Meeting the people where they are
Culture. Why does culture matter to Christianity? Is it not enough to build a church grounded on scripture? No, the culture of the community matters a lot. Indeed this will determine if the church thrives or withers. To put it another way, it does not work to stand on the hilltop and proclaim the word. One must go down to where the people are and deal with them on their terms.
Contextualization builds the Bridge. The culture of a society is defined by its shared beliefs, values, and norms that guide personal and societal behaviour. The idea that Christians must adapt their teachings to a society’s culture has caused controversy. Aren’t the biblical teachings universal? Don’t Christian values apply to people independent of their culture? In fact it is a little more complicated – while the truths grounded in the scriptures are universal, how we apply them in our lives depends on our culture. Contextualization is the “how” that builds a bridge between scriptural teachings and human lives, between the eternal truths and the here-and-now.
Contextualizing Then… The apostle Paul knew that he needed to contextualize. We see in the book of Acts how he adapts for each of his audiences – the Jews in the synagogue, the Greeks in the marketplace, the philosophers in the schools.
… And Now. Likewise, modern Christians who plant churches need to be mindful of the culture. For the church to thrive, it will need to meet the people where they are. Ed Stetzer, a writer and speaker who has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, offers an in-depth look at contextualizaton here. (An expanded but more readable version is here). At St. John’s, Rev Anne has spoken the hows and whys of contextualization, as our own congregation contemplates a church planting project.
(Bridge photo: Tomjoadboy via Wikimedia.org)