Clashing Cultures (2)
The early churches we read about in the New Testament faced cultural struggles between groups that had been reached with the gospel. The New Testament letters were written to address the problems associated with binding together the well-versed Jewish believers and the untaught Gentiles, the slave owners and their slaves, the wealthy and the poor, the Roman citizens and non-citizens, and even the societal differences between the men and the women. Since the gospel was being taken to “all nations” (Romans 1:5), or every ethnicity, it was inevitable that opposing values and ideas and opinions would create conflicts and clashes needing guidance from the leaders in the congregations.
Churches which are genuinely open to receiving new members can learn from the instructions given by the apostles when dealing with the frictions that occasionally arise with the entrance of competing cultures. It is an enlightening Bible study to read the epistles with this in mind!
Paul, for example, grew weary of preaching to the Scripturally-satiated Jews, who would argue against him and do everything in their power to neutralize his influence. He deliberately changed his focus away from the Jews in the synagogues and spent his energy and time reaching the Gentiles, who were more receptive to the gospel message. (See Acts 18)
A pastor who wants to lead a church to revitalize will want to follow Paul’s example by spending much of their time building relationships with those who are new to the community and congregation. Help the church understand that the gospel works most powerfully when it is used in the way it is designed; to reach new people and teach them the path to discipleship. Be careful not to completely neglect the long-time Christians by enlisting help from the congregation to make sure their needs are met. Paul described to the Ephesians the relational atmosphere that should exist in a gospel-driven church. Humility, meekness, longsuffering and forbearance (“bearing with one another in love”) are to be the overriding features of a diverse church, and each member should be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2,3) He admits, in choosing the word “endeavoring,” that it will take deliberate work at times to learn to live at peace with one another.
Personal preferences, cultural differences, political convictions, personality frictions are all examples of what can lead members to set destructive “fires” in a congregation. This is not how a God-led church should behave!
Some Jewish teachers tried to force their preference (Biblically-based!) on others when they insisted the male Gentiles who wanted to know Christ had to be circumcised first. (I imagine they were having limited success in their outreach efforts!) Paul and Barnabas challenged this teaching and headed to Jerusalem to declare the converts among the Gentiles who had not been circumcised, which generated great joy among believers. Read the full account in Acts 15 of how it was resolved, but the bottom line is, the Jewish teachers (who wanted things done the way they had always been done) lost the argument and had to learn to subjugate their preferences for the sake of the gospel. (More to come…)
Dr. Lynn Hardaway