Thursday, April 05, 2007

steeples are to branches as ...

Yes, God elects ... the Holy Spirit quickens the spirit ... and God has chosen to use the church to promote the Gospel. As such, we have the solemn responsibility to use wisdom in our presentation. Assessing one's culture is one method in which Christians take that responsibility seriously.

Why do you protest?

Our missionaries overseas have been doing the same for decades. One hundred years ago, missionaries went to Nigeria to make Christians who fit the mold of their home country's version of cultural Christianity. This proved to be a stumbling block, often being confused with imperialism.

Missionaries learned over time to strip away non-gospel issues from their work with indigenous peoples. Has the gospel changed? Is it so watered down that it is no longer even offensive to the non-elect? Is sin washed over? No, it is still spiritual foolishness to them without the work of God in their lives ... but the missionaries are not adding their own cultural foolishness to it.

Is it practical or appropriate even to ask Nigerians to build a building with a steeple on it in order to have church? Is it proper to require them to wear collared shirts and ties and slacks and shoes when they attend the weekly meetings in the steepled building? Should we set an organ up front and provide Isaac Watts hymnals for everyone?

Are these wrong? No, not for a culture in which they are appropriate.

But for Nigerian believers, these things are unnecessary for gospel promotion.

By allowing Nigerians to wear their native garb, sing praises to God in their native tongue to their native music, meet under a tree or in a home, one is not adjusting the gospel to fit culture.

You are not telling the people "Ah, I understand that animal sacrifice is a part of your culture. Please, continue... You pray to your ancestors? Well, that's fine... You practice homosexuality because that's who you are? No problem."

The Roman Catholic church was notorious for such assimilation of culture into the Gospel ... especially in South America. "This is a legend you have ... well, see, Jesus' mother is sort of like the mother of this god you worship. Just change the names of your gods and it's essentially the same thing."

Or is Christianity the white man's religion?

If we assess culture overseas as missionaries, why then are people wary of doing the same within our own country?

Is the church not to be a missionary in its own community?

Are there areas in the church that are non-gospel issues that the church is clinging to but prove to be merely cultural stumbling blocks to their community truly understanding the Gospel?

Are the people they are trying to reach equating some methods with moralism or "imperialism"?


Chris said...

amen :)

Rachelle said...

Wow. So much powerful stuff here. How different many churches might be if they looked at themselves as missionaries.

Yet, some churches are doing this, and doing it well. And being looked down upon by the Establishment.

You have some amazing points here!

Dani said...

Hi Christine,

I'm not sure whether you are addressing an unspecified (and hypothetical) audience when you say 'Why do you protest' or whether you are specifically addressing a few of us who have expressed concerns in the Missional Switch thread below (eg. John Dekker and myself)

If it is the former then please just ignore the below.

If it is the latter than I'd like to respectfully suggest that you've caricaturised both of our arguments. Neither of us have suggested that in our evangelism we should just discount cultural differences and persist in our own 'cultural' foolishness. On the contrary I've repeatedly said that I think culturally sensitivity is important and John has pointed out that he did not say that we should present the gospel from a culturally neutral viewpoint.

Ultimately I think you and I are both saying very similar things. I'm just a bit concerned at where the language which has been used in this discussion so far will eventually lead us to. I'm concerned that we never look to specific cultures to interpret the gospel or to make it meaningful, but rather that we let Scripture interpret itself and as it does so see how both informs and critiques our own cultures.

On an aside I'm also quite interested to think/hear more about this issue of the missional approach to church with respect to the role of the church in the edification of Christians. Any thoughts?

Keziah said...

It's interesting looking at the church in Malawi and its continued close relationship with Scotland and Scottish churches. Many of these churches meet in stone buildings and sing unaccompanied psalms, as the Free Church missionaries did when they brought the Gospel, and the local church would not have it any other way. They see this equally as part of their own church heritage.

Aaron Plunkett said...

G'day Christine,
I've run across this issue with youth ministry. It's important to present the gospel to youth kids in a way that is culturally relevant but not change the gospel itself. The biggest danger is getting to the point where a youth group has tried to become 'relevant' to youth, in doing so they've watered down the gospel and focus on games and talks/studies full of fluff.

ckhnat said...

great example, aaron!

i appreciate what Mars Hill does with their youth ... as Christians they are expected to show spiritual maturity and leadership even in their young age. we set our standards too low generally in today's youth groups.

right on for those who minister to young people who teach in a way that they can understand but they are still teaching the "meat".