Slide show


Incarnation Can Be Used As A Model For Christian Witness.

Incarnation Can Be Used As A Model For Christian Witness.

As the church seeks to express its life in local cultural forms, it soon has to face the problem of cultural elements which either are evil or have evil associations, the church has a mandate to penetrate into all facets of the world with the gospel using various models to witness. Hence in this paper I will define Incarnation and demonstrate how this could be a model for Christian witness focusing on its merits and demerits. 

 The Incarnation is the mystery and the dogma of the Word made Flesh. ln this technical sense the word incarnation was adopted, during the twelfth century, from the Norman-French, which in turn had taken the word over from the Latin incarnatio. The Latin Fathers, from the fourth century, make common use of the word; so Saints JeromeAmbrose, Hilary, etc. The Latin incarnatio (incaro, flesh) corresponds to the Greek sarkosis, or ensarkosis, which words depend on John (1:14kai ho Logos sarx egeneto, "And the Word was made flesh".
Incarnation is a term used by theologians to indicate that Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh. This is similar to the hypostatic union. The difference is that the hypostatic union explains how Jesus’ two natures are joined, and the Incarnation more specifically affirms His humanity.

According to Walter A. Elwell (1984: 555) Incarnation is the act where by the eternal Son of God the second Person of the Holy Trinity, without ceasing to be what he is, God the Son took into Union with himself, the human nature and so (He) was and continues to be God and man in two distinct nature.  

Theologian like Allister McGrath (1990: 350) refers Incarnation to the assumption of human nature by God in the Person of Jesus. Of course theologian are not in agreement in the natures of Jesus, was he fully human and Divine.
The concept of incarnation as a model for Christian witness is first drawn from the idea that Ferguson (1978: 33) which he postulated in defining incarnation as Jesus identifying with humanity, bearing all and familiarizing humanity to the Gospel of Salvation.

What then is incarnation or incarnational ministry? A working definition of incarnational ministry is “the immersion of one’s self into a local culture and ‘becoming Jesus’ to that culture.” Incarnational ministry seeks to dispense with ministry “from a distance” and embrace ministry “up close and personal”—the love of God and the gospel of Christ are “incarnated” or embodied by the person ministering.

 Just as the Son of God took on human flesh and came into our world, we should adopt the culture to which we are ministering and “become Jesus” within it. The idea that Christians should represent the incarnated gospel is called incarnational theology. A central tenant of the incarnational ministry concept is “live the good news rather than preach the good news. 

Thus incarnational ministry or incarnation is then a model which seeks to infiltrate a community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, sharing it in the language, culture and understanding of that particular community without however, losing the Gospel message and its values.

The Christian understanding of the word incarnation is that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The very cornerstone of Christian belief is that God the Son the Word, the third Person of the Trinity took on human flesh when He entered our world. Furthermore, the understanding and practice of Christian witness is rooted in and shaped by the life, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Hence the missioner is mandated to present the gospel in this context regardless of the context and cultural variations.

Incarnation entails that Jesus had to empty Himself and deliberately chose to identify with humanity in all aspects so as to redeem the world. According to the Lausanne Report it highlighted that incarnation principle is hinged on the two central scriptures. Philippians 2:1-11 and John 1:14. As alluded by the conference” … Two verbs then indicate the action to which the mind of Christ led him: “he emptied himself … he humbled himself…” The first speaks of sacrifice (what he renounced) and the second of service, even slavery (how he identified himself with us and put himself at our disposal). We have tried to think what these two actions meant for him, and might mean for cross-cultural witnesses.”

In incarnation Jesus renounced his status, by status it means that He surrendered the rights, privileges, and powers which he enjoyed as God’s Son. (Lausanne) Incarnation demands the missioner to renounce his or her status so as to reach the community in which the missioner is to preach the gospel. Thus the missioner must allow not his or her culture, understanding, perspective and position in life to dictate the preaching of the Gospel.

Incarnation could be seen as a model for Christian witness since it allows the missioner to relate with the community without arbitrating the hearers and the Gospel remaining true in terms of the content. However, the burden of incarnation and revelation is on the shoulders of the individuals and this often leads to burnout.  Furthermore, by renouncing one’s status a person rejects who he or she is truly. The question is how long can a person keeps up with another personality which does not reflect his or her true self?

According to Elwell (1984:555) Jesus had two distinct natures which were natural to His being. This practice of incarnation by the missioner or preachers could not be possible since each person cannot be separated from his or her personality and way of life. To divorce a person from his or her culture, privileges, and power is to separate one from his or her true nature.
Additionally Incarnation is not complete without Jesus renouncing his immunity. In incarnation Jesus exposed himself to temptation, sorrow, limitation, economic need, and pain.

 So the missionary should expect to become vulnerable to new temptations, dangers and diseases, a strange climate, an unaccustomed loneliness, and possibly death. this element in incarnation expresses the central message of salvation that of laying down our lives for the other. It is through this understanding that the gospel can be taken to the remote and poor and dangerous regions of the world. According to Chris Wright (1990:21) Incarnational model of witness can motivate members of the church to leave the places of comfort and walk around and look at our community with the eye of an outsider.

 However, according to Matthew 28: 18 incarnation can be a model for witness that could honor the great commission. Whilst on the other this model can leads the church to be involved in Christian and spiritual syncretism.
Echoing the words of Wright (1990:29) “the gospel is true always and everywhere or it is not a Gospel at all or true at all “ This implies that the Gospel must be taken to all regions of the world at the exposure of the believers but maintaining the integrity of the Gospel and Truth.

Finally incarnation means to be identified with a people, this idea can be best pictured by Hebrews 2:14 He shared our “flesh and blood,” was tempted as we are, learned obedience through his sufferings and tasted death for us (Heb. 2:14-18; 4:15; 5:8). . According to Hebrews Jesus identified with us, he shared with us in every aspect of life.

Identification must be certain and  must include mastering their language, immersing ourselves in their culture, learning to think as they think, feel as they feel, and do as they do. The missioner must incarnate so as to preach and participate in the religious world view of their audience. (Lausanne)

During his public ministry Jesus befriended the poor and the powerless, healed the sick, fed the hungry, touched untouchables, and risked his reputation by associating with those whom society rejected. In this approach the church can be able to reach the unreachable and touch the untouchables.

Understanding Incarnation as identification could prove to be a remarkably integrative way to approach the church’s missionary vocation. It could counter the typically Western reduction of mission to one of the many programs of the church. It could recast that mission as the definitive calling of the church. It could seek to read the biblical record in its own terms and to address serious problems in Western mission that have surfaced in this century.

It is through this model of witness that will set the church on a holistic mission to evangelization of the man, woman and children of every race, compassionate service of those in need to embrace human development, liberation, justice and peace and integrity creation which brings integral transformation  of a society (Wright:1990:34).

Viewing the Incarnation as a model for ministry leads to a dangerous imbalance in two ways. The problem is not the doctrine of the Incarnation, which is central to Christian faith. Rather, the problem results from a distortion of that belief—turning the uniquely divine act of the Word becoming incarnate in Christ into a "method for ministry" that is repeated in our own lives. Let me offer two examples of this distortion one more common in mainline Christian circles, the other more common among conservative evangelicals.

A searching test of identification is how far we feel that we belong to the people, and still more how far they feel that we belong to them. According to Tim Chester the event of the coming of Jesus into the world is unique, unrepeatable and incomparable. For John, it is not the manner of Jesus’ coming into the world, the Word becoming flesh, the incarnation, that is a ‘model’ for believers; rather, it is the nature of Jesus’ relationship to the Father who sent him into the world, which is one of obedience to and dependence upon the Father.

According Scot McKnight “The primary significance of the incarnation was that Christ was incarnate in the human race, rather than in particular social and cultural circumstances” Scot further argued that the New Testament passage suggests that we should imitate the divine act of becoming incarnate. Instead, the passages used to support “incarnational ministry” illustrate the pervasive New Testament theme of union with Christ by the Spirit. We actually become united to Christ the Lord by the Spirit’s power.

Incarnation could be a model of for Christian witness in that it sets the church to identify with the people to which it wants to minister, and in order to fulfill its Great commission mandate of going to the all nations and to all races. As we incarnate the Gospel could be preached and communities will be reached and the Christian community remaining unchanged both in its Gospel and life style yet being exposed in the most enticement, dangerous and wicked environment. Just as Christ who become flesh and identified with humanity and yet remained Divine.

Elwell 1984.                           Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Grand Rapids; Baker                                                   Book House Company
Ferguson S 1978.                    New Dictionary of Theology: Edinburgh: Inter Varsity
McGrath 2012.                      Historical theology: An introduction to the history of                                                          Christian thought. John Wiley & Sons.
Wright 1990.                          One Gospel Many Clothes: Oxford: