If an artist were to paint a picture of the Russian culture, he could use any color except black and white. Things just aren’t that simple. A friend of mine who has lived in Russia for more than twenty years said to me, “Just when I think I understand the people and the culture, someone says or does something that upsets my apple cart.” He has spent more than half of his life living among the Russian people as a missionary. He is a pastor and deals with people on a daily basis. Those words impacted me, and as a result I began to look into this cultural difference like never before. I’ve come to realize how correct Winston Churchill was when he said, “Russia is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.”
The role of a missionary is to cross this cultural divide. It takes more than getting on an airplane to make a missionary. The Gospel needs to be communicated in fresh terms that people understand in the context of their own culture. Understanding how to do this is the first task every missionary faces. Too many are exporting an American (Judeo-Christian) culture as a substitute for the Gospel. For example, often Christian television is ineffective overseas because it is dressed in a culture that the people cannot understand. The Word of God is with power, but what power does a culture have?
Our American culture is a result of the Gospel, but it is quite another thing than the Gospel. They are not one and the same. How we think has been formed and fashioned by years of Biblical truth. The Gospel has had a powerful effect upon us. Even Capitalism, as an economic system, has been a result of Protestant Christianity shaping the American mind. That many current Americans live indifferent to these truths does not make them any less true. For instance, it has always amazed me that the modern-day “women’s liberation” movement is often positioned as an opponent of Christianity. If it were not for the Gospel, women would be living behind a veil as they still are in many countries of the world.
The challenge that faces us today is to bring the Gospel to people of another culture. They have different ways of thinking, and if that is not taken into consideration they will never understand the Gospel as we communicate it. They simply do not see things as we see them.
It will be impossible to export democracy without first bringing a new way of thinking to those who are to participate in such a government. The founding fathers of our nation did not arise out of thin air. Their thoughts and beliefs were formed and fashioned by the power of God’s Word that was preached throughout the thirteen colonies. Today, the Russian nation is grappling with issues of the “rule of law” and “covenant” or “contracts” that you and I have taken for granted all our lives. We grew up with them and they have become ingrained in our conscience. For the eastern mind, they are radical and new ideas.
It is this reformation of mind and thought that is taking place in Russia, very similar to what took place in America during the pre and post-revolutionary war period. It is a revival. Paul was addressing these very issues when he said, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Cor 10:4,5).
I believe the first step to crossing every cultural divide with the power of the Gospel is to examine the value of a solitary soul. Have you ever considered the value of a human life? It was a startling thing to say, it shocked the world actually, when Thomas Jefferson wrote “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal…” Years later, on the great battlefield of Gettysburg, Lincoln affirmed this idea declaring our nation was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Many of these truths have taken such a hold upon us that we find it remarkable anyone else should think differently. But they do. And if they think differently about these foundational truths – that all men are created equal – how can they prosper effectively in a government, or in the life of a society, that is based upon this truth? They are bound to go astray. The Word of God must penetrate the culture and effect the very mind of the masses. Only then will there be a “new birth of freedom.”
The Gospel has placed a significance on the individual. It teaches us the value of a solitary soul. We often tell people that if they were the only person alive, Jesus would have died for them. Until a person understands that God finds the individual valuable and precious, how can they ever truly know the love of the Father? These simple truths are revolutionary to the majority of the world.
I am concerned that we are beginning to take them for granted in the United States. It is happening in our society and also within the church. Do we rejoice over one soul saved overseas as much as we do when it happens in our own church? Most of us, if we are honest, are more excited over one person saved in our city than we are when we hear reports of hundreds or thousands saved in a foreign nation. We need to be careful about this trend in our thinking. It leads to despair.
Communism and the Islamic mind hold it in common – the idea of an individual having any worth is absurd. The only thing of value is the country or the community. Islam has slain many “free-thinkers” not because what they thought or said was wrong, but simply because they tried to think independently. They weren’t judged on the basis of what they wrote or said, but on the audacity to presume to have a right to think for themselves.
This individualism I am talking about is not selfishness, or a rebellious form of independence. It is the privilege God has given each one of us based on the value of the soul. We often call it the “priesthood of the believer.” We all have a standing, a place, a right before God. Jesus has truly set us free, as individuals, and whom the Son sets free is free indeed!
If Jesus blood was shed for all, and it was; if all men are created equal, and they are; then we must take this gospel to all mankind, no matter how far we must go, now matter what cost it may take, no matter what dark corner we must enter. We must cross the cultural divides.