I shared once before about a pastor’s wife who was doing abortions as a way to show God’s love to her community. Despite the many church-based trainings that she had been to, she had no idea that what she was doing was wrong. As she saw it, families were already too large, there wasn’t enough food for everyone, and an extra mouth would put too much pressure on the family’s meagre rations. She had never heard that human life, created in the image of God, knitted together in the mother’s womb, is sacred.
This pastor’s wife is not unique. While the example may be more startling than most, there are millions of Christians who know only a fraction of the gospel message. Part of the problem goes back to evangelism.
Growing up in New Zealand, everyone around me knew the basic message of Christianity – God created the earth, something went wrong, Jesus was born at Christmas and died at Easter, those that believe in Jesus go to heaven. However, I later came to understand that this basic knowledge is relatively rare in many parts of the world. I remember early in my language lessons trying to explain to my language tutor that over the weekend I had celebrated Easter. She had never heard that word, nor had she ever heard of anything like that. It was an eye-opening experience to realise that the basic message of God is completely unknown in some parts of the world.
However, despite the fact that there is little context for the gospel message, many forms of evangelism summarise the message of Christ as: you are a sinner, without a saviour you will go to hell, Jesus died to make a way so you won’t go to hell, repent and be baptised. Our shortened version misses two key messages: who is God and what does it mean to be a Christian.
As we evangelise, especially cross-culturally, we need to tell the whole story. We need to make sure people have context for the salvation narrative. A few core truths that we often find missing include:
There is one Creator who owns everything and sets the rules.
In the areas we work, where they formerly believed in the tree god, mountain god, river god, etc, Christians understand that God is higher and more powerful. They need to know that God is not a little more powerful than a selection of god’s, he is the one and only. Understanding that EVERYTHING is made by God, sustained by Him and belongs to Him is essential. That truth provides the foundation for God’s right to make the rules, to judge sin, to define truth. It also demonstrates that God, as the owner of all creation, has the right to tell us how to steward it. In our experience, it is life-changing for people to understand that God has something to say about how they treat their bodies, their families, and the land they farm.
Original sin separates us from God.
Many people strive to live good lives. In fact the majority of people from an animistic worldview would argue that they are basically good. Their understanding is that as long as their good deeds outweighs the bad, they are good. If you do something wrong then you just need to give to a beggar or burn a few extra incense sticks and you are back to being good. Without an understanding of original sin, and that we are separated irreparably from God because of our sin-nature, we diminish the real need for a saviour.
God is good and merciful.
Most ‘gods’ are basically capricious and rarely, if ever, good or kind. Rather there is an endless need to appease them by doing good just to ensure that things go smoothly for you. If you have an accident, then it’s a sign that the gods are upset and you need to do something to appease those gods. Without the whole story of God, we miss God’s incredible goodness. I’m stunned by how often Christians in our trainings comment with wonder how amazing it is that God loves them so much. Typically the understanding is that the actions of Jesus were loving, not that God is love. Living in a world where bad things happen, where you are persecuted for your faith, where you are hungry and poor, where your child gets sick and dies because you can’t afford health care…it’s easy to miss the concept that God is good and loving. There is something radical about the knowledge that, in the middle of all that pain, God cares and we can pray about all those concerns.
These are just three of the core truths we share as we tell the whole story, both in evangelism and through discipleship. You can read more in our Core Truths Document. For those of us striving to reach across cultural lines, especially to those who did not grow up with a basic understanding of Christianity, we must make sure we tell the whole story – the beauty, splendor and magnificence of a God worth giving our lives to. Only then will people truly fall in love with Him and see their lives transformed.