The Celtic Way of Evangelism- How Christianity can reach the West, again.

Today is St Patrick’s day. untitled

To celebrate I went to the pub with a couple of guys from the village and had couple of pints of Guinness last night, something we have done for the past 6 years.

But marking the day is much more than having a pint! I love being aware of the day because of the life and ministry of St Patrick. He’s quite a hero of mine (maybe his life will become a future novel that I will write!)

Celtic way of evangelismMy fascination with him started when I heard George Hunter III lecture at Cliff college as part of my masters course in Evangelism studies. His book is a gem, and if you can get hold of a copy you wont regret it!

Here is a synopsis of the book in three (rather basic) points:

 

           His ministry to the Irish was significant largely because the Romans (the predominant culture in Patrick’s homeland in England) saw the Irish as Barbarians.  And Barbarians certainly could not be receptive to the Gospel.

           But Patrick went anyway, and adopted a unique approach to mission that scandalized the Roman church.

First of all, Patrick’s approach to mission was culture-friendly.  The Roman church believed that in order for people to become Christians they first had to become Roman—they had to speak Latin, act like civilized Romans, and worship in the Roman style.

Celtic way of evangelism

Patrick, taking his cue from God’s culture-friendly approach to mission as seen in the Incarnation, conformed himself to the Irish to win them rather than the other way around.  He learned their language and shared the Gospel in their language.  He used the forms of music and symbols they understood and created new styles of worship.  He dressed like them and did what he could to be like them to reach them.

Second, his approach to mission was people-friendly.  Where the Roman church had a bias against uncivilized people (i.e., people not like them), Patrick saw the Irish not as barbarians but as people created in the image of God.  Rather than condemning them for their sinfulness he affirmed their God-given value and talked of how Jesus came to restore that value through his death and resurrection.  He believed the Gospel was for anyone and everyone.

Finally, his approach was religion-friendly.  While he was unashamedly Christian and believed that Jesus was the only way to know God, Patrick didn’t hesitate to borrow from the old Druid religion to help people make the transition from their pagan beliefs to Jesus.  For example, he dressed like the Druid priests for worship.  He built his churches on old Druid sacred sights.  He took many of their symbols and Christianized them to give a sense of familiarity as people moved to the “new faith.”

Celtic knot .jpgThe approach to evangelism that is often done in the UK is one of being suspicious of any other religious experiences that people may have had or indeed of the popular culture that inform and shape peoples beliefs systems. Rather than starting from a confrontational stance with these experiences I believe that we have a role to make sense of Jesus to those around us starting with their own experiences and understanding of what God is like.

To conclude, what really impacted me from George Hunters book was the comparison between Roman and Celtic ways of doing evangelism and being church. Here is a simple slide to show the comparison:

Roman vs Celtic models

So, may you have a great St Patrick’s day. If you are a follower of Jesus here’s a challenge: Share two or three lines of this prayer that is attributed to St Patrick with someone who does not know what Jesus is all about:

I rise today in the power’s strength, invoking the Trinity believing in threeness, confessing the oneness, of creation’s Creator.

I rise today in the power of Christ’s birth and baptism, in the power of his crucifixion and burial, in the power of his rising and ascending, in the power of his descending and judging.

I rise today in the power of the love of cherubim, in the obedience of angels and service of archangels, in hope of rising to receive the reward, in the prayers of patriarchs, in the predictions of the prophets, in the preaching of apostles, in the faith of confessors, in the innocence of holy virgins, in the deeds of the righteous.

I rise today in heaven’s might, in sun’s brightness, in moon’s radiance, in fire’s glory, in lightning’s quickness, in wind’s swiftness, in sea’s depth, in earth’s stability, in rock’s fixity.

I rise today with the power of God to pilot me, God’s strength to sustain me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look ahead for me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to protect me, God’s way before me, God’s shield to defend me, God’s host to deliver me, from snares of devils, from evil temptations, from nature’s failings, from all who wish to harm me, far or near, alone and in a crowd.

Around me I gather today all these powers against every cruel and merciless force to attack my body and soul, against the charms of false prophets, the black laws of paganism, the false laws of heretics, the deceptions of idolatry, against spells cast by women, smiths, and druids, and all unlawful knowledge that harms the body and soul.

May Christ protect me today against poison and burning, against drowning and wounding, so that I may have abundant reward; Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me; Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me; Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me; Christ in my lying, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising; Christ in the heart of all who think of me, Christ on the tongue of all who speak to me, Christ in the eye of all who see me, Christ in the ear of all who hear me.

I rise today in power’s strength, invoking the Trinity, believing in threeness, confessing the oneness, of creation’s Creator.

For to the Lord belongs salvation, and to the Lord belongs salvation and to Christ belongs salvation. May your salvation, Lord, be with us always.

—”Saint Patrick’s Breastplate,” Old Irish, eighth-century prayer.

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Celtic Way of Evangelism- How Christianity can reach the West, again.

  1. Spot on, Chris – as always 🙂

    Reading this reminds me of some of the stories of movements in Islamic cultures in the past hundred years or so, and especially today. For example the Kristen Jawa movement in Java started by Sadrach Surapranata in 1870 that ran completely counter to the official Dutch Church in the region. The key to success is always the same, go out and go deep – out into the world and deep into the local culture. This is missional/apostolic (going out) and incarnational (going deep) and it’s exactly what Jesus did. He was sent by the Father so he came into our world (going out) and he became one of us (going deep).

    Patrick is a great example. It’s really good for us to pay attention to examples like his and ask, ‘What can I learn from this’.

    And, if I may say so, you are another great example of the same thing!

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