Month 4:11, Week 2:3 (Shleshi/Bikkurim), Year 5935:097 AM|
Omer Count Day 33/50
Gregorian Calendar: Tuesday 12 July 2011
All Things to All Men
What Can One Sacrifice to Witness?
I know of a charismatic pastor's son in Oslo who decided he wanted to minister to punks and drug addicts (a noble desire). To do this, he decided he would live among them and share their lives (also noble). I know of Indian nationals who do the same and live in India's urban slums. However, there is a huge difference between these two. The Oslo pastor's son dresses like a punk, rides around in their motorcycle gangs and hopes to win these people by imitating their ways and thus gaining their trust. The Indian missionary who lives in the slums, on the other hand, dresses simply like his fellow brethren but does not imitate Hindu ways. The Oslo pastor's son has converted a few here and there but none attend his father's church - they are 'solo Christians' (an oxymoron) - but the Indian missionary has convented thousands and has raised many churches in the slums, bringing new life and community whereever he goes. And the Oslo pastor's son...well he is becoming to resemble those he tries to witness to far more than the original intent to make lost youth into Christians.
"I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor.9:22, NKJV).
Today's passage is often abused by many to justify compromising Christian standards in order to witness to the lost. However, what is the good of this if you start getting lost yourself, and in absorbing the lifestyle of the lost you build a wall between you and the rest of the saved? The Body is not supposed to be divided.
I remember I had a friend who, like me, had taken the Rechabite covenant never to drink alcohol who compromised his covenant in order, as he supposed, to make his alcohol-drinking friend feel more at ease. I did not agree with him and I still do not agree with him. He never converted his friend.
What, then, did Paul mean when he said that he had "become all things to all men" so that he "might by all means save some"? Would he have commended my friend for compromising the Rechabite covenant or the pastor's son for becoming a punk? I believe very firmly that what Paul was saying was that he accommodated himself to the unbelievers he worked with as far as his conscience and covenants allowed him to. He would not, therefore, have sat down an eaten a ham sandwich with someone, engaged in loose sexual behaviour, dyed his hair green, dressed immodestly or broken any of the mitzvot (commandments) to accommodate any unbeliever. You don't fool around with your own salvation in order per chance to save another. What, then, have the converts to imitate, let along change, in their lives if this false tavnith (pattern) is followed?
But like His Master before him, Paul would have associated with sinners in order to witness - and no more. He would have abstained from eating meat in front of vegetarians and vegans so as not to offend them and thus accomodated himself to them in that way. And he would have denied himself of lawful things that are optional in general to reach them but never have partaken of unlawful things.
Doubtless each and every one of us would draw the line of accomodation somewhat differently and on occasion err but the main thing here is that we are willing to sacrifice that which is kosher in order to reach lost brethren. The Indian missionary sacrificed a life of comparitive comfort to live in the slums and risked his life because of extremist Hindus. That, I believe, is the substance of what Paul is here saying. Thus were I to go and live in a 'foreign' community I would probably ditch Western clothing and dress as they do. I would grow a beard if they were offended by cleanshavenness. If they thought electronic devices were evil, I would sacrifice those, and so on. But I would not compromise on my morality or Christian ethics, I would not remove my tzitzit or endorse their heavy metal rock music. Some things would have to stand out as being different in order to excite curisoity and invite enquiry, even if it provoked hostility.
May you too become all things [that are lawful to Yahweh] to all men that per chance you might save a few! Amen.