Understanding and Reaching Across Cultures
Our God is a missionary God who created human beings in His image and for a relationship with Him.
From the time when the first man and woman He created chose to rebel against Him, God has been pursuing the restoration of His relationship with humanity.
Since the time of Abraham, we see that God has chosen a people to join with Him in seeking restoration of relationship with all of humanity.
Jesus Christ came as the Word of God in human form to model God’s heart and His way of living. Through His death and resurrection, He paid the debt for our sins. He makes it possible for all who will believe to be transformed into ambassadors of God, initiating reconciliation with peoples of every tribe, nation, and language.
We can better understand World Mission and how it relates to the Church and our lives by exploring the following;
- God’s Heart for the Nations
- Understanding and Reaching Across Cultures
- World Religions and Cults
- The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ
As we have seen, the vision of our missionary God is to enfold people of every nation, tribe, and language into His Kingdom.
God has chosen to work through a particular people of His calling—Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. This calling was always with the intent that His people would become agents of His mission to all peoples.
His call of Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 28:14) and the multiplication of God’s people were done so as to make them a blessing to the nations (Psalm 67).
Many Old Testament passages point to the day when God will gather peoples from all nations to be included in His purposes and become agents of His Kingdom (Isaiah 56:3, Isaiah 56:6-8; Isaiah 66:18-21; Zechariah 8:20-23).
Jesus said that, before His return, the Gospel of the Kingdom would be preached among all peoples (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10). After His resurrection, he commissioned His disciples to go and preach the Gospel by the power of the Spirit and to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-47). In short, they were sent on a mission into the world as Jesus Himself was sent by the Father (John 20:21).
After Jesus ascended into heaven and after the Holy Spirit was sent at Pentecost, God’s mission to the nations burst forth in a new way through His new people, the Church.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus indicates that the Spirit will empower His people to become His witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The spread of the disciples’ witness involved moving outward from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, Antioch, and every remote region.
This mission required crossing ethnic and religious barriers as the Gospel moved from the people of Israel to the Samaritans who had a form of Old Testament faith, and on to the Gentiles who consisted of diverse ethnic groups and were followers of a variety of religious beliefs.
How can we reach the entire world by crossing different cultural and religious backgrounds?
Creative ways of sharing the Gospel cross-culturally
Reaching the least reached is not an easy task for the church.
The challenges of geographical, cultural, political, and religious barriers make it difficult for Christian witnesses to be among people who have little or no access to the Gospel.
Creative methods and entry points are needed. The great advantage the Church has is that God is powerful and will empower those who are willing to witness to the Good News.
Key areas of innovation include the following:
Awareness and adaptation of cultural differences so as to minimize the challenges to effective communication of the Gospel
Ralph Winter, in his essay “Cross-Cultural Evangelism: The Task of Highest Priority,” highlights the need for awareness of the “cultural distance” between the messenger and the recipient.
The nearer the messenger is in cultural adaptation to the recipient culture, the more effective is the sharing of the Gospel. This “nearness” may be due to one’s culture of origin or even the result of careful adaptation to the recipient culture.
The messenger must work hard to understand the other culture by learning the language, traditions, historical problems, religious allegiance, and patterns of behavior.
At Global Disciples, we believe and encourage indigenous clusters of churches to train and send their own workers who know the culture well in order to reap the plentiful harvest.
The willingness of clusters of churches to send church planters to least-reached, remote, and difficult areas
In Global Disciples, we believe that churches in close proximity to the least-reached areas are instrumental. If these clusters of churches are willing to identify and train church planters to cross to the next village/town, we will provide a Small Business Development (SBD) training tool for them.
This will allow them to train their church planters so that they then can develop their own legitimate businesses to give them the resources to access least-reached people and to sustain their families and ministries.
How did Paul present the Gospel to the people of Athens (Acts 17:16-34)?
Becoming all things to all men
To reach across cultures, we must begin on common ground by understanding the culture of the people we are trying to reach. Without understanding the culture, we can’t begin on common ground in order to engage the Gospel in this people’s context.
Understanding another culture is not as easy as we think. Everything that a culture is and will ever be is driven by its worldview, which is the deepest part of the culture.
Understanding the culture of our audience allows us to properly present the Gospel message in their context—just as Jesus and the early Church did.
The apostle Paul’s spirit was provoked by all of the idols that he saw in the city of Athens (Acts 17:16). But He began his talk by observing that they were very religious in all respects. Then he mentioned that he found an altar that was dedicated, “To an unknown God.” He used this “unknown God” to tell them about the true God who created heaven and earth. He showed them the supremacy of God by saying,
“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24-25).
Paul even used their writing, “‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” He used their poet’s sayings to support his argument that all human beings came from one man and that we are all children of God. Finally, he called them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30-31). “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (emphasis added).
Here, Paul made it clear there is no salvation without repentance and submission to the saving power of the One who defeated death. Contextualization does not mean hiding the truth but beginning with some common ground and presenting the saving Gospel in that context.
Distinguishing between culture and Gospel
Every ethnic group has its own culture and some kind of religious background. Therefore, for the Gospel to be understood and received by any people group, it has to be communicated in the context of that culture to make it meaningful. But most of the time, we do not go with a “pure” or naked Gospel to adapt it into the new culture. In taking the Gospel across cultures, one of the mistakes we often make is that of going with a Gospel wrapped in our own cultural context. So we need to be careful to distinguish between the two—culture and Gospel.
The Gospel message we received originally came in the historical context of the Hebrew and Greek cultures. But these practices had to cross many different cultures as the Church expanded. For example, in the early Church, the Hebrew practices of circumcision and dietary laws were set aside in the Gentiles’ culture (Acts 15:1-35; Romans 14). The churches did not always agree as to how to relate to surrounding cultures which resulted in controversies and division. Our Gospel is the universal message of salvation for all people irrespective of race, language, culture, or circumstances. It does not presuppose the superiority of any culture to another but evaluates all cultures according to its own criteria of truth and righteousness based on the Word of God. To communicate the Gospel effectively, we have to separate it from our culture and present it in terms of the culture of the people we are reaching. It is good to remember that Jesus Christ is the captive of no culture and is the master of all cultures. The central task of our mission is to present the message in the context of our audience so that they can respond positively (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
We have the authority to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people within their context. Just as Jesus Christ became flesh and dwelt among people, we, the messengers of the Gospel, must have a cultural incarnation in order to be meaningful (John 1:14-18). We cannot communicate the Gospel without concerning ourselves with culture because our Gospel is super-cultural in its origin, truth, and application.
Sharing the Gospel effectively requires thoughtful, biblical contextualization—the removal of non-scriptural cultural elements from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Contextualization requires choosing appropriate words, analogies, worship styles, etc. In the early Church, the decision about the necessity of circumcision was a critical issue requiring contextualization. Some saw it as a prerequisite to becoming a follower of Christ. The Jerusalem council realized that the deeper intent of the Old Testament passages was that circumcision (the form) was only a sign of actual spiritual submission to God (the meaning [Romans 2:25-29]).
Paul contextualized the Gospel message in the context of his audiences (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). He chose to live like the people he was reaching. The Gospel message must be contextualized in the language and custom of the local people as God speaks to them in their real situations as Paul did. Even if we believe in contextualization, we do not compromise on salvation that is only through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord (Acts 4:12; John 14:6). It is through Jesus Christ that God is reconciling the lost and dying world. Anyone who does not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is eternally lost.
We are on a mission of reaching and discipling the entire world with our Commissioner, Jesus. He invites us to participate in the greatest, most diverse, and most significant historical gathering of the harvest in the last days. This mission, which He has entrusted into our hands, needs to go to the ends of the earth by crossing cultures as it is prophesized in Isaiah 49:6: “I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (NLT). These words anticipate not only the work of Christ (Luke 2:32) but also the future witness of His disciples, including us (Acts 13:47).
One day, God’s mission to include people from every nation, tribe, and language in His kingdom will be fulfilled (Revelation 5:9-10; Revelation 7:9). The Church today, as God’s missionary people, can confidently bear witness to Christ to advance His kingdom, near and far, crossing every cultural barrier. We will not rest until the Gospel has reached every people, has been shared in every locality, and until churches have been planted at every corner among the least-reached peoples around the world.
We will look forward to the day when this global mission is accomplished, when great multitudes from every race, tribe, nation, people, and language will stand before the throne of our true God and sing the song, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). Getting involved now will allow us to experience in advance a little of what heaven will be like.
Are we willing to cross-cultural and religious barriers so that we will fulfill the mission Jesus has given us?
Global Disciples Canada is a Christian mission organization that trains local leaders living near least-reached communities to multiply disciples for Christ. One-third of our world hasn’t heard the Good News of Jesus. Yet. Global Disciples refers to these as “least-reached” people, and fewer than 10% of all missionaries work among these groups. We live in a time where many of these people are within reach of a local church. Through our simple and effective strategy of training and coaching, believers share the Gospel in their own nations and cultures. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” and we’re committed to doing just that. If you are looking for a Christian mission organization to partner with to become a better disciple and help make disciples, connect with us today!
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