This is a tough one. The obvious follow-up question is, “How do we know the difference between what’s Western Christian culture and the good stuff?” Great question. Answer: It’s not easy to tell. Because no matter what we read and hear and believe, our experience supersedes it. As we’re teaching things to our friends “directly from the Bible,” what they’re really picking up is what we do.
A simple example of this would be how we pray. Muslims would do informal prayer probably standing, with their eyes open and their hands in front of them, palms up. Of course we know that “real” prayer happens with heads bowed and eyes closed. But, for as much as I’ve tried to not impose my style, I now see most of my Muslim friends who have come to Jesus praying with their heads bowed and eyes closed.
This is not bad, it’s just not the point. We teach who we are. You can see it in different kinds of churches too. Some churches are sure they have to speak loudly with great animation for God to hear. Others are obviously convinced that God can read minds, because you will never hear a peep from them. Some raise hands. Others bend knees. Some preachers shout for an hour while others memorize a ten-minute homily. Some dance. Some would never think of moving. Hard benches. Soft chairs. Choirs. Rock bands. Steeples and stained glass. And some even think they can meet God in homes. And what’s funny is they all back up their cultures with Scripture.
It gets more complicated when you get into questions like, “What makes a church?” Elders? Deacons? Senior pastor and staff? Mega-church vs. two or three gathered in a coffee shop? Members voting. Pastors ruling. Breaking bread weekly. Monthly. Baptizing all and often. Dipping, dunking, or sprinkling. All proved by Holy Writ. And what do you need to believe in order to be “in’? This one’s really tough. I was raised to believe that you needed to say “The Sinner’s Prayer.” Some would say that the prayer is needed, plus a public confession in baptism. Others would argue that those aren’t enough–we likewise need correct doctrine. Which doctrine? Well, theirs of course. Basic things like justification by faith alone. Salvation by grace. Substitutionary atonement. Repentance. And then some say even all that’s not quite enough until you’re baptized in the Holy Spirit.
So, back to the question at hand. How do we know which things are just part of our cultural upbringing and which things are really necessary to be sharing with our friends? Here’s my list of must-share things:
Not much of a list, is it?
Some would say, “Carl, you have to give us more than that.”
Really? More than Jesus? I would just ask that you share things about Jesus that are true. That are real. That make sense. Things he’s done in your life. Things from the sixty-six books we call the Bible. Those things. Share them in some sort of logical order. Probably don’t start at the end of the story. Allow the story to unfold naturally. For Chris and I, that means:
- We talk about Jesus in every nonreligious way possible. I often say things like, “You know…Jesus. That guy who lived in the Middle East two thousand years ago. You know…that guy.”
- We get involved in their lives. This takes (precious) time. We get to know their kids. We invite them around whenever we can.
- We would never invite them to a Bible study. Christians do that. No one else in the world sits around and “studies” a book. We invite them to a discussion group. We let others lead. We don’t control it when the group wanders. We’re simply studying this interesting and controversial figure of history–Jesus. I try hard not to sound like a salesman for him.
- We remember that these people are worth more than our plans. Therefore, if it doesn’t work at first, just drop it and try again later. We don’t force our plan.
Stay tuned for Tip #5, coming next week.
(This content was taken from the book Muslims, Christians, and Jesus)