Summary: The Apostle Paul’s Cross-Cultural Contextualizing Ministry - I Cor. 9:16-23
The Apostle Paul’s Cross-Cultural Contextualizing Ministry - I Cor. 9:16-23
Paul believed in the POWER of the gospel to transform lives. Yet he also appreciated the COMPLEXITY of this process. He resisted any attempts to submit to the indoctrination process of Pharisaicalism. He combined an amazing ability to integrate the "continuous-supracultural" aspects of truth with the particular-immanent aspects of most relevant local truths. Over the years of ministry in Africa, I often reflect how the apostle Paul would have approached particular situations in contemporary Africa. Sometimes, it appears that his teachings and methods would be too harsh and polemic. Yet, Paul’s ability to become all things to all men that by all means he might save some would have made him an ideal missionary within Africa. The question seems to be, what kind of missionary methods, messages, and identities would he have assumed as a missionary strategist in our contemporary African seen with all its complex tribal, social, political, and religious tensions?
No doubt Paul would have become a serious student of African concepts of God, The Spirit, man, power, and spiritual forces and their effects on the affairs of people. He would have worked to draw linkages between the African concept of a High God and that of the knowable attributes of God through the scriptures. He would have loved to show fulfillment in many African traditional religious perspectives that God is a Lord of all power through the absolute power found in Christ, His words, and His Spirit. Because of his emphasis on connections, Paul would have deeply involved himself with the brethren from a number of tribes who would have served as mediators for the gospel across social and cultural lines.
Grace would have been interwoven into every interaction, lesson, and committee meeting with the elders so as to contrast the gospel with the law. Whereas Paul would have identified with the importance of the group collectivistic attachments because of his Jewish background, he would have laid emphasis to each individual’s responsibility before God. While he would have been able to support the African idea of the transcendence of God, he would have countered any notions of God being unapproachable, inactive, or reachable only through intermediary spirits. He would have accented the attributes of God’s holiness, creatorship, and Fatherliness to African who see family as the very center of life, nurturing, and identity. Yet he would have lovingly and firmly shown how the ancestral spirits cannot be manipulated in order to work favors for the family. Especially, Paul would have been bold to refute the concept that God does not have control over all of the spirits since they are too numerous.
Similarly Paul would reject the idea that people can be puppets for the spirits to work their deeds without the consent of their wills. Steadfastly clinging to the truth that power is not to be used for selfish ambition, Paul would encouraged more Africans to be self-supporting bi-vocational Pastors. Paul would constantly give examples in contemporary Africa of how he would support himself wherever possible so as not to be a burden on anyone. While Paul would argue that the power of God cannot be manipulated, His Spirit’s directing can still be discerned through the still small and sometimes subjective voice of calm. He would be open to the concepts that God still speaks today through people, through dreams, visions, and even through the exercise of certain spiritual gifts in the church. Paul saw the power of God as being given to certain people for the supernatural enablement to accomplish cross-cultural missionary work. Therefore, he would probably emphasize that some of God’s greatest blessings would continue to be found on the frontiers of missions, evangelism, and church planting ministries!
Paul would revel in the African holistic perception of life that refuses to separate the spiritual from the physical, philosophical, or social causes of man’s problems. The failures of many present day Pastors to teach the word with accuracy or without relevancy would give Paul considerable remorse since he told Timothy, "Study to show yourself approved of God a workman who does not need to be ashamed handling accurately the word of truth." (2 Tim. 2:14) He would integrate the notions that our battles are not simply with ruthless military rulers who suppress the people for their own selfish gain. No doubt Paul’s ministry would encourage many young men and women to ascend the political ladders so as to become all things to all men in the government positions of leadership. However, Paul’s priorities would definitely reflect the Biblical emphasis on service to the spiritual aspects of man above all else.
Whenever Paul would hear of the following instances, no doubt he would warn those who practice such things that if anyone preaches another gospel besides the true one, let them be accursed. Paul would refuse to mince words with those proponents of African Independent churches who insisted on syncretizing the truth for the sake of compatibility with their traditional religions.