Acts 15:19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
This point, expressed here by James, is of extreme importance to anyone engaged in cross-cultural evangelism. We have great difficulty distinguishing our faith, from our religion, from our culture. That is a very big issue in Japan, where many religious functions are seen as strictly cultural, and it’s an issue in America, where some cultural things are seen as religious. That is complicated by the difference between religion and faith, because few Japanese have more than a superstitious faith in anything, yet they observe assorted religious traditions. Evangelists, both domestic and foreign, need Holy Spirit discernment to know what is central to the Gospel and what is the accretion of tradition. I doubt that anyone gets it 100% right! There is a strong tendency to push pet theology, or else to water everything down so much that it is no longer the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith. Another difficulty is that different people and groups waste time and energy attacking one another for their positions on these issues, instead of focusing on the central issue of winning the lost. Such activity defames the name of Christ among those who don’t believe, not to mention grieving the Holy Spirit.
Growing up in a missionary family in Japan, this is an issue I have been somewhat aware of even from childhood. That doesn’t mean I’ve dealt with it perfectly myself! However, I have been grieved to see groups hang onto their “denominational distinctives” to the point of refusing cooperation with anyone outside their group. At the same time, proper teaching and training of new believers is essential, since there is no limit to the depth of God’s truth, and we all need encouragement to keep growing as Christ’s disciples. This is a constant issue for me, dealing with other Christian groups, dealing with new believers, and dealing with non-believers. I have been struck recently with how much people who were not raised in the Church do not know. That makes it all the more essential that I teach the important stuff first, to lay a firm foundation and get them started on pursuing Christ themselves. Otherwise I will be constantly trying to herd toddlers and infants, rather than maturing believers, and I’ve had more than enough of that!
Father, thank You for what You’ve been teaching me recently on this point. Thank you for the introductory and teaching material that Cathy and others have prepared. Help me be faithful in every area of ministry, so that there will be no barriers of my making in the way of anyone becoming all that You desire and intend them to be, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!