Walking in their World

(Originally printed in the Winter/Spring 2013 Issue of the MCOI Journal)

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image12967375Some years ago, a youth pastor from a nearby community called me. He was concerned about a large group of Vampires who gathered regularly in his town’s park. He thought, perhaps, there were 300, and some people from the churches would show up with bull horns to announce loudly that the Vampires needed to repent. It didn’t seem to be working. I have to confess: Other than in films and books, I had never heard of any actual Vampires roaming the countryside, and I thought it might be interesting to check it out. We arranged a time to meet, and a few of the MCOI volunteers and I headed out on a Friday evening to meet up with the youth pastor. When we arrived, we saw several hundred youth—all of whom were engaged in something which did not seem to me to be overly threatening, so I suggested we swim into the crowd and find someone to talk to. We even took video equipment to record some of the conversations. About a half dozen agreed to sit down and talk, and the first question was quickly answered. What they were engaged in was a role-playing game—Vampire: The Masquerade. Each participant had developed a character to play in the acting out of the game:

The game uses the cursed and immortal vampiric condition as a backdrop to explore themes of morality, depravity, the human condition (or appreciation of the human condition in its absence), salvation, and personal horror. The gloomy and exaggerated version of the real world that the vampires inhabit, called the “World of Darkness,” forms an already bleak canvas against which the stories and struggles of characters are painted. The themes that the game seeks to address include retaining the character’s sense of self, humanity, and sanity, as well as simply keeping from being crushed by the grim opposition of mortal and supernatural antagonists and, more poignantly, surviving the politics, treachery, and often violent ambitions of their own kind. 1

This is guided by a “Storyteller.” As we talked, I asked if there was a particular worldview being used or taught. The teenagers assured me it was just a game, and no worldview was involved. I turned to the Storyteller and asked him if he was incorporating his worldview. He was 46 and, without hesitation, acknowledged that he was. I asked his views, and he admitted he was a Buddhist. The teens were shocked. We spent a few hours talking, and the next Friday the youth pastor returned and met up with the same group. Three of them accepted the Lord that night. Just spending time in their world and having a conversation on their turf, so to speak, made a big difference. I suggested to the senior pastor that the church put on a cook out or dinner in a neutral setting, invite the whole group to join them, let the Vampires even put on a role-play demonstrating how they view the church, and then engage in some conversation. The pastor declined. He thought the Christians would be too offended. Why would using bull horns to blast non-believers be okay, but possibly finding out what the non-believers think of Christians be offensive? Hmmm….

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield in her article “My Train Wreck Conversion” relays a similar experience she had as a “leftist lesbian professor” with a pastor and his wife, who left the comfort of their church to walk in her world a bit. It started with a kind letter he sent:

With the letter, Ken initiated two years of bringing the church to me, a heathen. Oh, I had seen my share of Bible verses on placards at Gay Pride marches. That Christians who mocked me on Gay Pride Day were happy that I and everyone I loved were going to hell was clear as blue sky. That is not what Ken did. He did not mock. He engaged. So when his letter invited me to get together for dinner, I accepted. My motives at the time were straightforward: Surely this will be good for my research.

Something else happened. Ken and his wife, Floy, and I became friends. They entered my world. They met my friends. We did book exchanges. We talked openly about sexuality and politics. They did not act as if such conversations were polluting them. They did not treat me like a blank slate. When we ate together, Ken prayed in a way I had never heard before. His prayers were intimate. Vulnerable. He repented of his sin in front of me. He thanked God for all things. Ken’s God was holy and firm, yet full of mercy. And because Ken and Floy did not invite me to church, I knew it was safe to be friends.2

“I knew it was safe to be friends” is a profound statement in light of the Seeker-Sensitive/Purpose-Driven Church Movements of the last 30-40 years, as well as the attempts of so many churches over nearly the last 200 years to try to get non-believers into the church to hear the Gospel. Meeting people, whether they are a “Vampire,” a “leftist lesbian professor” or just a regular non-believer comes down pretty much to the same thing: They want to feel safe. That is the work of the missionary and was very much the attitude of the First-Century Church. This really comes out in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NASB):

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the Gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

The First-Century Church was in the minority. They recognized they were missionaries or, as Paul put it, “ambassadors” (1 Cor. 5:20). What we find in these two passages is Paul and, through his teaching, us going to non-believers in their settings, building relationships for the sake of building relationships, not for the goal of adding them to our church rolls. It means spending more time learning why they believe what they believe and caring about them as a person rather than getting them through the doors of our church building.

In some ways, walking in the world of non-believers is scary to believers. But then, if you want to reach the lost, that is where they will be found. It can be an adventure as well. Our friends at Haven Ministries3 regularly go to New-Age and Psychic Fairs. Bill Honsberger (from Haven Ministries) and I first met at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in the 1990s where we have many opportunities to talk with Wiccans, Pagans, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. Bill spent a great deal of time at tables in the exhibition hall, because the folks manning the tables “can’t go anywhere.” We spent several hours with Donald Frew, one of the P.R. guys for The Covenant of the Goddess4; and I spent a few hours interviewing Lady Olivia Roberts, the founder of The Fellowship of Isis.5 Lady Olivia was surprised that Evangelicals would come on her turf and be able to carry on a civil discussion. Donald Frew’s reaction was very enlightening: After several hours, he said that if becoming a Christian is what we were, he would do it in a minute; but he asserted we were an anomaly. He said that in his experience Christians (Mike Warnke, The Satan Seller) were liars (see Selling Satan: The Evangelical Media and the Mike Warnke Scandal ) and hypocrites who misrepresent the beliefs of others.

Training Christians in church to be missionaries in culture can go a long way toward overcoming these sorts of obstacles. This also has other benefits. Culture is transformed as individuals are transformed. Doesn’t it strike you that under our current church models, the church is being transformed by culture rather than the other way around? Just wondering.

  1. The Masquerade, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vampire:TheMasquerade
  2. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, “My Train Wreck Conversion,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/january-february/my-train-wreck-conversion.html?start=1
  3. http://havenministry.com/newsite/
  4. http://cog.org/
  5. http://fellowshipofisis.com/

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