Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Contextualization Does Not Only Mean Contemporary

Part two of Contending, Contextualizing, and Seeking Converts.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is given by most people as the standard scripture passage on contextualization, and rightly so. Regarding his practice of contextualization, Paul writes,

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Unfortunately, in many circles, contextualization has become somewhat of a bad word. I think that is true because of a common misconception by many people that contextualization is merely mimicking another ministry or becoming “contemporary” (whatever that means anymore, if we could become post-modern, I think we should begin examining the term “post-contemporary” for churches). When we relegate our contextualization simply to styles of music, we reduce relevance to worship only and forget that relevance begins in the grocery store, on the job site, and at the gym. If we Christians are not careful, we will lose relevance with those outside of the church long before they ever enter one of our buildings.

Contextualization is not a bad word that aims to rid our churches of senior citizens. Neither is it a code word for, “let’s turn the church into a rock concert.” Instead, the term contextualization simply implies that we should all seek to live our lives as the apostle Paul lived his…by becoming “all things to all people, that by all means [we] might save some.” Contextualization is the process by which churches and individual Christians seek to alter their lifestyle or preferences (while still holding true to the teachings of Scripture) for the intent purpose of sharing the gospel.

I like what one person said recently, contextualization could be redefined as seeking to be relevant. Of course, as I have often said, relevance is relative; relative to your location, situation in life, and cultural context. Relevant in Camden, SC, for instance, is not the same as relevant in San Francisco, but relevance in each situation is necessary for the purpose of spreading the gospel.

We dare not go so far in our efforts of contextualizing, as many have done in throughout the history of the church, that we forsake the true and pure message of Scripture. This is the argument with many in the Emergent Church stream. In an effort to seem relevant, they have forsaken their first love and have ceased to contend for the true faith. Relevance without pure doctrine is misleading and harmful. I fear that many who have diluted or even outright rejected the teachings of Scripture in our day have misled many into a false hope in a false faith.

The gospel is relevant to all peoples in all places in all generations. It is not our job to contemporize or contextualize the teachings of Scripture. We must only be certain that the package in which we share the Good News continues to be as relevant as its content.

Fear not, if you enjoy your traditional church setting, continue to worship in that context, but work to be certain that your context continues to be relevant to reaching the culture around you. And, if you want to worship with incense and candles, then by all means, light up, but be certain that your worship is true to God’s word. The command of Christ to make disciples is too important for us to fail simply because we refused to be open minded about the way in which we deliver the gospel.

Contextualizing is a great word to summarize what missionaries have always done in foreign lands, it is just that in our global society, contextualization is necessary in your own neighborhood as well as Botswana. So, go, be missionaries to your world, share the good news, see people get saved.
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