Summary: PAUL’S ATTEMPT TO SOLVE THE AUTHORITY AND CONFRONTATION PROBLEM IN MULTI-CULTURAL MINISTRIES
PAUL’S ATTEMPT TO SOLVE THE AUTHORITY AND CONFRONTATION PROBLEM IN MULTI-CULTURAL MINISTRIES
Introduction - Mr. Jones, was a missionary who became known for his sensitivity to the context, customs, and culture of the people. In fact some people wondered if he was hypocritical in being quite flexible with one congregation while being quite formalistic with another. Yet one day he wrote a letter that stirred up a terrific debate in the church. There would be no doubt any longer that this missionary was standing firm on his position, but where did he get his authority? His firmness, which revealed a solid resolution to root out pretentiousness in the church, evidenced a supernatural confidence in the truth. Eventually, this ability to distinguish primary from secondary problems would characterize his ministry, teaching, and writing. His stinging rebuke of several prominent church elders was necessary because of his teachings about the body of Christ. The stern attitude taken by Mr. Jones was proof that he would not allow his position, authority, or role diminished. His harsh judging tone in the letter made it sound that he was pointing the finger at particular people who had allowed this controversy to fester for too long. He would have no more part in any compromises with the truth as he believed he had received it from Christ. He would not cater to any hedging or double talk about the relativity of cultural practices on this issue. He was willing to take great criticism for his position in order to defend the truth.
Today we might consider such a missionary as being harsh, legalistic, and even too rigid to successfully work as a cross-cultural contextualizer. We may assume that he was simply trying to throw his weight around to show the new church just who was in charge. We may even assume that this missionary was out to prove a point of his own cultural superiority. In fact, some of us may even go so far as to say this missionary had a problem with his own ego. Perhaps, this missionary needed to realize that he was simply trying to cover up his human weaknesses in his failure to appreciate how the Holy Spirit was moving in another culture. Could it be that this missionary was simply to indignant over the attacks that others had made about his ministry approaches? Maybe this missionary simply did not understand the role of a cross-cultural contextualizer?
While these ideas may appear valid, let us understand that this missionary was going through a similar experience that the apostle Paul faced when writing a vigorous apologetic to the Galatians for the essential truth that people are justified solely through faith in Jesus Christ - nothing more and nothing less. He refused to allow the gospel be eroded by the hypocritical actions of the likes of Peter and Barnabas. He wanted to make it clear from the outset of the New Testament church that a man is sanctified not by legalistic works, but the obedience that results from one’s belief in Christ. He wanted everyone to know that through the works of law no man could be justified, for we have received the Spirit by faith. He even resorted to using such powerful language as, "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? ... Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?" This is a vitriolic language that confronted some of the most well known Christians of the day with harsh rebukes - publically! Paul wanted it to be known that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. He insisted that to go back to living by the law is to make oneself a slave to it - "How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you?... Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (Gal. 4:8-16) Strong but necessary words for the precedent setting cross-cultural contextualization missionary!
Where did Paul get his authority for his harsh, but necessary contextualized confrontations? Paul has a way of showing contextualizers how to deal with problems in a firm, but open way.
Even words of self-defense at times are hurled at his critics as he staunchly defends his personage for the sake of the truth of the gospel. Whenever he felt the dignity of the scriptures were at stake, he stood firmly to his authoritative source - Christ and his apostleship. Often his opponents would insist that if Paul really were an apostle he would not have to endure the humiliations of beatings, death threats, and imprisonments. He reversed the tables and used this argument against his critics. He insisted that his marks of suffering were proof of his identification with Christ and His ministry. He writes to the Galatians, "Let not one give me any more trouble, because I bear on my body the scars to show that I am a slave of Jesus Christ." (Gal. 6:17)