Pastoral Perspectives

Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap

During my orientation with Worldwide Evangelisation for Christ (WEC), I learnt a lot about missions with the lessons covering all topics from the theological to the practical. However one of the lessons that stood out to me was on cross-cultural communication. Put simply this is the process of communicating with someone whose language or culture is different from yours.

Communicating cross-culturally is one of the biggest challenges for missions work as cultural norms in one’s home country may have a different meaning to people from another country, possibly hindering the sharing of the gospel. In WEC, we heard many stories from missionaries about adapting to different cultures. Some stories were funny, such as the embarrassment of using a word inappropriately. Some were more painful as relationships were broken because of an offence caused unknowingly.

Cross-cultural struggles are not just isolated to those doing the Lord’s work overseas. Similar challenges are faced right here in multi-cultural Singapore where people of different races live and work side by side all the time. To top it off there are people from all the nations of the world coming to Singapore, bringing their unique ways and values with them. Likewise, people from countries where life is more laid back may struggle to adjust and wonder why Singaporeans are so impatient, always wanting things now!

Similarly these struggles may also happen between different generations of the same culture. Older people may comment about how younger people aren’t as resilient and have adopted different values. While younger people may comment about how older people are so old fashioned and unwilling to change their minds! Communicating to young children and to teenagers poses its own set of challenges as any parent will tell you. Even within our church, values between individuals can be like day and night.

Cross-cultural challenges can also be found within the bible. In the book of Acts, chapter 10, Peter struggled with accepting the invitation from Cornelius the centurion to visit his house because it was culturally unacceptable for him as a Jew to associate with a Gentile. Later in Act 15, we read about the Jewish believers who insisted that Gentiles should be circumcised for them to become believers. By doing so, the Jewish believers were imposing their own traditions on the Gentiles to make them more like them, rather than accepting the Gentile believers as they were.

Bridging these gaps in different cultures takes time and often involves a deeper dive into the other person’s values and background. It is also humbling to acknowledge and accept that not everyone shares the same worldview and that grace has to be exercised when interacting with one another. This is important in order to show love and care in a language or form that the other person can understand and then respond to.

But what should our motivation as Christians be to do so?

  1. Obedience

Firstly ministering to others of different cultures is something that we should do because God called us to bring the gospel to all nations (Matt 28). Thus we do so out of our obedience to God.

In the second half of Acts chapter 10, we read how, by obeying the Spirit’s prompting, Peter accepted Cornelius’ invitation and goes to his house. There Cornelius explains how, out of obedience to instructions from the Lord, he sought out Peter. This amazes Peter who proceeded to share the gospel with Cornelius and his household, who are then saved and the Holy Spirit is poured out on them. If Peter had not acted in obedience, he would not have been blessed to be part of God’s salvation plans for Cornelius.

  1. Love

Secondly, taking the time to purposely understand and consciously bridge the gaps between cultures is an act of love.

In this current day and age, people around the world are constantly being exposed to a climate of mistrust and fear. It’s only natural to stick with those who look and act just like you building walls between cultures. But Jesus provides an alternative response in opposition to our fallen nature. In response to the question ‘who is my neighbour?’ He tells the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) a seemingly unbelievable story of one man going above and beyond to help someone who should be his enemy. The Samaritan’s devotion to the injured man is a wonderful demonstration of selfless love made all the more remarkable by the huge divide between their two cultures. Such an act of love seeks to tear down cultural barriers that God’s love might be demonstrated instead.

  1. Giving Glory to God

Lastly, declaring God’s name and salvation through Christ to all is an act that glorifies our Heavenly Father.

In 2 Cor 4:13-15, Paul writes, ‘Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.’

Paul extols the Corinthian Christians so that their faith in Jesus and the Father will grow, as will their gratitude, thus glorifying God. Whenever the good news of Jesus is told to someone, ultimately it is God’s and love that is being shared. As these people come to saving faith and trust in Him, God’s name is glorified.

The Model of Christ

I can think of no better example of someone who models all three points than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

  1. Obedience to the Father, led Jesus to the cross where He bore humanity’s sin on Himself (Phil 2:8). Jesus willingly died in our place (satisfying God’s wrath) that we might be saved and live forever with Him in heaven.
  2. Jesus walked on earth fully God but also fully man (John 1:14), demonstrating God’s love through His daily interactions with his disciples and the people He spent time with. In doing so, He bridged the infinite gap between God and us by reaching out to us in a way we could understand and respond to.
  3. God’s power and glory was displayed to all the world through Jesus in His person, through His death and resurrection. ‘God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him that name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and ever tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Phi 2:6-11)

Let us thus look to Jesus as our model and be encouraged to bridge the gaps between cultures in obedience to Gods call. May we as a church model the love of Christ to all peoples and nations, sharing the good news of Jesus and giving glory to God the Father.

Mr. Sean Tan

December 9, 2018