Sadhu_SundarThis question has been with me since last Friday when I read this blog post about Sadhu Sundar Singh. Now Sundar was an Indian man who cultural surrendered his life to Jesus Christ in 1903 but instead of adopting the customs and dress of the Western Missionaries he chose stay within his culture, dress as a Hindu holy man (Sadhu) and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ by travelling all over India and Tibet bare foot. In the above mentioned post the author makes this claim:

A Sadhu is a Hindu who devotes his entire life to his religion and forsakes all the worldly pleasures.  When one becomes truly born again you will abandon ALL things that are not glorifying to God – you abandon your past.  The things you did before you were truly born again you repented of and you will not go back to them.  Sundar Singh didn’t do that, he kept the Hindu Holy Man name Sadhu and the robes.  The only reason for this was because it was supposedly easier for him to approach people and spread the Gospel.

Now I agree with the part that we must “abandon all things that are not glorifying to God” but does that mean a Hindu, Muslim, San Khoi,  or even sub-cultures must abandon their culture and adopt Westernised Christian culture. Should they dress differently? Learn a new language? Eat differently? Build church buildings the way the west do? Be missionaries like Western missionaries? Should we expect such a person to abandon customs not specifically forbidden in the Bible? Should we expect him/her to adopt customs not mentioned in the Bible? I am not talking here about customs specifically mentioned in the Bible but those that we as Western Christians have adopted as “Christian”.

I think that this notion we as Christians have had over the centuries of a “Christian Culture” have stood in the way of spreading the Gospel in a big way. When we see a person dressed in a certain way we immediately assume certain things about that person and connect that person to a cultural group. That in itself is not wrong but when we then extrapolate from there that a Christian shouldn’t dress that way I think we build a barrier which make it difficult for such a person to hear the Gospel.

Communication is much more than words because it involves two parties, the one with the message and the one receiving it. My experience taught me that the audience’s attitude to and perception of the message and messenger being communicated is just as important as the message itself. If a scenario is set where the audience are feeling rejected or threatened by the messenger the message will be compromised and worst rejected before it was even heard.

By judging people according to their cultural expression influence if they feel accepted or rejected. How the messenger appears to them influences if they feel safe or threatened.

In the light of the above my questions are:

Should we expect people to change their cultural expression when they accept Jesus Christ as Lord?

Should we adopt certain cultural expressions, like Sundar did, when we share the Gospel with other culture groups?