Most of us know the MO of undercover agents for law enforcement. They try to blend in with the crowd that they think might include whomever they are trying to catch. They try to dress, talk, and generally mimic the habits that crowd. They try hard to befriend as many as possible and get close to them. An outside looking in would not be able to distinguish the agent from the rest of the crowd. This may be necessary and work in law enforcement, but is it a good MO for evangelism?
Occasionally, a brother will look at a subculture and decide that since they need saving (and they do) that the best way to do it is go undercover much like the cops do. Now they will not call it that, but that is what it is. There are the drug subculture, disco/nightclub subculture, and hippy-like subculture to name a few. The idea is that in order to reach them with the gospel one needs to mingle and blend in with them as much as possible. This involves adapting to their characteristic slang and jargon, conforming to their slovenly appearance, mannerisms and sometimes to their hygiene (or lack of) habits. The idea is to pass himself off as “one of the boys” in order to slip the gospel to them. All the while putting themselves in the position of having to walk a tight rope to keep from slipping over into the mire with which they has surrounded themselves.
More often than not, when called out for this unwise practice, they will cite Paul’s words, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22) as justification for this practice. This is a gross misuse of this passage. Paul’s “all things,” “all means” and “all men” are limited by the context.
Without so limiting it, the case could be made for becoming a liar, or a fornicator, or a drunkard in order to gain some of them for the Lord. When one reads the whole context it can easily be seen that he is not speaking of covertly going into dens of iniquity to evangelize. In context, he is speaking of Christians’ using their rights or liberties in a way that would not harm brethren spiritually. He shows that this was his practice wherever he went whether among Jews or Gentiles or among weak brethren.
All of chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians is dealing with the use and misuse of liberties in Christ – especially the right to eat meat offered to idols. Paul knew or assumed that his readers knew that the meat was just meat like any other meat. In chapter 8, despite the fact that they had a right to eat such meat, they should not go into th3 idol’s temple and eat it with the idolaters because it would embolden the weak brethren to eat as an act of worship to idols.
In chapter 9, Paul answers the objection they might raise that they should be able to exercise their liberty anywhere they pleased. He then uses himself as an example of willingness to forgo rights for the betterment of brethren and the cause of Christ. If Paul could forego his rights for the good of others, why would they not be willing to forego their right to meat under the circumstances described? Tho he could show that he had the rights to “live of the gospel,” and to “lead about a wife,” he did not always use them. His readers should take note of this when considering whether or not to exercise a right being considered. When he said that among Jews he became a Jew, or among the gentiles (those without law) he became as a gentile and when among the weak he became weak; he simply means that when among each class he was willing to forgo any right that he might have if saw that it might cause them to not be receptive to his effort to save them.
In chapter 10, he gives an additional serious warning against going into the idols temple and eating with them. He warns the strong that they may not be as strong as they fancy themselves to be in claiming to be able to eat the meat without slipping into idol worship. In the first half of the chapter he shows that Israel slipped into apostasy after escaping from Egypt. There was the danger of following their example. The warning is to the one that “thinketh he standeth” (v. 12). He then warns them to flee idolatry. Then, he returns to showing why they could not enter the temple and eat the meat offered to idols at the idols table. He contrasts two tables: the Lord’s table and the idol’s table. They, as Christians, could not eat at both tables. There was no compatibility between the two.
Then he proceeds to show circumstances where they could safety eat such meat. One was they could go buy it at the meat market and eat it (v. 25). Another was when invited to a meal by their neighbor and were served it with no strings attached by the host (vv. 26-27).
So, this is not the passage to justify throwing out generally accepted decorum and decency to become as closely as possible identified with a drug, revery, and punk scene in order to hopefully win some. Such cheapens the gospel and hinders its effectiveness.
Edward O Bragwell, Sr.