Contextualization’s 2 Ditches: Legalism & License

contextualization is a hot-word for all persons dealing with cross-cultural issues/ministry/work: how far can i go along with the locals’ culture and practice without being unbiblical?

this ends up voiced in questions like:
is this local practice “just for fun” or “out of a religious/unbiblical belief”? is the unbiblical belief an archaic basis for something or some idea that is no longer understood (like the reality that more foreigners seem to know the “meaning” of the common greeting “namaste” than the locals in the hindi-speaking world, who are just simply saying “what’s up.”)
is the it up to me to tell the local believers that a certain belief from their background is unbiblical, or should they figure that out over time, study, etc.?
do i drink with the locals, believers or unbelievers, as this is an everymeal-everyday practice? do i “sip a brew” with them casually or discriminate for only “special occassions”?
should i “blend in” enough to confuse the locals as to my relationship with God (i.e. am i a christian or a hindu or whatever)?
does my fuzzing the boundaries, compromising-in-good-conscience, actually help me to engage the local people with the love of God? (if i do _______, will i have a few more minutes to share with them? if i [ignore/redefine/re-interpret some “grey area” issue], will i be able to then relevantly engage the people?) is it even ok for me to make such a judgment call on something that is God’s work and not mine?
does culturally appropriate trump or bend or re-interpret what is biblical?

this is exactly what i see paul dealing with in I corinthians 8-11:1, especially in regard to idolatry & sacrificial food eating: reality vs. perception; rights vs. purpose; freedom vs. God’s glory; permissible vs. beneficial:
“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial…follow the example of Christ.

“permissible” speaks to “legalism.” i mean really, if paul says it’s ok and “allowable” then where do we have a place to be judgmental and put boundaries on God’s grace?

“beneficial” speaks to “license.” it is wrong to apply the old adage: “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission.” we must always be on guard against causing our fellow brethren to stumble. what is much worse we must never become a stumbling block to the lost accepting the gospel! what comfort and enjoyment is worth causing a brother to sin or a lost person to have reason to reject the gospel? (so often we show ourselves to be the “weaker brother” by not being able to control/discipline ourselves and causing a weaker brother to stumble!)

like a youth pastor being seen by his students drinking or at a party (not getting drunk or perhaps hot even drinking at all). [or a pastor by his flock]
like a new(er) believer seeing his friend that brought him to the faith doing something that the newbie doesn’t yet understand as “ok/permissible.”
like a seminarian going to the bar with his coworkers after a long shift (whether he’s drinking or not, it’s the perspective of others that is the concern).
like a professor going out to the bars to just simply hangout with lost friends or to try to befriend and have an “entry strategy” for engaging the lost.

the legalist seems to act out of fear or ignorance in order to try to protect themselves or others.

the licensee seems to act out of no fear/no respect for holiness or judgment of themselves or others.

perhaps the goal of contextualization and/or dealing with the “grey-ish” issues should be for us to be self-aware of our own sinfulness/sinful-inclination and the reality of your own actions having much greater ramifications and a much greater audience than you realize (this can especially be seen in your kids).

j.d. greear of the summit recently blogged on legalism-license.

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GCR, baptism, missiology: What is the Great Commission without Church Planting?

“Matthew 28 is the fullest account of what it means to proclaim the gospel to all nations”
— well said Nathan!

I think the issue of the GC being inclusive, or not, of baptism, is the same as the basic question/issue of the necessity of baptizing at all. so it’s not as much defining “accomplishing/fulfilling the GC” as just having a proper understanding of the whole picture. Which should properly (or fully) also deem it necessary to understand and define the GC as CP (church planting). Discussing the GC in terms of compartmentalizing what parts of ministry, Jesus’ commands, etc. are “part of the GC” or not is like saying it is enough to just lead people to Christ. As if the fulfillment of Revelation 7:9 = believers/saved people without any discipleship, church, using gifts, etc.

The best look at the answer comes from looking at the First Church in Acts 2. They were the ones that Jesus personally “Commissioned,” so they were the ones that would be the best pic of what fulfilling that would look like: and they went, shared/evangelized/witnessed, baptized, taught, planted/started/formed local church, did ministry, worshiped, discipleship, prayer, the Lord’s Supper/breaking bread, used their gifts…

It has got to be silly for us to limit the GC to something, anything, other than doing all we can and are supposed to do, as though there is a standard we have the ability to raise or lower so that we can know if we are fulfilling the GC or not. The bar is set: God’s glory. And glorifying God is done fully through his ordained churches and all that goes with that.

Much more than just making converts, we are to be making disciples, and those disciples are to form into to churches in order to best fulfill the purposes of God and best bring glory to God.

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A Call to Simple Worship: Why is coffee so good?

Coffee, that sweet swirly muddy water of goodness, is the hot liquid of brew that steeped to a desired strength, lifts the very lids off your eyes if not also one’s own sleepy morning, like sunshine on the dew.

Yes, those who partake of coffee for the morning need only may not also swallow it down out of enjoyment; yet, the wonder of coffee is not denied by those that do not know its wonders.

But, why? Why is coffee so good?
Let us be simple about this, in the sense that the simplest is the best:

God is good. He is good to us in giving someone a long time ago the ability to figure out the making of coffee. This is an example of how our attitude should be one of thankfulness, gratitude, worship, praise to our wonderful, over-abundantly gracious God, in everything.

I Corinthians 10:31
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Colossians 3:17
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Why do we compartmentalize worship?
Like, 90% of our prayer/talking with God is only before we eat something. Worship (and prayer I Thessalonians 5:16-18) are not to “formalized” or “special” things in the sense of setting them on a pedastal, that becomes unattainable or not done except “at certain times.” This is like the saying that, “Everybody’s believes in God in an emergency.” We just put our worship and prayer and regard for God into the realm of the deist, the person that believes in a God that is impersonal, or an agnostic, those that don’t care because they ultimately don’t think God cares.

God cares! God is personal. God’s purpose for creating man is for relationship… not religion, not for impersonal formalized nonsense. Relationship is the whole point. Love between God and the individual is the whole point.

So let us love God, who first loved us (Romans 5:8; I John 4:7-12)!

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On the Image of God

GENESIS 1:26-27
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (ESV)

The imago dei speaks to the nature of man (

It speaks to certain aspects universal to all people, though there are certain marrings and skews of these attributes as created by God in his own likeness, in the image of himself. The marring is due to sin and the results of sin.

The likeness of God is the first point of import for understanding man and in understanding God’s purpose for man: understanding what “being created in the image of God” means and entails then necessarily defines and gives understanding to who is man and why is he that way.

The image of God may be understood by understanding who is God:

  • God is holy.
    • God is intelligent.
    • God is spirit[ual].
    • God is love.
      • God is relational.
      • God is Creator.

God created man as a relational being with the purpose of loving God in accordance with God’s character, according to God’s holiness, which deems that man’s love and worship and obedience to God must in line with the holiness of God in the spirit and truth, the motivation/heart and the act, of the love. God’s purpose is that he and men have a relationship, and not just “a” relationship but the exact “right” relationship that God knows and demands as being best.

The second point of import regarding understanding man and God’s purpose for him, as understood by understanding “the image of God,” is the effect of the fall and fellness of man and the effect of the sin of man upon the imago dei:

  • God’s purpose is man having a [right] relationship with God.
  • Man’s sins mar his relationships and relating to all of creation and especially to God.
  • There is a crisis, a break, a change, in the purposed God-man relationship, because of God’s holiness.

 The imago dei speaks to the mere likeness, image, not-sameness, of man, who is humble and low from God, the dei, not the imago, though man is also unique and great and high from the rest of Creation; therefore, the imago dei cannot ascend to the dei. Man can’t undo, forgive, change, the sin, the problem, the break: the created can’t create a new creation, only the Creator. Man can’t remake himself in the sense necessary for becoming a new creation.

Man’s problem of sin does not make him worthless or valueless however, as each individual person has value and worth from the fact that they are uniquely and personally creatd by their Creator God who is also wanting to be their Savior! This worth does not make us worthy of God’s perfect love but makes us worthy of not being the object of evil, not being destroyed or destroying ourselves as reflections of the image of God himself. We point to the ultimate worthiness of God.

God created us in his image, and he also regards us each as having worth in the sense that we are uniquely and wonderfully made as “image bearers” by the fact that we are human. We are unique from all of the rest of Creation!

There are almost endless implications for this reality of God’s general regard for us having made us unique of all other created things: how we treat others in general, compassion, respect, patience, kindness, parenting, pregnancy and abortion, the words we use and how we say them.

Our problem of sin, of falling short of perfection and holiness and righteousness, is indeed our problem, but God is here calling and waiting and wanting us to see his light, his plan of giving us his love if we accept him. Many of us many times just don’t accept God’s amazing love for us because we won’t accept him as the One True God.

The good news is that God provides a way through Jesus for us to have that right relationship with him he purposed for us (

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Hold on to the Calling God has given you, and never let go unless released by God.

Earlier this year, I struggled in seeing exactly where God was leading me and my family. We’d been overseas for 3 years working among people “unreached” or without a present Gospel witness among their own people, many of whom are also “unengaged” in that there is no one working to change the fact that they are “unreached.”
We had received guidance and prompting through seeing God’s heart and desire and purpose in His written Word as well as God having given my wife and me a broken heart and desire to be used by God for His purpose, for witnessing to the lost unreached-unengaged peoples of the world and bringing them the good news that Jesus is the Savior of all people who will respond in faith. This is a unique calling God has given us: one that will always be a part of our lives, who we are and what we do, no matter what the circumstance or location or vocation we are in.
We have committed to follow God no matter what He asks, and we’ve committed to seek after God’s guidance and leading as it might be changing, maturing, from one place, position, role, work/ministry to another.
We were in the States traveling and meeting a lot with different people, and this was a time of natural transition, if a transition was to be had. We were offered different roles. We were asked about “continuing” in our current work. We ourselves discussed and prayed and challenged each other regarding continuing in the “last known calling” we’d had from God. We were confident and committed to the last clear calling we had been given from God, but we were wanting to make sure that we were not just taking it for granted that God had no other, “new,” calling or plan for us other than that calling to which God had clearly led us, confirmed and affirmed over and over, to the work we had been in for the past 3 years. We wanted to make sure we were continuing to follow God: we were not just assuming that by “doing ministry,” by doing “good things,” by doing the same thing that God had led us to before, was what God wanted for us still.
I was in a tough time of dealing with emotion and waying several “good” options and paths to be decided on. I was in constant discussion and thought and prayer over where God wanted us. As I reflected and worked through where I was and how I got there, I worked through God’s calling, His guidance, that led me to the role and work I was currently in.
God had called me to a specific work, a specific place and position. God had a desire and a plan that he had led me to, that He had shown His hand in, that I had no doubt about His desire.
My responsibility to God’s calling on my life was to obey, to continue to listen, remain attentive and seeking Him and His guidance, but to not stray or divert or be destracted from that “first calling” that “first heart” He had given me. If I was done, if I was at a point in the work God had called me to where I could say I had fulfilled the purpose of the calling, then I would be able to clearly see His leading in another direction. Otherwise, I would obey Him and continue and follow Him and wait for Him to change His calling. I can’t change God’s calling.

This circumstance is near universal for those with a special calling on their life to be about God’s work and ministry. We must continue and obey and not doubt God’s calling, but we must also not have a false contentment in that calling by not continuing to seek God’s confirmation of that calling.

You are the Voice of Hope
The Anchor of my soul
Where there seems to be no way
You make it possible
You are the Prince of Peace
Amidst adversity
My lips will shout for joy
Shout for joy
You are the Most High

God calls you. He will keep you.
He will release you.
There is hope. God will do even if you can’t do anything.
God is the same, yesterday, today, tomorrow.
No circumstance trumps God’s call and keeping.

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“Sent Out Ones”: Local Church vs. Individual

The very words have certain inherent meaning and purpose in them:


“Out” from where?

In answering these essential questions, there is necessarily implied responsibility on the part of the “sent one” and the “sender.”

This is where many who are in the role of an “apostle,” or “sent out one,” find themselves: I’ve a “sent out one,” but either…

  1. I don’t have a relationship with any “sending” church, so there is no responsibility to the local church, as is the biblical model for an apostle, so my only responsibility is to the organization that physically sent me, or sent me by proxy for a church(es).


  1. I don’t know why I’ve been sent out, so I do a lot of different things, maybe or maybe not that are what I should be doing as an apostle: What is an “apostle”?

Essentially, this is an issue of local churches failing to be seeking to equip itself (the people that are the church themselves, the church not being a building or leaders or a core group, but the whole of the membership)for the work of accomplishing the mission that Jesus gave the church after his resurrection from the dead:

Matthew 28:18-20 – Going, make disciples, baptizing them, & teaching

Acts 1:8 – You are to be my witnesses (everywhere in the world, among all the peoples of the world)

There is definitely an element of the mission given to the church as a whole, to all believers & to local churches, that is relative to the church’s immediate place/community, but the local church is also to be about sending out its own who are called to fulfill a specific part of the mission of bearing witness to all people by going out from the local church body’s immediate people and place and going to those places throughout the world that need a witness and the good news that Jesus is the Savior.

The biblical model of this is seen in Acts 13:1-5, where a church is engaged in prayerful following of God and its members are obeying Jesus out of love. Then God leads them to send out specific members to bring the Good News to those do not have it: Paul & Barnabas therefore become “apostles” in the literal sense of the word, in that they become sent out for a specific purpose, carrying a message (as opposed to the use of “Apostles” to refer to Jesus’ “Disciples”). The local church is seeking God and God’s purpose for the members of the church, they are led and respond.

A typical contemporary occurance in the local church is an individual responding to God’s leading/calling on them, and after they respond in their heart to this calling, they inform their church or a parachurch group or sending agency, etc. This is a reversal of the biblical model, due to many different reasons.

Local church responding and sending


Individual responding and informing/telling the local church (Many times telling the local church is only accidentally or after realizing they need to have a “home church” in order to go with an “sending organization” that is essentially parachurch.)

The impetus for the local church, especially its leaders, teachers, and those churches focused on a Great Commission Resurgence is to recognize their responsibility to seek, recognize, and send out those that God is calling to be sent out, to be set apart for fulfilling his mission in an apostolic role, in the role of being sent out from their local church to bear witness to Jesus among a people with no witness.

Also, those local churches that already have persons in the role of an apostle that consider that local church to be their home church, sending church, etc. need to fulfill their end of the responsibility of by actually sending out that apostle as their apostle, by holding their apostle accountable, equipping their apostle, and partnering with their apostle.

The impetus for an apostle that is without a connection to a local church at all, should seek to find a local church that they would become members of, that would send them out as an apostle in fulfilling God’s calling on their lives.

Acts 14:26-27 – Those apostles that have a local sending church need to make sure they are doing two things:

  1. Fulfilling their responsibility as a member of the church in the role of an apostle by continuing to serve the church, by reporting on what God is doing, by equipping the church members to fulfill God’s purpose for the church, by enabling the church to obey God and partner with them, and by serving the church when they are back among the local body.
  2. Encouraging and educating the local sending church regarding the church’s responsibilities to them as the church’s apostle. This can be encouraged by the apostle consistently updating and reporting to the church and encouraging the church to join and partner in the work by providing opportunities.

Church is not only about “feeding you.” Church is just existing for you.

The local church body is God’s design for organizing and working out bringing about his purposes and glorifying himself. The body has many parts and there is a mutual responsibility between the parts in order to fulfill God’s purposes: together, the church enables and equips its members in order to fulfill God’s calling and guidance for the church as a whole and the church’s individual members.

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Immediate Immersion: the Acts, the New Testament & the Early Church On How to be Saved: A Practical Guide (Acts 2:38-41)

Acts 2:38-41 is a practical guide on how to be saved.
Not speaking of the deeper theological understanding and work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the repentant believer, in answer to the people’s question “what shall we do?,” Peter gives a simple & practical teaching, or model, of how to be saved (Acts 2:37).

Many times in Christianity, we tend to take out the biblical understanding of  the command and need to “repent” and replace it with “if you want to believe, pray this prayer,” and “The Sinner’s Prayer” goes from helping someone understand repentance and communicate their heart belief to their Savior to a works-based, “magic words” salvation act. This traditional “Sinner’s Prayer,” however it is done, must not become the “how to” of one’s salvation: “I was saved when I prayed the prayer” vs. “I was saved when I believed with faith and repented of my sins and accepted God’s way of life, hope, and salvation by the gracious gift of Jesus’ death and resurrection in my place.” The issue is of the heart of man, not the works.

[The works are simply to be as the result of one’s salvation and are in no way able to save: God is holy, perfect; man is sinful, imperfect; God’s holy grace, mercy and love have provided a perfect way of salvation by Jesus coming himself to live a perfect and innocent life, to die a sacrificial death as atonement for all our sins, to be raised to new life as our only hope of new life; accepting this way of salvation allows us to enter into a right relationship with Holy God.]

Through a study of this passage, we see two important aspects of salvation: God’s sovereignty & human responsibility: “God callsandthose who accepted/received the message” (Acts 2:39, 40). This speaks to a proper balance between the different passages of Scripture that are used to support a God-only, God-determined, and no-human-involvement idea of salvation and the obvious heart of God, such as Revelation 5:9-11 and 7:9-17, II Peter 3:9 & I Timothy 2:4. Peter speaks to the work of the Holy Spirit in saving and changing someone, while also acknowledging the role of the person in needing to believe, repent, have faith, and accept/receive the calling and message and work of God. Ephesians 2:1-10 speaks to this dynamic balance of by grace & through faith, as well clearly separating salvation from the works of man as it is the gift of God.

The practical guidance Peter gives is simple.

Repent. Accept the message, the good news of Jesus Christ.
[The good news of Jesus’ salvation is simply presented by Peter in the passages of Acts 2:21, 22-24, 30-33, 36.]

Then, immediate discipleship is commanded: be baptized (Acts 2:38, 41). [See previous blog on Immediate Baptism: When to Baptize.]

In seeking to be biblical, we should seek to follow the biblical methods and models of the early church, adjusting them to context perhaps but definitely without compromising the biblical principles and meanings.

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