How do we contextualize biblically?
- Give up your rights. The apostle Paul had the right to eat meat, to take along a believing wife, and to receive financial support. Yet he gave up these rights in order not to put any obstacle in the way of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:4-18). We, too, should be prepared to give up any rights if using them would offend those we are trying to evangelize.
- Become a servant of non-believers. Paul also adopted a posture of servanthood toward non-believers. He writes, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Cor. 9:19). Only by becoming servants of others can we use our Christian freedom to do them good rather than harm.
- Adapt to others’ cultural practices as much as possible without sinning. Paul adapted to the cultural habits of others as much as he could without compromising the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:19-23). We should do the same.
- Stay within the bounds of Scripture. As adaptable as he was, Paul insisted on staying within the bounds of Scripture. In the middle of describing how he adapted as much he could to those he was evangelizing, he inserted an all-important parenthesis: “not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). In other words, Paul would adapt to others’ cultural practices only as far as Scripture allowed and no further. So for us, as for Paul, human culture and tradition are negotiable. God’s Word is not.
(This material has been adapted from the article, “Putting Contextualization in its Place,” written by a missions strategist for Central Asia)