?For the past several years, I had been trying frantically to lead our church the way I had been taught. I kept insisting to myself that our nation was still basically the same as it had always been. All these cultural changes around us were merely fads; good Christian leaders just needed to stay the course.
As it turns out, the world’s cultures are boiling over. Things will never return to the way they were before the Internet, before the end of the cold war, and before the planes plunged into the World Trade Center. Americans would never again be able to isolate themselves from the rest of the globe. No politician and no preacher will ever be able to give us back our old world.
So I had a decision to make. Either I would fume and fuss, alienate and divide, or I would learn how to reflect the gospel of Christ in a dangerous and confused world. Choosing to be a Christian instead of an angry old man would require me to realize that I had a lot to learn about the world’s peoples. It would also require me to make some real friends with folks who thought and behaved differently than I did.
It all boiled down to whether I wanted to become effective or merely comfortable. Effectiveness could not mean neutrality or spiritual relativism. I am a Christian. I believe the words that St. John wrote so long ag “God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
Not only am I Christian, I am an orthodox Christian, trying to confess that which has at all times and in all places been believed by the whole people of God. Like St. Paul, I want to be able to say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation.”
Nonetheless, the peoples of the earth, now brought together in closer relationship than at any time since Babel, must learn how to listen to one another. We cannot hope to win the world to Christ through war, economic conquest or any other form of hostile engagement. Were we to achieve any sort of victory over the world’s peoples through aggression, the religion established by such means could hardly be the faith we are committed to spread. We are limited then to the methods of our faith as much as to its doctrines. We either convince the world’s peoples through love, truth and service, or we cannot convince them at all.
In our times, perhaps more than at any other, we must learn to listen as well as speak. We have no right to expect to be heard if we do not have enough humility of heart to listen.
How can I tell a Muslim that Jesus died on a cross if I refuse to listen to him tell me that Muhammad introduced Moses to a quarter of the globe?
Can I expect a Buddhist to hear me say that Jesus saves if I refuse to acknowledge that the Buddha was a very great teacher?
Can I witness to a Native American without a sense of profound repentance for the bloodshed and for the fictitious history that has been perpetrated against Native peoples by professing Christians?
Listening wins the right to speak. Serving wins the right to relate. Loving wins the opportunity to share. This is the heart of things: The gospel in word and action is simply sharing Jesus with the world’s peoples.
Many Christians in Western nations are perplexed. We are not leading the global church anymore, and that feels strange. The cloud has moved. However, we still have work to do here in our part of the world. Many of us would like to do it in the ways we have always done it. However, we are hitting a wall because the old ways seem not to work anymore. So we tend to separate into crazy dichotomies like “liberal” and “conservative.” But those labels only relieve us of the burden of thinking for ourselves. They allow us to drift into a complacent denial of our faith or into a boring and angry orthodoxy. That’s not a very appealing choice for our children or for the unbelievers.
Christians in the global south seem to be preaching the gospel. They seem to be expecting God to show up in power to transform their lives and communities. All over the world, believers have been erasing old boundaries between Christian groups and borrowing from one another whatever they need to proclaim Christ. To me, that is a much more appealing model than trying to market Jesus to skeptical people. I have often wondered, why can’t we study like Presbyterians, save souls like Baptists, honor Communion like Anglicans, pray for the sick like charismatics, build schools like Methodists, and dance like African-American Pentecostals? What holds us back except sectarian pride? Maybe the world will start taking us seriously when we start taking one another seriously!
Adapted from Faith to Faith. Copyright © 2008 by Dan Scott. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon. Used by permission.