Dr. Ted Miller, SOR Faculty
This series has attempted to provide a general framework for how God wants us to interact with what a culture accepts or promotes as “normal,” with the goal of understanding how we should contextualize the Gospel in our own culture, as well as others.
As Christians, we recognize that any culture can contain elements that reflect man’s creative goodness (a reflection of God’s image), as well as elements that reflect man’s sinfulness. Although God had established Israel in the Old Testament with a national and cultural identity for the purpose of establishing the worship of himself alone, He apparently intends the church to exist across national and cultural boundaries. Nevertheless, idolatry still posed a great spiritual danger to us (and continues to provoke God to jealousy), and it is here that Paul’s discussion in I Corinthians 8-10 may be helpful in guiding our interaction within various cultures.
Before he discusses the issue of meat offered to idols (starting in 8:1), Paul addresses reports regarding fornication by believers (1 Cor. 5:1+). Some in pagan culture encouraged unbridled sexual expression (i.e. fornication), and others regarded all sexual activity as being innately wrong, due to its being connected with the physical world—which some Gnostics (among others) regarded as inherently evil (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3a).
The former was certainly dominant in Corinthian culture, but Paul navigates between these two errors, unequivocally condemning sexual activity outside of marriage (1 Cor. 5:1-6:20), while at the same time affirming the divinely-ordained good of sexual activity within marriage (1 Cor. 7:1-40).
Paul thus affirms the goodness of the divinely-created order, while condemning its various perversions. When Paul turns to the topic of meat offered to idols, he follows a similar (dual) train of thought.
The meat itself is part of God’s created order (“The earth is the Lord’s”), but cultural idolatry—under the guidance of demons—can “weaponize” (in a spiritually harmful sense) an activity as morally innocuous as consuming a piece of meat.
When pagans within idolatrous cultures repent and turn in faith to the true and living God, they avoid (often instinctively) many of the symbols of idolatry, even though they explicitly acknowledge that the god(s) they worshipped never existed at all, and that there may not be anything inherently immoral with the object or the activity itself. And in such cultures, dealing with idolatry is simpler in at least one sense; false gods with names are more easily identifiable.
For Christians in cultures where Satan is primarily using cultural atheism, the task is much more difficult: how does one avoid unnamed false gods, let alone identify what cultural objects and actions would be used to encourage people to follow them instead of the one true God?
With these ideas in mind, I would like to close this series by proposing some likely principles and that govern the freedoms we have—and do not have—as we communicate the Gospel cross-culturally.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.