– Lloyd Kwast
(Lloyd Kwast was a missionary in Cameroon West Africa and had many books published on the subject of cultural anthropology.)
Looking at a map of the world reminds us that Christians must study the world to be effective in communicating the gospel to so many peoples who have so many different languages and cultures. The missionary task comes down to one basic responsibility: to effectively present the gospel of Jesus Christ in a cross-cultural situation.
The apostle Paul raises a series of questions in Romans 10:13-15, but he begins that passage with this statement: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" [Joel 2:32 and Acts 2:21]. Then he asks, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" Missionaries must preach so that others may hear. But they must be sent out. Paul continues, "And how can they preach unless they are sent?" Paul then quotes Isaiah 52:7 when he states, "As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" Missionaries are those willing people with beautiful feet.
To be effective, missionaries must work at communicating in culturally appropriate ways in order to impact others' worldview.
Making the Gospel Understandable to Another Culture
Preaching the Gospel should be done using the proper analogies, idioms, metaphors, and figures of speech. Missionaries find they have to become sophisticated in the proper uses of symbols, stories, humor, philosophy, poetry and even imagery.
It's a mistake to believe that vocabulary is all a missionary needs to preach effectively. Vocabulary is only verbal and written. Although written communication is important in western society, missionaries often go into cultures that don't have written systems. Some cultures respond to pictures. Effective cross-cultural communication also includes the following dynamics:
Kinesics refers to gestures, body language, and facial expressions, which vary greatly from culture to culture.
Audio sounds such as soft music, whistling, whining and laughing communicate as well. When former President Nixon went to Latin America, people whistled at him, which is positive in America. He discovered that there it meant they were jeering at him. To speak in a whiny voice may sound wimpy to us, but in other cultures this has sacred overtones.
Silence is important in many cultures for example. In Cameroon, a student sat in silence for fifteen minutes, which was his gracious way to signal that he had something very serious to say. Most Americans would not want to wait but they should be reminded that when Job's friends came to share Job's great sorrow, they remained silent for seven days [Job 2:13] or that some people pause for a few seconds to make a point.
Artifactual communication is sending messages through the arrangement of objects. We communicate different ideas by how we arrange our bedroom and living room, for example. In African cultures, the arrangement of stripes and colors on the robe of the chief communicates who he is. In the military, uniforms communicate military personnel and their achievements.
Touch might be a kiss, a hug, slapping of hands, holding hands, laying on of hands or even exchanging "high fives." Paul said to give one another a holy kiss, but in our culture it isn't appropriate for men to kiss other men [Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26]. We have to be careful about touch. In Cameroon, it's highly offensive to pat a cute little boy on the head. In some cultures, it's wrong to cross your legs in public because it's rude to show the bottom of your foot.
Optical communication includes the use of lights and the color of lights. We stop at red lights in traffic but not red lights in red-light districts.
Spatial communication involves how much space we allow between ourselves and others. For example Latin Americans talk so close that their noses almost touch and the think North Americans are aloof and unfriendly because they don't talk so close and feel ill at ease if someone gets too close.
Time is viewed differently in different cultures. In some cultures, being late indicates social status. In America, it's rude to be late, whereas in the culture of eastern Europe, being fifteen minutes late is being on time.
Olfactory communication is popular, as evidenced by how television advertisers spend millions of dollars on perfumes, which often communicate romance. In our culture, there are even male and female smells. Men smell like musk or pine or spice, but never like a lemon or a rose.
Oculesics communication is the use of eye contact. In the western world, we use direct eye contact to communicate sincerity and intensity. In some cultures, that is highly offensive. To stare into someone's eyes means you're trying to overpower them, show superiority, or give them even an evil eye of intent. Dropping eyes may show respect. Because eyes direct attention, eye contact is a powerful means of communication.
Impacting Others' Worldview
God has the power to change others' perception away from the darkness and toward Himself, but missionaries must preach the gospel in such a way that it doesn't touch just the superficialities of their behavior, but cuts through to their perception of reality.
Missionaries have tended to take note of superficial behaviors and preach about them. In Cameroon, one missionary preached against dancing and chewing the kola and beetle nuts. If the Cameroon people stopped doing those things, they would be Christians. Other missionaries bypassed these behaviors and spoke to the heart about reality. When these listeners did change their behavior, they were truly changed from the heart.
Some American pastors have preached sermons about how women shouldn't wear earrings and lipstick. " A person chewing gum in church looks like a cow chewing its cud. Perhaps it is better to focus at the heart of what sin is and why we get involved in it rather surface issues.
The apostle Paul was skilled at looking at the heart instead of superficial behaviors. In his sermon to the philosophers at the Areopagus on Mars Hill, he said, "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you" [Acts 17:22-23].
Jesus also avoided superficialities, whereas the Pharisees didn't. They cared about keeping all the rules of the Sabbath, but Jesus went out of His way to violate their sensitivities. When Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath [Mark 2:27-28], this shook up their worldview. Another time someone told Jesus that His mother and brothers were standing outside. He replied, "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" [Matthew 12:46-50]. That offended people, but He was expressing the reality that family in Christ is closer than blood relationships. Jesus was trying to take them by the collar and shake them. The important issue is not whether people chew gum in church, but whether they see who their brothers and sisters really are.
People do wrong not by failing to wash their hands ceremonially, but by the garbage that flows out of their hearts [Matt. 15:2; 23:25-26]. It's what's within that counts. The Pharisees theorized that murder results in judgment, but Jesus said that those who are angry will be judged [Matthew 5:21-22]. Jesus said that if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he commits adultery in his heart [Matthew 5:27-28]. When the rich men put a lot of money in the treasury, Jesus stopped everyone to say that the poor woman who put in just a mite had given more than the rest [Mark 12:41-44]. He avoided superficialities and offered perceptions of reality such as, "I and my Father are one" [John 10:30] and "You must be born again" [John 3:3]. These are perceptions of reality, and they avoid superficialities. That is the task of the missionary in presenting the good news of Jesus Christ.
Ethnocentrism is at the root of our perceptions of other people. It causes us to view other groups as inferior to our own and to criticize the way another person lives, works, behaves, eats, etc. based on our own way of doing things. Koreans, Americans, Bengalis, Tamilians, Malayalis, all have this weakness-no people group is exempt. Ethnocentrism seriously hurts the missionary cause. Here is what historian Stephen Neil has to say about this.
"Nevertheless, the servant of Christ does not cease to be a member of a particular race and a citizen of one country. He believes that the institutions of his own country are the best, and that other peoples can only be benefited by the introduction of these institutions. The French, in particular, have an unshakable belief in the value of French culture. When the great Cardinal Lavigerie (1825-92), Archbishop of Algiers, was sending out his White Fathers into the undiscovered depths of Africa, he said to them, Nous travaillons aussi pour la France- "We are working for France [as well as for the kingdom of God]." The British are not far behind the French in their conviction that the British way of doing things is always the best. When the missionaries won positions of influence in the Pacific islands, one of their first thoughts was to replace what seemed to them the chaotic disorder of native justice, or injustice, with something remarkably like the British system of trial by jury. It is not unknown for Americans to suppose that the American way of life is something earnestly desired by those who have it not."
Culture, though affected by mankind's sin, is neither all good or all evil. Culture is "neutral" in many of its aspects. But all culture needs to be brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. If God is the Originator of Culture then every single culture on earth has God's permission to exist. Gen 10-11 God involves himself redemptively in culture. The heart of the incarnation of Christ is not only that he took on human form, but that he subjected himself to the constrictions of a human culture. God uses culture and expects us to use it to communicate and transform it to bring healing to mankind and glory to himself.
Lesson 6 Verses
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." 48 He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
25 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.  43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on."