Make Disciples Cross Culturally

February 8, 2019

Discipleship Blog Author

Scott Long

Discipleship Pastor

In our sermon on the gospel, race, and unity from Ephesians 2, we have 5 applications to walk in unity and fight for oneness in diversity. The first was to make disciples cross culturally. One of the most beautiful realities of the great commission is that it's a global plan of redemption and unity. Jesus tells us in the Great Commission to intentionally make all peoples into disciples of Him.

"And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."" Matthew 28:18-20­

That word "nations" is not a reference to countries, but to ethnic groups. A description of differing "peoples." In other words, God wants to build a family for himself, with people representing every ethnicity on the face of the earth. There's perhaps no greater passage on racial unity than the Great Commission. We are called to make disciples cross culturally. It should be a given, but this requires us to build friendships and relationships with people who are different than us. No matter the ethnicity or culture, we will never make disciples of people we aren't in relationship with. So the best place to begin is intentionally opening our homes and our dinner tables to people of different ethnicities and cultures. Maybe this means entering their homes and lives, or inserting ourselves into their activities. The great thing about our rapidly diversifying world is that different ethnicities and cultures are all around us. This is by God's sovereign providence, and with some intentionality we could make these relationships quite easily.

I think there are a few things to remember while making disciples cross culturally.

- The gospel is above culture.

Believing in the person and work of Jesus gives us a new identity in Him. (Gal. 2:20, 2 Cor. 5:17) This identity supersedes any other identity we once had. Our identity in Christ and our allegiance to his commands now become our primary concern. What this means is that anytime my cultural expressions or practices defy the commands of Christ, I am to repent, and bring them under Christ's reign.

This also means that the gospel isn't owned by any one culture. There is no ethnic superiority or single culture that is to dominate the gospel. This is a major revolution for many in the western context. Just about all that we understand about Christianity is influenced by Anglo culture, which is the majority in this context. Depictions of Jesus, theological heroes, and worship styles are predominately shaped by the majority culture. This would lead many in the west to believe Christianity is an Anglo culture religion, and that to follow Jesus "correctly" is to do it like the majority culture. But a simple understanding of the New Testament, and history would tell us that Christianity was practiced in the Middle East and Africa centuries before it was in the western world. Also, compared to the entire world's population of Christ followers, western Christians are the minority, not the majority. This is not to say that eastern cultures "own" the gospel or are some how superior to Anglo culture either. But, to simply say, the gospel is what's primary in disciple making, not a particular expression of following Jesus. With this understanding, we can make sure that our focus is on essential things like the nature of God, how a person is justified from sin, and the sufficiency of the scriptures instead of expecting people to assimilate their culture to ours in order to follow Jesus. (See Acts 15) An understanding of the gospel over culture also helps us to deconstruct any barriers that cultural misconceptions have created to the gospel for some people. There are many minorities who reject Jesus and his teachings because so many have painted it as a one culture religion. To reach people who are from different ethnicities, we must have appropriate understandings of the gospel over culture, and remove "ownership" of Christianity from any one culture.

- Culture is very beautiful, important, and necessary.

While it's true the gospel is above culture, we must also remember the gospel is not outside of culture. We shouldn't view culture as something to be avoided or not to be emphasized. Ethnicity is beautiful, for God made all people in his image. (Gen. 1:26-27) Culture is beautiful, for God placed us within the boundaries of our specific habitats with a heart language to relate to the people closest to us. (Acts 17:26-28) Culture is no longer all of who we are, but it is still a major part of who we are, and that should be celebrated, not looked down on or expected to be left behind. In Acts 10 God, speaking about the cultural expression of Gentile food, told Peter not to call "unclean what He has called clean." Paul, speaking to Jews and Gentiles about being united into one church, says some people honor days, other people eat what they want. (Major cultural differences) But they both do it to honor the Lord uniquely. (Rom. 14:6) What's more beautiful than that? Lastly, in John's vision of all nations worshiping Jesus before the throne, he sees people who are clearly distinct by their nations and tribes. They are worshiping in unique indigenous languages. They seem to all have held on to what makes them culturally themselves, yet all of it surrendered to the Lamb, and that's marvelous. (Rev. 7:9)

So we can learn to embrace and celebrate the things that make people different. Give God-glorifying dignity to the hair, fashion, music, foods, heritage, and giftings of the people you are following Jesus with. Don't expect them to change things about their culture that the gospel doesn't demand. Instead see those varied unique expressions as the multi-faceted beauty of God's image.

- Create an atmosphere of grace

Obviously, there are going to be many ways that we as broken, selfish sinners becoming one, are going to offend each other. Even when we have the best intentions, we will have times of growth and times of relapse in considering our brothers and sisters. It was after Peter's revelation in Acts 10 that all people were accepted by God, that he caused divisions in the body by pushing away from fellowship with Gentiles in Galatians 2. This is a good reminder that all of us have tendency to drift in and out of maturity in the area of unity, and we need grace to live this. To make disciples cross culturally is a humbling experience. We will have to forgive and receive forgiveness. It's hard work, but thankfully it's the power of the Holy Spirit that builds us into one. (Eph. 2:22) So be prepared to create an environment of grace and honest effort to understand different perspectives, and make changes necessary to love each other as ourselves.

Here is a link to the Ephesians 2 sermon for a reference point.