Missionaries might familiar with an approach called “contextualization” in which the gospel is preached in a way which is more suitable to a particular people group or culture. For example, when sharing the gospel with Muslims, it’s best to avoid using the expressions “renouncing Islam and converting to Christianity” or “becoming a Christian”. For Muslims, Christianity is a competing religion associated with the European Crusades of centuries ago. The resurgence of Islam today is in part to reverse the advance of Christianity and to give Islam its rightful place in the world. Christianity is considered the enemy of Islam. Therefore in the Muslim world we simply preach Jesus or “Isa” as Lord and Savior.
In the same way, the gospel has been “contextualized” for the culture of the West. But it has been done in a way that was not intended by the authors of the New Testament.
Take America as an example. The 1776 Declaration of Independence held that every American has the fundamental right to pursue happiness—“to freely pursue joy and live life in a way that makes you happy, as long as you don’t do anything illegal or violate the rights of others.” (www.yourdictionary.com/pursuit-of-happiness)
What is thought to make us “happy” is comfort in this life, which includes having personal possessions like a home and a job to pay for it. But given man’s fallen nature the desire to have “more” of what makes us happy is generally unquenchable. With that we have a success-driven culture in the West. Such a culture will naturally also be market-driven.
In the West the mark of a successful church is thought to be its size and the number of its members. Therefore we must preach a message that will appeal to the masses. That message will often be one that leads to “happiness” for the hearers in line with the American Dream. Thus today in the Church in the West one hears a good amount of preaching on how people can be successful in every facet of life on earth.
Of course the gospel of the forgiveness of sins is also preached, but after surmounting that hurdle we settle back to learn how to be a fulfilled Christian NOW. We are taught that Christians to some extent can have both their pie in heaven as well as on earth. That market-driven approach to preaching and teaching can indeed result in a large, outwardly “successful” church.
But this is not what was taught by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.
Colossians 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
That is the predominant message of the New Testament. But the message heard in many sermons today focuses more on fulfillment in this life. It does not set our minds on things above, but rather mostly on earthly things. It does not necessarily prepare us to appear with Christ in glory after He returns.
How has this come about?
The structure of the contemporary Church requires physical church facilities where people gather to worship God and be taught. This of course costs money. Bills need to be paid. Therefore we need members who will bring their tithes and offerings faithfully every Sunday. We can keep them coming by preaching primarily a very appealing message of success and fulfillment in this life.
The leaders of the early Church however did not face such financial pressure. There were no expensive facilities to buy, rent and maintain. They met rather in rent-free house churches. Persecution did not allow them to erect impressive church buildings topped with a lovely cross. Rather, suffering enabled them to set their minds on things above, not on earthly things. For they had died, and their lives were now hidden with Christ in God.
The gospel has been contextualized for Western culture, but in an unscriptural way. The message has been stretched and distorted in a way that it is no longer recognizable. It is not preparing God’s people for the Last Days. This is the consequence of the teaching of the Nicolaitans which Jesus hates (Revelation 2). See below for more on this teaching.
This is the real price of “freedom” as enjoyed by those in the West. But it appears that with the recent Presidential election in the United States, that “freedom” will gradually be taken away. Big government is becoming god, and is already beginning to persecute the followers of Jesus Christ. It is time for believers to return to the original message of the gospel as Paul taught in Colossians.
Matthew 6:33 But seek FIRST his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
As citizens of the kingdom of God et us in all things OBEY the holy commands of our King, Jesus Christ, and in our daily walk seek to be righteous in all things—just as He is righteous. And he promises to provide for us “all these things” needed in life.
Persecution and suffering which refine and purify will—ultimately—be good for the Church in the West during these Last Days—it will prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah and the end.