How to speak to the lost world
Have you ever felt that you speak a different language than the rest of the world when speaking about your faith? Have you been misinterpreted or called hateful for sharing your Saviors words? The United States has in recent years become a difficult place to speak about Christ. If we say that homosexual sex is sinful for example we are accused of hating homosexuals. If we point out that we all sin, it makes no difference because who are we to judge anyone. Christians are rightfully frustrated by this and often don’t know what to do. How do we make our message clear to people who falsely believe that they have us all figured out? If we are to reach the lost world, we need to ask the question. Do we ask the world to change so we can reach them, or should we adapt to the world? And if we adapt, how do we hold on to Christian values at the same time?
The lost world does in fact speak a different language. They have been speaking to us for many years in a foreign tongue that we have yet to understand fully. Their thoughts, actions, and words are often so outside our experience that we have virtually no common ground. We as Christians are called to learn their language, not try to force them to speak ours. We are called to speak to their heart, without taking on their culture. We must be in the world but not of it.
So how can we hold on to our faith while adapting to the world? I believe we must learn and speak two languages. One for the world, and one for the church. When speaking to the church we are to call out false doctrine and stand against heretical teachings. Both of which are essential to a healthy and vibrant church. It’s part of what sets us apart from the world. We have something different, we have something set apart or holy, and it must be protected. Take the Gnostics of the early church for example. A direct result of the gnostic heresy is the Apostles creed. A statement of official doctrinal truth. Gnostics were claiming to be the true Christian faith and had to be dealt with swiftly. If the Gnostics succeeded in spreading their doctrine, Christianity would look like a branch of paganism. It would look no different from the world around it. This is vital. Once we gain the attention of the world, we must have something new to show them. If we give in to political pressures and public demand the world will simply look at us and see themselves, and the church will cease to be holy or set apart. In contrast, the church is not called to direct this doctrinal power toward the world but is instead called to bridge the gap between itself and the world. We must not treat the world the same way we treat the church. We must learn a second language.
Paul demonstrated how this is done when he went to Greece. He said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:” (Acts 17:22-23 NKJV) Notice that he started with common ground, not an attack. He sought to build bridges not win arguments. If we are to reach the lost world, we must find common ground. Notice that this was no compromise. Paul gave up nothing of his faith to reach the Greeks.
In Paul’s time the west was dominated by Hellenistic culture. Philosophy and worship of the pantheon dominated moral thought. A tiny upstart religion speaking about the fulfillment of the law through the death and resurrection of its messiah must have seemed far off field. To reach the philosophers of Greece, the church had to become philosophers without falling into the trap of paganism. The church had an uphill battle here. What little was known of Christianity in the Hellenistic world was often misrepresented, and false doctrines continually muddied the waters.
So how do we speak the worlds language in the modern day world? Before you speak a language you must first hear it. We must first listen to what they are saying, without judgement or argument. ( For the church in America I must also add this. Do not listen with a political ear. You must learn to hear the heart of tea party republicans and bleeding heart liberals with equal clarity. Remember that Christ died for them too.) If we listen, we will gain access to their hearts, and that is to what we speak. As to what we say…leave that to the Holy Spirit. Remember that what you have is vibrant and beautiful. The gospel message is of such beauty and significance that no other message comes close. It is relevant. It is vital. It offers something the world desperately needs. But before we speak, we must first listen.
So church, take the time to learn both languages. Do not allow the world to stain the church. It must remain holy. Stand up to heretical teachings. Do not allow them a foothold in the church, but do not forget those outside of your walls. They do not care about good doctrine. Their only care is what is in their hearts. Learn to speak to it by learning to listen. What good is it if you win an argument with an unbeliever if in so doing you push them away from God?