Missions Through Red, White And Blue Colored Glasses

One of the hardest things to overcome in missions is cultural bias.

Disciples of Christ do no service to the Lord when they evaluate a person or culture through the lens of their own worldly biases. We must ask God to help us see all men through his eyes. When we look through the unfiltered lens of the gospel we see all men as God does; sinful, broken and in need of a Savior. No sinner receives benefit from becoming more Americanized or Westernized. A good American or Westerner without a saving relationship with Christ goes to the same hell as any person from other cultures, whether Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu.

 

One of the hardest things to overcome in missions is cultural bias. It is natural for every person to judge a new culture by comparing it to their own culture. This is not an American problem, it is a condition of the sinful human heart. As we experience life in a new culture we evaluate it with what we know, and that is our way of life.

Missionaries, both long-term and short-term, must never forget, we are not fulfilling the Great Commission by teaching someone to be a good American. In fact, teaching other cultures about the “American Dream” or “American Work Ethic” can hamper our primary purpose. Missionaries should not travel to other cultures to teach better time management, hard work, direct communication, pride in appearance or driving etiquette.

Tim Keller said, “To reach people we must appreciate and adapt to their culture, but we must also challenge and confront it.” We are to confront the culture of others, not by using our culture as a standard, but instead by measuring every culture to Christ.

Purpose Of Missions

Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:18-20 that one of the primary purpose of a missionary is to teach them, “to observe all that I have commanded you.” A missionary is called to teach God’s ways to other cultures. Anything shy of this is not a fulfillment of the Great Commission.

The American way of life has prospered for over 200 years. Western culture has been dominant for several centuries. And, Western philosophy pre-dates Christ. However, these schools of thought are man-made. They are thus sinful and inferior to Christianity. In fact, no man-made culture or philosophy is worthy of being propagated when compared to the observance of God’s ways.

The Great Commission is clear; make disciples, by going, baptizing and teaching God’s ways. God’s ways do not improve if they are mixed with our own cultural biases. Our own thoughts, whether personal or collective, hinder the advancement of the gospel. True, unfiltered Christianity is perfect and gains nothing by adding cultural biases.

Natural Bias

It is very common and expected for us to add our own cultural biases to global evangelism. Sinful man sees everything through the filter of what he knows. This is one of the hardest aspects of sharing the gospel of Christ in a cross-cultural setting. No man-made philosophy should ever be viewed as equal to Christianity in any way. Teaching that focuses on the best qualities of man ignores the extent of our depravity and discounts the urgency of our need to be rescued. Gresham Machen said, “Modern culture is a mighty force. It is either subservient to the gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the gospel.”

The Lord certainly understood his followers would be burdened by the culture, time period and historic context in which they lived. This was a challenge God knew all men would face. The Crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, and indulgences were all actions of sinful men who allowed their own biases to supersede the truth of Scripture. Cultural bias was as real for the people in Scripture as it is for the people reading Scripture today.

This world is not our home and as Christians we should anticipate a level of uncomfortableness entrenching ourselves in this culture. The Christian is called to engage and confront the culture we live in, not immerse ourselves in its trappings. Missions isn’t imparting your views, imposing your will or forcing your culture on others. It is sharing the joy and mercy of a perfect love found only in Christ.

Through God’s Eyes

The purpose of this article is not to point out the flaws of America, Westernism or other cultural standards. It is however intended to drive home the point that God’s ways are superior to and different from any culture embraced by man. Even the church itself has become stained by the sins of man. Certainly, every way of life or culture, other than Christianity itself, must be viewed as inferior and must never be blended with the gospel. The views that one culture is either superior or inferior to another are both offensive to God’s supremacy and an affront to his free grace.

Albert Mohler asked, “Is it our task to force the biblical doctrine of God to answer to modern culture, or to address modern culture with the biblical doctrine of God? If modern culture-or any culture-establishes the baseline for the doctrine of God, such a doctrine will certainly bear little resemblance to the God of the Bible.”

Disciples of Christ do no service to the Lord when they evaluate a person or culture through the lens of their own worldly biases. We must ask God to help us see all men through his eyes. When we look through the unfiltered lens of the gospel we see all men as God does; sinful, broken and in need of a Savior. No sinner receives benefit from becoming more Americanized or Westernized. A good American or Westerner without a saving relationship with Christ goes to the same hell as any person from other cultures, whether Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu.

Mike Pettengill is a full-time missionary serving in Equatorial Guinea with Mission to the World (www.mtw.org).  He previously served seven and a half years as a missionary in Honduras. To learn more about the Pettengills’ mission work visit Pettengill Missionaries.