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The Good News is often restricted to Jesus’ work on the cross. However, the Gospel has deeper roots, and fruits that go further than simply justification. The Good News is found above all in an accurate perception of who God is: the one who exists at all times, but also the one who communicates at all times.

At the heart of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit are the model of a perfect relationship. They communicate in an etymological sense: they put everything in common. Yet their loving relationship is neither exclusive nor selfish. On the contrary, the extraordinary thing about the Gospel is that God “saw fit to share his trinitarian existence with the creatures made in his image[1]”.

To achieve this, God became human. To make his nature and his qualities known to all, he was made flesh[2]. Why? Because that was the condition of those who were to receive his message. God was not satisfied to coldly proclaim from heaven the truths about him: he came to live those truths among human beings, he made them accessible and visible. His language totally became that of his contemporaries to the point that many did not realize he came from elsewhere. Jesus chose a form accessible to all, without conceding any of his message. Everyone was able to take a stance: for or against.

How did the apostles and the Church in the first century experience the Good News, contributing to its rapid growth?

The first generation of Christians understood the need to imitate Christ in adopting a form accessible to all. One striking example concerns Timothy. Even though the council had ratified the non-requirement of circumcision[3], Paul imposes it on Timothy “because of the Jews who were in those places[4]”. By circumcising him, he removed a major obstacle to Timothy’s credibility and therefore to the proclamation of the Gospel. The apostle’s primary concern is not maintaining the Jewish culture, but the possibility of expressing himself within it. He does not impose anything similar on Titus in a different context.

Note, however, that Paul did not concede anything about the elements of the culture that the Gospel transforms. When Peter refused to eat with non-Jews[5], he rebuked him severely because his behavior was no longer an effective proclamation of the universal sharing and reconciliation possible in Christ. If Paul did become all things to all people[6], it was never at the risk of the content of the Gospel. He did not become an adulterer or idol-worshipper in order to reach adulterers and idol-worshippers.

Why should the 21st century Church contextualize the message to make it accessible and visible to all?

In the same way, we must make the Gospel accessible to all, while marking the difference that it makes in our lives. But for this difference to be able to be seen, everything that is acceptable, that is, everything that does not go against the commandments of Christ, must be consistent with what our contemporaries can experience. How else would the contrast be made? Unfortunately, we sometimes confuse the culture in which the Gospel was originally preached, and the efforts of the early Christians to contextualize it, with the Gospel itself. In each generation, we need to make the effort to integrate ourselves among those around us, in order to present them with the differences that the Gospel makes in our lives. Every significant difference points in one direction. They will either stop at our clothing, our way of speaking and our musical style that is incompatible with their culture, or they will go beyond that and observe healthy relationships, Christ-centered lives, men and women who are eager to love and proclaim God. We must help them as much as possible to discover the heart of the matter by working on a relevant form.

What is the place of the gathered or the dispersed Church in this process?

The gathered Church, that is, all Christians meeting together on a few rare occasions, is a living testimony to this divine invitation of communion with the triune God. Their union reflects that they are also members of the trinitarian union. They share in the perfect communication of the Father, Son and Spirit through love[7], but also through the preaching of the Word. Services and other gatherings must therefore be experienced as performances for an audience. They must be able to appeal to those who are not part of this communication movement. But how can they do so if the vocabulary, rituals, and behaviors are incomprehensible?

In the same way, the dispersed church, that is, each Christian in his or her context, is a multitude of “little Christs” called to communicate God. The group proclamation of God encourages individual proclamation. If the aim of the Church is to glorify God, we are wrong to think that this glorification can be done in a language that only we understand. If we do this, we consciously restrict the scope of our preaching, and only diminish our work of glorification.

Jonathan Conte

[1] Kevin VAN HOOZER, Le Théâtre de la théologie, Charols, Excelsis, 2014, p. 197.
[2] John 1.14.
[3] Acts 15.
[4] Acts 16.3.
[5] Galatians 2.11-14.
[6] 1 Corinthians 9.22.
[7] John 13.1-3.

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