Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 09

Ambiguity Tolerance

Christians know that mission is the fulfilment of the Great Commission (Mk.16:15) As Evangelicals we are especially aware of the need to share the evangel, the message of the gospel. Christians can show great resourcefulness in sharing the gospel, faithful in facing the suffering that goes with the territory (2 Tim.3:12); contending for the faith (Jude 1:3); guarding what has been entrusted to us (1 Tim.6:20). In all this suffering, contending and guarding we can become very combative, meeting those things that threaten the truth with belligerence and forgetting that we are also called upon to emulate Paul and “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor.9:22) Commenting on this verse Leon Morris observed:

“This does not, of course, mean that his conduct was unprincipled... but where no principle was at stake he was prepared to go to extreme lengths to meet people. Personal considerations are totally submerged in the great aim of by all means saving some.” He quotes Henry Chadwick who declared that Paul “had an astonishing elasticity of mind, and flexibility in dealing with situations requiring delicate and ingenious treatment” (Tyndale NT Commentary)

Paul had what we today call a high ambiguity tolerance, the ability to respond to sudden change, unexpected outcomes, different circumstances and/or people. This is what is missing in so many Christians and its absence goes a long way in explaining the impatience of many with the cults. People are simply not prepared or equipped to meet the unexpected and adapt to circumstances and so fall back on the familiar.

When the cultist fails to meet the Christian’s comfortable expectations and to fit into the reassuringly familiar, the Christian, finding himself in unfamiliar territory, reacts with fear and panic instead of responding with confidence and love. Yet we will meet many different circumstances in our every-day lives and must be prepared to give a good account of ourselves as did Paul and many others.

Acts 2: Peter at Pentecost

When Peter stood up and spoke in Jerusalem at Pentecost he was addressing an informed audience, people to whom the promises of God were familiar touchstones of the faith. Peter could speak to them in the familiar idiom of God’s promises and their fulfilment in the story of Israel and ultimately in the sacrifice of Christ, the Son of David; “this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16); “This is what David said...” (Acts 2:25) On that day, we are told, 3,000 were saved.

Acts 8: Phillip and the Ethiopian

In the case of Phillip and the Ethiopian we find a different scenario, in which Phillip addresses a seeking audience, one who was looking anxiously for an understanding of those things but without the background or tradition to interpret what he was reading; “Phillip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news” (Acts 8:35) As Phillip explained to the Ethiopian all that the Scripture was telling he was leading a comprehensive Bible study and a man was saved.

Acts 17: Paul in Athens

When Paul spoke in Athens his was a very different audience to that of Peter and Phillip, an unwitting audience to whom Jewish tradition, Abraham and the prophets, the promise of a Messiah meant nothing and Paul began with the most basic message of God’s work and purposes in creation; “The God who made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24) He was “all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” and we are told that some were saved (Acts 17:34)

In each case they took the shortest route to the Cross but it was different for each audience and they were able to meet each appropriately. That is how Christians need to approach the cultist, open and willing to adapt to circumstances not insisting that they fit into our preconceptions of how things ought to be.

Previous posts:

If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry
The Fear is Irrational
The Prejudice is Petulant
The ignorance is Inexcusable
The Indifference is Frightening
Christians and the Magical World-View

Future Posts:

When "They" Look at the Church
What the Former Cultist Needs
What Good is it if a Man Claims to Have Faith?

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