On a dark street, a stone’s throw from the Caribbean Sea, with dogs barking and the occasional vehicle clunking across endless potholes, we gathered in a dilapidated concrete building for worship service. It was rather a shell of the building it once was, before the Revolution.
As I looked across the group, I saw old and young, black and white, men, women, and children, but all of them Cuban. Each of them either lived during the Revolution of 1950s Cuba or they were born under the One-Party Communist government that emerged from the Revolution. Each person under the sound of our voice has heard some of the harshest speeches against the United States anywhere in the world. Every person has heard of the “evils” of the Empire to the north.
Still, we preach. We preach on God’s love, mercy, and grace towards all people, regardless of race and nationality. We preach hope, that each person can live an abundant life in Christ, regardless of their past. We preach Jesus to them, that everyone can be blessed and become great in God’s eyes, regardless of who is “great” in man’s eyes. Our message is not political, it is spiritual.
It is impossible to become entrenched in political agendas and have it not affect our ministry. I’ve witnessed, sadly, how some have allowed politics to take precedence over the gospel. Whether in America, Cuba, or some other nation, the path to revival is the same. “Preach the Word.” The triviality of political opinion is not the soil of apostolic revival.
In that very church, along that dark street outside Havana, we preached. We preached that God desires to bless each of us and bring us into his kingdom to live with passion and purpose. We preached how Christ gave his life, so that we can have a new life, regardless of circumstances. We preached the gospel!
After I had given my all to preach the gospel on that night, we prayed, and the local pastor dismissed the service. We began to shake hands and fellowship. That is when suddenly a stern looking man in his mid-forties came into my path. I extend my hand to greet the man, but something is different. By his “look” I can tell he has more on his mind.
Immediately, while my hand is still in his, he says, “I am a Communist.” He stares into my eyes for a moment as if the comment needed a dramatic pause for effect. Not really knowing his intentions, I simply say, “Oh, well, okay, I’m glad to meet you.”
He follows up, “The United States is _____________.” I don’t remember everything he said. It was a list of negative, inflammatory comments about corruption, injustice, etc. I’m an American and this man knows it. I guess perhaps he feels I must be complicit in my country’s actions, good or bad, and deserving of a reprimand of sorts. Perhaps I was the first American this man had ever met. Perhaps he saw it as an opportunity to unload his grief. I don’t know.
Not more than a minute into this politically charged (and one-sided) conversation, and I realize I had to stop the man. My mind was not on politics; my mind was on the Lord. This “conversation” was going no where fast.
“Have you been born again?,” I asked the man. I knew full well this question had nothing to do with his line of thinking, but it had everything to do with the church service and the message I had just finished preaching. I continued, “Have you heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, and believed his gospel, and been saved?” The man stares at me for a moment processing what I had just said, and then stumbles with his words to skirt around the question. He was there to argue politics. We were there to share the gospel.
Cuba is saturated with politics. From the war of independence with Spain, to the era of U.S. neocolonialism, to the rise of revolutionaries in the 1950s to overthrow Batista, and onward through 50 plus years of Marxist-Socialism and textbook Communism, Cuba knows politics. Cuba knows about political drama. This man I was speaking with knew about politics, but he did not know the Lord. Nevertheless, we must deal with it, have wisdom and tact, and give an appropriate answer.
I am convinced that our gospel message will speak into the lives of any person, regardless of their political affiliation. Regardless of their education (or indoctrination), God speaks. The gospel can and does cross political lines and bring truth to the soul. This is nothing new. The first-century apostolic church thrived in the midst of a complex society full of political drama.
Political Climate of the Apostles
The early apostolic church sprang up under the close watch of the Roman Empire. While this later led to persecution against the church, it also helped Christianity spread quickly. The Romans had well-maintained roads which connected the empire. Cities were organized centers of commerce. Missionaries could utilize these societal factors to the advantage of the gospel, mobilizing their message, and getting it to the eyes and ears of all living in the empire. The familiar concept of “citizenship,” one law, one “peace” (Pax Romana), and one Emperor, made it ideal for Paul’s teaching of the Kingdom of God (viz. our heavenly citizenship, our moral law, the peace of God, and Jesus our King).
Paul said, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). All believers, regardless of race or class, make up one Church, and there is but “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” In modern society we are familiar with the nationalistic fervor of the past century. Nationalism teaches strong ideals of solidarity, togetherness, and loyalty, all of which are indeed biblical in principle.
Though our world is much different than the Roman Empire during the 1st century, there are similarities. Communication flourished in Paul’s world due to the widespread use of Greek. The Old Testament, from which Paul preached, was also copied and read in Greek across most of the Empire.
Today, English is the language of commerce. Some missionaries even go to teach English in non-English speaking countries as an “in-road” to bring the Gospel. Besides spoken language, we have the Internet, which has brought people of different cultures together more than any other technology in history. Technology has made it possible to share large amounts of information quickly and easily.
Politically speaking, I think it can be difficult to compare Paul’s world to ours because there is so much diversity among our mission fields with regard to politics and government. All (or nearly all) of the mission posts of the Apostle Paul were under Roman rule. Nevertheless, the gospel speaks louder than any political agenda. Regardless of the philosophy of government, there are elements of human nature throughout. The gospel speaks directly to the fallen nature of man, and makes an invitation to “come up” to an elevated place, sit at the table of the King of kings, and become a citizen of heaven. Whether a person resides under democracy or Communism, or some other form of human government, the promises of God are universal, and available to all.
The Apostles found ways to cross cultural lines and present the gospel of Christ to people from every walk of life. The early church incorporated the ethical value system of Judaism (See Acts 15:13-21). Paul and other missionaries of the early church introduced a higher system of morality to the pagan cultures surrounding them. Paul preached the superiority of Christ above all that is worshiped or held in esteem in society. This he did in the face of first-century Emperor worship, which mixed politics and religion. The political challenges of his day did not stop him from declaring the “whole counsel of God.”
Cross-cultural ministry is dependent on the ability to accommodate varying cultural nuances for the sake of common ground, friendship and camaraderie, while never compromising biblical standards.
One interesting difference in Paul’s methods and ours may be that we do not usually begin evangelizing cities by taking our message to the Jewish synagogues. However, like Paul, we do seek out people who are responsive to our message (viz. Paul turning form the unresponsive Jews to the responsive Gentiles). If one group is unresponsive we can and should move to the next. We continue to plant seeds of truth everywhere we go, returning to water, all the while observing where, when, and with whom God is giving increase.
Paul did not deny political realities, nor ignore them. He even used his Roman citizenship to his advantage when it was deemed necessary. We too can have wisdom and tact in dealing with our own countrymen and those in other countries.
Paul maintained contact with the sending church.
Paul planted works, trained others, and used fellow workers on his missionary journeys.
The Apostle adopted an approach of becoming “all things to all men, that some might be saved.”
Of all the missionary strategies of the Apostle Paul, I think the most important is his reliance upon the Spirit of God. Missionary methods, as demonstrated in Acts, were governed by and empowered by the Holy Ghost. No matter the ever-changing political, cultural or moral climates of society, our message is the same, because the Spirit of Christ is the same. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb 13:8).
The apostolic response to politics, culture, and morality worked in Jerusalem.
It worked in Antioch.
It worked in Ephesus.
It worked in Rome.
It will work in every city where God has ordained there to be an apostolic church.
Allen, Roland. Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Grand Rapids: Eerdmands Publishing, 1962.
Jonkman, Fred. “The Missionary Methods of the Apostle Paul.” http://thirdmill.org/paul/missionary_methods.asp (Accessed 18 August 2015).
Wade, Rick. “The World of the Apostle Paul.” http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/apospaul.html (Accessed 18 August 2015).