Dr. Tan Kang Sang, in his paper on, "Globalization and the Church: Challenges to Evangelization and Discipleship" has provided us a useful and conceptual definition of globalization and he attempts to grapple with the challenges to biblical evangelism and discipleship that this phenomenon brings to the church today.
The spread of modern technology, transportation and communication to the entire world has compressed the world in time and space. Democratization of technology, finance and information; Free market capitalism as the organizing principle of world economics; Homogenizing of cultures - they are here to stay. The rapid movement of people, money, culture, information, and technology offers both peril and promise.
While calling Christians to critique and against some of the evil consequences of a global free market, Kang San has focused his paper on key missiological issues facing the church. I will interact with some of the issues raised and add few of my own.
- The gospel as good news to be proclaimed faithfully - that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord, he now offers forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe. Biblical evangelism is predicted on faithful proclamation and not on successful results. Some will receive the message while others will reject it.
The spirit of this age ('the globalised age') is taken up with externals and performance - get the right management thinking and tools and the results will be there. Much of what is defined as "success" lie in measurable. Much of resources is therefore focused towards that end.
As sons of 'the age to come' our confidence is in the powers that belong to that age. "Not by might nor by power but by my spirit, says the Lord Almighty." (Zech. 4.6) Technology, management tools and methods are but servants in presenting the gospel. Our hope and trust in winning the lost lie elsewhere - prayer and the power of His spirit. We rest in His work and leave the results to Him.
The gospel content is unchanging but the packaging and the manner of presenting the gospel need to be culturally sensitive and contextually relevant. There is a need to translate the biblical gospel for the 21st Century man. The challenge before us in 'translating' the gospel is how far we can go without altering or compromising on the 'gospel irreducible minimum' (cf. Act. 4:12; 1 Cor. 15: 3-4)
The twin tasks of evangelism and discipleship are integral for the whole church. Bringing the lost into the kingdom and growing new babes in Christ to maturity in the local church are to be equally emphasized. After all the Great Commission does not say, "Go and make decisions of all nations, but to go and make disciples of all nations…"(Mt 28:19f)
Globalization with its attendant speed and mobility, convenience, transience and a lack of willingness or ability to commit oneself towards fellowship in a local church as a long term goal - these pose challenges to the discipling process not to mention sheep cruising from church to church ("Cruisematics"?) making it difficult for shepherding and accountable relationships. Can Evangelicals develop a common understanding on the matter of local church membership and transfer of church membership? Both fringe members and floating members of a local church present challenges to discipleship.
The essence of discipleship is cross bearing and submission to the Lordship of Christ in the Church and in the World.
In the face of mounting persecuting of believers in many parts of our world, part of our cross-bearing must be to express Christian solidarity in suffering - praying, sharing and supporting our brethren living under difficult and dangerous circumstances because of their faith in Christ. Each believer and local church should be consciously and practically involved in sharing with the suffering brethren. Here globalization with greater communications and inter-connectedness because of technology is our friend in this matter of global caring and sharing.
The scope of the disciple's submission to the Lordship of Christ in the church must mean at least three things:
- Obeying Christ in His command to be baptized (Act 2:28; cf. Mt. 28:19-20)
- Obeying Christ in His command to remember Him in the observance of the Lord's Supper, in the fellowship of a local church (1Cor. Aa:23 - 26)
- Obeying Christ in His Command to love one another (Jn. 15:17)
- Submitting to Christ as Lord in these commands must mean commitment to fellowship in local church and extending beyond to the wider church of God.
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ in the world calls for living out the Christian life in the world - be it in the neighborhood or in the workplace, as 'salt' and 'light' (Mt 5:13-14) Christian thinking, values and ethics must be embodied and "fleshed-out" before the watching world. God above Mammon, people above things, and the kingdom of God above self-serving ambitions must be some of the hallmarks of the 'salty' disciple. Then we will earn the right to be heard. Then our gospel of the kingdom will indeed be persuasive and we will function effectively as 'light'. We need to be reminded that Christian presence alone is mute while Christian proclamation alone is hollow. Both Christian presence and Christian proclamation are needed for effective Christian persuasion - in all matters and spheres of lives - be it personal or public.
We find the God of the Bible especially in the Old Testament, championing the rights of the poor, needy and oppressed (see Amos 1-2). As His people, do we share and reflect His heart and concern in this area? Multinational corporations, economic blocs, politics that oppress the poor and further marginalize them instead of supporting and strengthening them need to be replaced with alternative bodies and structures that promote greater sharing and empowering. Christian Think-Tanks, Action groups, Networks, harnessing the greater inter-connectedness of the wider body of Christ in Malaysia and beyond would be initial steps in the right direction as we express 'corporate' discipleship.
II. Abiding Principles for the Church Today
It is worth noting that the 1st Century world in which the Church was birthed has lots more in common with the 21st Century world of globalization where the Church is placed today.
Then in the 1st Century, was a microcosm of globalization in the Greco-Roman world where the Pax Romana affords a peaceful and stable environment for the building of roads (inter-connectedness) and the relative safety of travelers. There was koine Greek as the lingua franca for the different peoples of the era (a unifying language) and there were the 'many gods and many lords' in Corinth, Ephesus and elsewhere together with the cults of the East (religious pluralism)
The challenge for the Church then was to proclaim that only 'Jesus is Lord' and that "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Ac. 4:12) In the midst of other religions, cults and 'isms' the challenge remains the same for us today. They were persecuted then for their uncompromising message. We are for the same today.
Let me briefly outline some principles for us today in the face of globalization and its challenges to evangelism and discipleship.
Contact - Our gospel is the 'Word became flesh' (Jn. 1:14) and not the 'Word became a floppy disc'! Knowledge of Him - be it through the Internet or other modern means must lead to knowing Him. We will focus on bringing all means to help people come into contact with the person of Christ. They must 'touch' Him through faith.
Connectedness - the Christian faith is a communal faith (both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament). We will resist relating as Christians to a computer screen or to the virtual world alone. We will relate and live out the Christian life and message in community (Ac. 2:42-47). We will abide and remain in Him (Jn.15)
Character - With globalization and the unbalanced emphasis on knowledge, power, wealth, and the acquisition of them, we will not lose sight on the importance of developing Christ-likeness without which no one will see the Lord and see that we are His disciples. (Jn. 15:8) Godliness with contentment is great gain. (1Tim. 6:6) In a speed-on globalization world, we do well to be still before Him and nurture the inner-man.
Faith - Our faith is ultimately to be rooted in God - His sovereignty, His sufficiency and His salvation purpose for mankind. While we will use technology etc. to assist in the advance of His gospel and kingdom, we will not put our trust in 'men and princes'. (Ps. 118:9; Is. 40:23)
Fruit bearing - The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (Ac. 11:26). The watching world then could say, 'See how these Christians loved one another.' In the article on, "Muslims Tell : Why I choose Jesus" in "Missions Frontiers" (March 2001, the US Center for World Mission, pp. 28-31), J. Dudley Woodberry and Russel G. Shubin noted that, "By far, the reason found most compelling for the greatest number of Muslims who have turned to Christ is the power of love" and "The first is love by example." (p.32). Our final and perhaps the most powerful apologetic before the watching, skeptical modern world is our love for each other. 'By this all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.' (Jn. 13:35) 'Love is the greatest,' (1Cor. 13:13) and has pride of place in the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal. 5:22) What we are is as important if not more important to what we know and say!
We will commit ourselves to use all ethical and modern means to proclaim Christ to a lost world. We will commit ourselves to use all ethical and modern means to build disciples in the Church and the kingdom of God till Christ returns.