Tertullian once wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Down through history we have seen how this is true. At times when the faith has been persecuted, it has grown. We see that today in the underground churches in Muslim-controlled countries and in China and North Korea. The faith spreads and grows, despite the persecution.
Yet it is not just because our brothers and sisters are being killed that the Church is growing. Their witness to the truth of the Gospel is heroic and Spirit-filled, but in that witness they are also sharing a message that people understand. The Churches in these areas of the world that are growing are doing so because they are fully indigenous in how they communicate the Gospel. The society around them understands the Good News and, when Christians are arrested and tortured or martyred, the society knows exactly why it was done. The Gospel is communicated in a way they understand.
This is in stark contrast to much of Christianity in the West. To be sure, there are pockets of the Church that are engaging our society in a way that the community around them understand, but for the most part we are no longer communicating in a way that people understand.
John Wesley faced a similar situation in his day in 18th century England. People craved a connection with God, but the Church of England did not communicate in a way the average person could understand. So, Wesley took the message of the faith and went to the people. He preached where he knew people would be, and he used plain language people could understand. He never compromised the truth of the Gospel, but he made sure everyone could understand that truth.
Mike Slaughter, the pastor at Ginghamsburg Church outside of Dayton, Ohio, once said, “The Gospel is offensive, but we need to put it in a language so that people will recognize they’ve been offended!” We have done such a poor job of speaking the language of our culture that the Church does, indeed, offend people, but not because of the Gospel message.
We offend with political statements and positions, and we offend by pronouncing judgment on those outside of the Church (or even outside of certain circles of the Church!). But we don’t offend with Christ’s offer of purpose and meaning in life, and we don’t offend with love and peace.
We use terms without explaining what they mean; terms like sin, salvation, judgment, being saved, born again, Savior, Lord, sanctification, second coming. And we expect people who never grew up in the Church, or who have a predominantly negative understanding of the Church to understand what we mean. Perhaps we ourselves don’t fully understand what these terms mean, which is why we don’t explain them.
If we are going to be the salt and light that Jesus called us to be for the culture and society in which we find ourselves, we need to figure out how to translate the Gospel once again so the people around us understand what we mean. We need to be fully indigenous in how we communicate the Gospel. Then, and only then, will we see real growth and revival the likes of which Wesley saw in his lifetime.