Language, gender, age and values are all elements of culture. To really reach people, we must minister cross-culturally. If our appearance or methods cause people to miss the message of the Gospel, the burden is on us to change!
Ok, let me look at those four things they list. Language I could agree them on. If one is going to preach the Gospel to, let's say, the Chinese, it would be good to do so in the language they understand, or to have someone around who can translate the message for you.
Gender seems a bit trickier. I suppose one could consider that in light of a particular culture's views of gender and how the men and women should relate to each other. On the other hand, I get the impression that respect for those rules only goes so far; for example, it seems Jesus probably bent those rules a bit when he talked with the Samaritan woman and the Syrophoenician(sp) woman.
I suspect that age is the bit one IWT is concerned with, from things they say elsewhere on that page. Values is an interesting word, I'm nor sure what they mean by that.
Now, how important is it for the church to change to fit any particular culture? I remember hearing stories of people who would go to these remote tribes, among people who essentially went around with little or no clothing. The stories went that their ministering would be largely ineffective at first, until they got some kind of message from the God telling them to go around naked like those they were ministering to, at which point for whatever reason the people listened to them.
Now, considering how much the Bible makes about things like proper dress and modest clothing, I have to question this tactic by those missionaries. The question of what constitutes modest clothing may be debatable on some fronts, but public nakedness surely crosses that line. It is one thing for us to take the Gospel to others, it is another for us to descend to their level of morality. It would be wrong for a man to become a pimp in order to minister to prostitutes, or for a woman to become a prostitute in order to minister to other prostitutes. It would be wrong for a man to commit murder in order to get into prison to minister to prisoners. It would be wrong for a person to try to get a disease in order to minister to those in hospitals.
There are things we can do to make the message of the Gospel more understandable to others, such as presenting that message in the language the people understand. But there are lines that should not be crossed.
The Gospels present a good case for this. Consider this from Matthew 11.
11Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12(N) From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,[d] and the violent take it by force. 13(O) For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14and if you are willing to accept it, he is(P) Elijah who is to come. 15(Q) He who has ears to hear,[e] let him hear.
16"But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17"'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'
18For John came(R) neither eating(S) nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' 19The Son of Man came(T) eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard,(U) a friend of(V) tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds."[f]
John and Jesus acted in two very different ways, and both were rejected. We have to remember that people are fallen, sinful, and that no matter what we do or how culturally sensitive we are, many will reject the Gospel. The Bible does not have a high view of mankind, and does not say that all we have to do is convey the message in just the right way and people will fall all over themselves believing. That's not how it goes.
So, up to a point, IWT may have a point in saying we may need to change some things, but eventually, we simply have to accept that if we change too far, we'll be changing the message of the Gospel, or acting in ways we should not.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for us believers is to do what Jesus did, leave “our worlds” to reach another. The methods Jesus used were relevant to the culture of the time, but very different than the culture of the “church” in its day. Most of today’s younger generation are not open to the methods that reached their parents.
I'm not so sure what that means. What methods reached their parents? Why will they not work nowadays? How were Jesus' methods relevant His culture? What methods have been used since then, and how have they worked?
Finally, is such pragmatism the best way to determine if a method is good or not? Many churches are drawing big crowds, but in listening to their sermons and messages, one can really wonder if the people are being taught God's Word or the ideas of men. Do numbers justify a method? If Jesus' methods were relevant for His time, then we have to conclude that they were failing methods, because He was rejected, and His Apostles and early followers suffered a lot of persecution. "He came unto His own, and His own did not receive Him".
The Gospel of Jesus Christ has never lost its power and relevance. Our greatest challenge now, as a Church, is to present this message in a relevant way...
Relevancy is a tricky thing. The pursuit of relevancy can lead to a lot of foolishness, not to mention bad teachings. And, finally, the message of the Gospel will simply cause offense and be rejected.