In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question:
“Dear Dave and Tom, What does Paul mean in 1 Corinthians:9:22 when he said, ‘I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some’? I’ve seen many churches and ministries today using that verse to become like the lost to save the lost. It seems to make sense, but I wonder how far you can take such an approach?”
Tom: Seems related to what we just talked about. There are churches, not just the one that we did in the last segment, but there are a lot of churches out there and they are new, and they call themselves emerging churches. And the whole idea is to relate to the culture, to relate to this generation, that the modern way of doing things—that is, the logical, rational approach coming out of modernism is now moved into post-modernism in which things of spectacle, things of high production, or even things of a very sacred environment. We’ve got electric guitars and we’ve got candles, and they’ve got to find something, Dave, that’s going to reach people, so what about this verse?
Dave: Well, Tom, we have to approach the Bible with two things. Number one: an understanding of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Does the interpretation that I am trying to apply to this verse, would that fit with all the rest of the Bible or not? Well, if it wouldn’t fit with all the rest of the Bible, then it couldn’t be the proper interpretation, because the Bible doesn’t contradict itself. Secondly, we have to come to the Bible with some modicum of common sense. So he says, “I am made all things to all men.” Well, so when he comes to Corinth, it’s a center of idol worship; does he go in and worship the idols with them? I don’t think you could come to that understanding from this, right?
Dave: So what is Paul doing? How is he becoming all things to all men? He says, “To the Jews, I became as a Jew.” Well, that doesn’t mean that he abandoned Christ. It doesn’t mean that now he is going to believe once again that sacrifices of animals will forgive sins, and that, you know—they don’t believe in Jesus; they reject Jesus, therefore I’ll go along with that and I’ll reject Jesus so I can win them. Well, how are you going to win them if you don’t have anywhere to take them? Any change—you’re going to be exactly like them. So obviously that can’t be what it means. So Paul talks about this in other places, in Romans 14, for example, and so forth: “If meat makes my brother offend,” you know, “I’m not going to eat meat.” I don’t think that means I will never eat meat. But if I invite to my home a vegetarian, I’m not going to serve him meat. That would offend him. If I invite to my home a Jewish person, I’m going to try to eat kosher in order not to offend him. But I am not going to compromise the Bible, I’m not going to compromise the gospel, and I’m not going to act like him.
In other words, you know, you could carry it to this extreme: you could say, “Well, how can I invite people into my home, or witness to them who have tattoos unless I have a tattoo also?” I don’t believe that is what it means. So when I apply a little common sense, you can see that it means I’m not going to act in a way that would be offensive to these people, even though I don’t agree with what they believe. So long as it has nothing to do with the gospel, I am not going to be offensive to them.
Now, how am I going to witness to a suicide bomber without becoming one myself, you know? Well, that’s kind of ridiculous. Do you remember the—was it a cartoon or something—and the instructor of the suicide bomber’s school, you remember? He was saying, “Watch this close, guys, cause I’m only going to do it once!” [laughs] Or how am I going to witness to people that hate Jews? Well, I guess I’ve got to start hating Jews? How am I going to witness to Nazis without becoming a Nazi? Okay, I’ve run that one into the ground. I don’t think that’s what it means. So, we use a little common sense. I think it means I’m not going to offend people. If they have certain convictions, you know, they don’t want to eat this or they don’t want to do that, okay. I’m not going to let my behavior offend them.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Dave, let’s think about missionaries, for example. Somebody goes to China. As you said, you don’t want to offend the Chinese bringing your culture and imposing your culture on them, so you do try to fit in in certain ways. But as you remember in the last segment, I mentioned the attempt by Christians to redeem a culture. For example, YWAM will go into a tribe—the Aborigine, for example, and they will try and redeem their music and redeem certain things and use them in a worship setting. That can be a real problem as well.
Dave: Tom, there is nothing sacred about American culture, or Western culture. It does have some Christian influence, there’s no doubt about that. So, it’s not a matter of culture. I’m not trying to impose my culture on them, but on the other hand, I’m not going to say, “Oh, there must be something sacred about their culture, therefore I am going to try to put Christ in the context of their culture.” Their culture may be diametrically opposed to Jesus Christ, as many of these cultures are. Remember, these are pagan cultures. There is no Christian influence at all; there is a demonic influence. Paul says the things they offer to idols they offer to devils; that Satan is the god of this world; he has inspired much that is in a culture, and you know that yourself as well as I know that. So, I’m going to try somehow—well, this culture is so good, we’re just going to keep it, we don’t want to offend them. Well, I don’t want to offend them, but if there are things in their culture that are not of God—the morals in many cultures are not of God—am I going to somehow try to just keep their morals, but then we’ll call them Christians? “No,” Paul says, “you turn to God from idols. You turn from them. You didn’t continue to worship these idols. I didn’t come in there and say, ‘Okay guys, the idols are okay; we’ll just worship them in the name of Jesus.’” That won’t work, but I’m afraid that that’s what’s being done.