Points to Ponder #4 – In God’s Image

(Click to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this 5-part series.)

Continuing to share the Points to Ponder we are presenting to our mission trip teams this summer:

In whose image does the Bible say we are created? God’s, right? So whose idea was it to have so many different languages and cultures in this world? It was God’s idea, wasn’t it? God created every single different people group, with its distinct language and culture, in His own image. Together, all people and cultures on this earth display the image of God.

This places a great premium on honoring and preserving other cultures at the same time we are looking to see them transformed (or fulfilled, perhaps) by the truth of the gospel. Over the past couple of centuries, Western missionaries have not always been strong on this point of honoring and preserving cultures. The same type of imperialism that led Europe to trample tribes, civilizations, and entire continents in the colonial era has crept into our mission work. We have tended to require people to change their culture, becoming more like Westerners, in order to follow Christ. Instead of delivering the gospel message and allowing people to apply it in their own context, we assume that their application of gospel truth should look the same as our application of it.

Think about what happens when we do that. If a group has to lose part of its culture in order to follow Christ, they are losing the unique way in which they could have responded to God. If God created all people with their distinct cultures and customs in His image, the world is losing a unique representation of God we could have seen in that people group. We never get to see, for example, how a particular tribe would have worshipped God or passed on biblical truth to younger generations. We miss out on how one group may have observed communion in a unique way that would have emphasized some characteristic of God we tend to overlook. God doesn’t get prayed to in languages that may have hardly ever been used to say one respectful word to Him.

Our job as cross-cultural missionaries is to be ambassadors. We have a message to deliver on behalf of Jesus Christ. It is not our job to tell people what their obedience to that message should look like. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. If we can help people respond to God in a way fitting to their context, the world will gain an ever-growing display of God and his glory as more and more nations come to worship Him. This will finally culminate in that unimaginable worship service foretold in Revelation 7:9,10, when all nations are before the throne, worshipping the Lamb of God.