiming to love His heavenly Father, whose only true goal was for their own selfish motives: comfort, convenience, greed, power, personal prestige and/or pride. He wanted us to know that He knew what is was like to experience excruciating physical pain...the heartbreak of watching loved ones as you suffer...having empathy for the fears of others...and for their daily struggles. He "contextualized" Himself by placing Himself in the same circumstances and conditions that other human beings experience...in order that we will know, without a doubt, that He knew, and therefore, will ALWAYS know, what we experience as human beings. By choosing to become God Incarnate, to come to earth to live as a human being, we can believe Him and fully trust Him when He assures us with such words as, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." "Come unto Me, and I will give you Rest." "What profiteth a man if he gains the world and loses his own soul?" Perhaps my response is much too lengthy. However, I cannot count the number of times I have been encouraged to be faithful to the Gospel message because He was faithful to His heavenly Father within the same conditions that I have to experience, some 2,000 years later--and even more so. As Paul wrote in Hebrews 12:4 "You have not yet struggled and fought agonizingly against sin, nor have you yet resisted and withstood to the point of pouring out your [own] blood." Amplified Bible His example and these words give me comfort.

This concept was particularly relevant to Paul, Peter and other Jewish apostles/disciples because, as Jews, there were not to associate with or enter the location of non-Jews, regarded as unclean (see Acts 10,28; 11:2,3). God helped them understand that, as Jesus had done before them, they needed to go and find people WHEREVER THESE WERE in order to share the Gospel with them. This is why Peter enters the home of Cornelius and eats with him, and Paul enters the Areopagus in Athens to proclaim Jesus to the Athenians. Paul takes the concept of contextualization one step further, in that he smartly uses an element of the local beliefs - the altar to the UNKOWN GOD - to introduce his message. However, there is no record that Peter, Paul or other early Christians compromised their morals, beliefs and certainly not their faith in the contextualization process in order to "better reach" people. In the same way before them, Jesus associated with and showed empathy to the prostitutes and tax collectors but never compromised what he stood for. I do not believe this subject to be as big of an issue for Western Christians for the simple reason that we do not have the same constraints and strict limitations that Jews had in apostolic times - I hope that none of us would be excommuniated for being seen in the presence of a Muslim or a Pentacostal. It is clear however that some of the other principles of contextualization such as going to find people where they are, or showing empathy for their economic, social or religious background and personal situation in general, are vital principles in successfully reaching out to them. But none of these involve any form of compromise of our beliefs or our faith.

This is a great point pastor. Thank you for this posting. I am a Sabbath keeper afloat in a sea of human secularism and Sunday keepers. I sometimes don't know where the line is regarding contextualization but I believe strongly in the concept and agree that the precedent is extremely compelling! I think we Adventists could benefit from a little more pro-active contextualizing. (if that's a word).

I´ve seen that you almost never get any comments on the blogs you write. To help you a bit in this disappointment I´ll drop you a few lines here. This is a topic that I think really needs lots of prayer and consideration. I am from Germany and I feel that - in order to become like the others we try to reach and be to them as one of them - we are in danger of loosing our own identity. It is true that in the past there was not enough study about how to reach certain groups of people. They all need a different approach, each individual. But in all this I often get the impression that we use the "means" to reach those groups for our own gratification. Music is one thing, but clothing, behavior can also be. To me it seems that the "being like others to reach them" is just an excuse for ourselves to hide our own worldly tastes. So as you said, this has to become a matter of earnest prayer to be guided by God and not by our (sinful?) tastes. Jesus became human but not in al things like us. He lived a live that didn´t sacrifice even one right and true principle to human tastes. Sometimes even at the risk of getting stoned.... May God give us wisdom and grace to be able to communicate the gospel in he most effective way to them without loosing our own ground.

Randel Andrew Moore" is my pen name as an aspiring writer. I am known by my nick name, "The Andreian Man" My shovel has lifted the black ice-crested snow from off the sidewalks outside Garland Apartments in dark bone chilling winter mornings long ago before going to Seminary Classes; and my lawnmower has wafted the sweet smell(not the grass) of newly mown grass through Garland's windows open wide on stunning saphire blue afternoons after classes and library research to help work my way to pay my tution at The Seminary waiting for a call to the ministry from some conferance. That was in 1962 and even then Andews Universtiy had the"Benton Blues" -The dream to see it really grow toward the Lord. It has grown but it has not EXPLODED, it has not FLODDED,it has not IGNIGHTED A PASSION to make the dream become true. That takes sacrifice, time and willingness to let God lite HIS fire to burn up our pride & desire to have it our way. Your concept of "Contextualization of Bentonization" is to become "Bentonized" In oder to be a Bentonite, you have to live there, work there and be there for them in a non-confrontive way. They don't need you to preach to them, they don't need you teach them. They just need YOU to be there to help them where THEY need help. Don't send a GI JOE. NO! YOU GO. I am praying for your success through HIS POWER "...Boy! Make It So"

I'm not sure if you received my earlier comment about becoming a Bentonite along your idea of Contextualization of Benton Harborlization or not. The note at the end of your blog about your trip to Africa shows that you have not received any comments about this concept. In order to be a Bentonite You have to stay there, work there and be there for THEM and their problems. You will have already through HIS SPIRIT PREACHED, TAUGHT AND LED THEM TO HIM. After Spell check. By the grace of GOD,don't send GI JOE, YOU BOY. YOU GIRL. GO. In the words of Captian Kirk,"...Make it So."

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