Recently, I reread George G. Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism (Abingdon Press). This may be the most thought provoking book I have read on how the church can/should minister in the post-modern world. To help us understand how to reach the contemporary world, Hunter takes us back to the days of St. Patrick. [Let me add a disclaimer. Just because I like a book, that does not mean I agree with everything in the book or even all of its conclusions.]
Most people think of Patrick as Irish and, one might argue, that he became Irish. However, he was born a Briton. Patrick was born in
Still, Patrick went and his ministry was hugely successful. He planted 700 churches and ordained 1000 of these wild Irish “barbarians” to the priesthood. Within his lifetime, estimates are that 30-40 of
You would think that the church in
The Roman Church insisted that churches be Roman in their practices. Of course, there was no biblical basis for this. The early church in
The same issue presents itself today. The western church today looks very different from both the Roman
There are some valuable lessons that we can, and should, learn from Patrick. One is, if the gospel is going to take root in a culture and bring real transformation, it must be indigenous. That is why the church in
This is a problem in my own denomination. Years ago, I was at General Assembly (the national gathering of the leaders of our denomination) and in the public discussion, a minister stated that the church should be like McDonald’s. That is, you should be able to go to any Presbyterian Church in
Yet, we must take seriously the Apostle Paul's declaration "I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some." (1 Corinthians 9:22, NASB). Paul never compromised the gospel. He never engaged or advocated sinful practices or bad theology. However, he did adapt in culturally appropriate ways in order to take the gospel to the world. We must do the same.
Hunter begins his book with an obvious statement followed by a rather provocative one. His obvious statement is “The Church, in the Western world, faces populations who are increasingly "secular"-people with no Christian memory, who don't know what we Christians are talking about.” That is, the culture is undergoing a dramatic shift. His provocative statement is “In the face of this changing Western culture, many
This raises some important questions: Which is more important to us: our culture and comfort or God’s mission? Are we willing to adapt, in biblically appropriate ways, in order to achieve God’s mission, or are we, like the Roman’s of Patrick’s day, going to insist that our culture adapt to us? Do we view the mission of God as a nuisance or is it central to who we are as the people of God?