Yesterday I examined two models for evangelical engagement with non-practicing adherents of the state churches in Europe. I suggested that evangelicals should engage in a way modeled after the way the church in the Book of Acts interacted with the Jewish communities that surrounded it.
The earliest Christ-followers were Jews themselves, in a country where everyone (except the occupying Romans) was also Jewish. They were outnumbered like evangelicals in Europe are outnumbered today. The religious habits & attitudes of the people they faced were just as ingrained as they are in Europe today.
How did they engage with those Jews around them?
- First, simply note that they engaged. They didn’t withdraw, but sought out opportunities for meaningful interaction. They were not separatist.
- They emphasized commonalities first. The early Christians didn’t ignore the fact that they believed Jesus was Messiah, or that their friends did not. But they started with common ground, expectations built on prophecy, the stories of Jesus & his ministry.
- They went out of their way to “make Jesus the offense,” by which I mean they tried to avoid offending for any other cause. I have in mind here the letter of Acts 15, in which the Jewish Christians asked the new Gentile churches to avoid dietary practices that would offend non-Christian Jews, so as to keep the door open for the gospel work among the Jews of Asia Minor.
- They refused to compromise on the one thing: that Jesus was the Messiah, risen from the dead, and that his resurrection proved that HE was right and everyone who opposed him was wrong.
As you read the story of the church in Acts, what would you add to the list?
In comparison with the other models I discussed in the previous post, by the Acts model:
- Evangelicals and state church adherents read the same Bible.
- Evangelicals and state church adherents have the basis for agreeing on who Jesus was, is, and what he accomplished. We emphasize different aspects of the atonement, but the biblical picture of the atonement is multifaceted.
- (If you’re an evangelical who insists that atonement = penal substitution, or that penal substitution is the center, I can’t help you.)
- This means that evangelicals and state church adherents have the basis for agreeing on the nature and content of the gospel. This is a perilous discussion, and it requires that we seriously think through the cultural baggage that we Westerners have placed on the gospel (i.e., by focusing on the salvation of the individual) and how to evaluate our cultural locations in encounters with different cultures.
- Evangelicals should pray for, look for, and celebrate the presence and work of the Holy Spirit wherever we find it. There’s a reason that the Celtic church used the wild goose to symbolize the Spirit; he is always doing things we don’t expect, often in ways that we would not have chosen. We need to learn what this means: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” (John 3.8)