I grew up in a ‘traditionally conservative’ area. By ‘traditionally conservative’ I mean that for generations there was a single ‘proper’ stance on every religious matter. There was one ‘proper’ perspective on the nature and character of God, one ‘proper’ perspective on Jesus Christ, one ‘proper’ perspective on the church, one ‘proper’ definition of what it meant to be Christian, one ‘proper’ list of expressions of worship, one ‘proper’ list of godly behaviors, one ‘proper’ list of righteous living, and one ‘proper’ position to be taken in regard to each theological issue.
Faithfulness was defined as accepting each ‘proper’ view without question. To challenge accepted views [regardless of one’s spirit or motives] was to enter the category of the ‘unfaithful.’ Faithfulness was not defined as faith in the living God Who created the world, faith in the living God sending Jesus, faith in Jesus’ atonement for humans, or faith in God’s resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Such faith was necessary but insufficient and incomplete. Unquestioning confidence must be placed in the ‘propers’ rather than in God the Father. Failure to place unquestioning confidence in the ‘propers’ was regarded as a rejection of the church.
Each ‘proper’ was based on a number of proof texts from scripture. Scripture [the Bible] was held in high regard. It is God’s voice and authority. A ‘thus says the Lord’ settled any religious issue if the ‘thus says the Lord’ honored all the applicable and appropriate ‘propers.’ If the statement from the Bible failed to honor the ‘propers,’ this statement [in ways to be determined if necessary] did not ‘rightly divide the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15). Typically, ‘rightly dividing’ primarily involved New Testament statements.
Please understand I grew up among good-hearted people who were generous, kind, and devoted to God and each other. I could not begin to name the many, many blessings that continue touching my life because of the blessings given me in my adolescent years. Their love of the Lord was genuine and sincere. Their commitment was unquestionable, deep, and absolute. I am grateful that God allowed me to be blessed, encouraged, and nurtured in that environment.
In adolescence, I was richly blessed and encouraged by Ray Cope and Burt Ingram as well as my physical family. Ray Cope made appointments for this teenager to visit rural congregations and teach. [I grew up in a county with thirteen congregations and one full time preacher.] He and my father provided me transportation to those appointments before I was old enough to have a driver’s license! Burt Ingram introduced me to the value of studying in context at a time when the concept of context was foreign to my religious environment. These two men added immeasurably to my years of spiritual encouragement received in my home.
I began awakening to a more complete understanding of scripture when I attended college [now David Lipscomb University]. The greatest contribution that experience made to my spiritual growth likely was an increased understanding of the translation process.
My graduate school studies accelerated spiritual growth. Perhaps its most significant contribution was in teaching me how to study. I finally understood that the objective of study is to learn by being introduced to the previously unknown. The objective of learning is to increase personal understanding. As a result of those introductions and understandings, faith grows.
[As you discover previously unknown understandings, dare to ask previously unasked questions. Equally dare to seek answers to those questions. Never set any answer in concrete as ‘unquestionably, totally complete’. In seeking God’s truth from the revelation of His word, always be open to expanding understandings when encountering more complete information. Understanding is a friend, not an enemy.]
My in-depth education began when Joyce and I took our children to a West African country. Quickly I realized that many of the ‘traditional propers’ I never questioned in past experiences were meaningless and inappropriate in the new [to me] culture.
That realization had the impact of a nuclear bomb within my understanding! Before leaving the United States, I yearned to teach in a foreign mission field. Naively, I wanted to go some place that I could begin at the foundation level. I wanted to build Christian perspectives and understandings ‘from the ground up’. Suddenly, the teaching experiences in the new culture forced me to realize that my foundational Christian perspectives and understandings were influenced more by American culture than by an in depth understanding of the Bible.
It was a rude shock to realize I wore American glasses when I studied scripture. It astounded me to realize that many of my ‘traditional propers’ dealt more with conservative American preferences than with the Bible’s teachings. Suddenly, I realized that I was not a missionary to convert people to American values and concepts. I was a missionary to convert people to Jesus Christ.
This realization produced a personal crisis. With all my heart I believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. With all my heart I believe the church is to be God’s blessing to the world. With all my heart I believe that the avenue to Jesus and the church is the avenue of faith in God’s accomplishments in Jesus’ cross and resurrection. The crisis: why was it necessary to teach people who were not Americans how to view spiritual things from an American’s perspective before one could teach them to be Christians?
The American Perspective
Your response may be, “I do not understand the concept of an American perspective.” Typically, the American Christian’s answer to most spiritual needs begins with money [primarily because America is a prosperous society]. Third world countries are often poor societies [they have wealthy and middle class citizens, but those segments of third world societies tend to be small; the majority often live in extreme poverty].
Can you imagine the church existing in your community without a building? Or without a full time minister? Or without personal, motorized transportation for anyone [including the preacher]? Or without teaching aids, Bibles, or song books? Or without office machines of any kind? Or without any form of benevolent outreach? If you lived among people who were frequently sick, had no access to medicines, had almost no access to clinics or hospitals, and could live their entire lives without seeing a doctor, how would you help them by using Christian outreach?
Money and Blood
As you form and state your answer to that question, note how many of those answers begin with money. Missionaries attuned to needs in a local populace quickly realize huge sums of money could be invested in real needs, yet little be changed for more than a few days. Many American missionaries have this experience: locals ask, “How can we become rich like you?” while their American family and friends in the U.S.A. ask, “How can you live like that?”
If money is not available, can Christianity thrive? If we are not careful, we make mission work a form of business-producing-income to the nationals we seek to teach.
The second illustration is based on blood. Jesus was executed. Many of the apostles were executed. Martyrs in the early church were not unusual. Often the good news concerning salvation available in Jesus was shared at the expense of shedding the messenger’s blood.
Americans oppose Americans dying—even in war! Our view of death is often distinctly different from other cultures’ [most Americans cannot grasp the concept of a suicide bombing!]. If the cost of sharing the good news about Jesus is your life, will you share the good news? Is it okay if your children share the good news? Is it okay if sharing the good news means you never see your grandchildren? Are blood and money too great a price for American Christians to pay for being evangelistic people of faith in Jesus Christ?
Christians Exist to Share Jesus
If you are no more than a second generation Christian, you can illustrate the unbelievable. You could relate an incident in which a congregation divided over the color of new carpet, the kind of grass for the new church lawn, to put or not to put a steeple on the building, the style of the new pews, who to hire as the new preacher, what spiritual songs to sing, the clapping of hands in worship, the raising of hands in worship, how the church building could be used, etc. Even the congregation at first century Corinth would be embarrassed by our reasons for ‘falling out’ with each other!
We say Jesus is the universal Savior. What does that mean? We say God’s church is for the entire world. What does that mean? We say the resurrection to life is for everyone. What does that mean? We say the gospel is for all people. What does that mean?
It means the issues in Jesus Christ that confront God’s people are more important than carpet colors, grass, steeples, pew styles, following men, songs, clapping, raising hands, the uses of a church building, etc. A deeply significant awareness must come to exist among us! Jesus’ church pre-dates carpets! The first century church did not plant lawns! Originally, there were no church buildings, steeples, or pew styles. Preachers like Paul, Peter, and Apollos were merely laborers who served God’s purposes in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12, 13; 3:4-9). Speaking in tongues would make clapping seem an insignificant expression of appreciation! Paul told Christians to raise holy hands (1 Timothy 2:8). Jesus Christ is bigger than American preferences.
Americans do not have to become pygmies, or Nigerians, or Romanians, or British, or Spaniards, or Bosnians to be Christians. Neither do pygmies, nor Nigerians, nor Romanians, nor Brits, nor Spaniards, nor Bosnians have to become Americans to be Christians. Neither cultures nor languages are barriers to God, the Father of Jesus Christ.
Table of Contents Chapter 2