Thursday, June 28, 2007
These Are The Voyages
From its very inception the church has struggled to navigate through the cultures it's been charged to disciple. One of the main reasons for this is the universality of biblical Christianity. By that I mean one can become a believer in Christ and not have to jettison some of the important aspects of his or her culture. You need not change your name, mode of dress, diet etc. in order to forsake your sin, turn to the Lord and have faith in Jesus Christ. Moreover, no one can force you to abandon your culture for another. Biblical Christianity doesn’t mandate the elevation of one culture over another. That’s pretty remarkable seeing that the church was birthed from the womb of a distinct human culture complete with its own language, customs, holidays, etc. yet nowhere in the New Testament record are Gentiles told to take up Hebrew, adopt Jewish dietary practices or observe Jewish holidays.
The challenge for church leaders then is threefold. On the one hand they must resist the temptation to alter the course of their culture in order to become something God hasn’t meant for them to be. One might feel closer to God if you change your name, language, what you eat and your customs, but that doesn’t bring you or your people closer to the Lord. Nearness to God comes through faith and faith alone in Jesus Christ. Another temptation however is to act as if your culture is somehow sacrosanct. History demonstrates that it doesn’t take long for a culture that embraces biblical faith to fall into the trap of believing that their particular cultural expression of the faith is the only right cultural expression of biblical faith. We all have our cultural sacred cows. There are aspects of our culture that we’ve intertwined with biblical faith which we come to believe are as rock solid and immovable as the faith itself. For instance, how many of us will celebrate Christmas this year on Dec. 25 even though we have no biblical evidence that our Lord was born on that day. Furthermore there is compelling evidence that what we celebrate as Christmas was in fact a pagan holiday that the church in grafted for the sake of expediency. Yet how many of us would look sideways at a believer who chose not to celebrate Christmas?
The third challenge for church leaders from all cultures is to begin and maintain the process of discipling the native culture into the mainstream culture presented to God’s people in Scripture. I believe this is the call and commission our Lord gave to His disciples recorded in Matthew 28. Our mandate therefore isn’t to maintain and promote an ethnic culture that is a separate and distinct from the rest of God’s people, but for believers of all cultures to prioritize the Christ saturated culture presented to the people of God in Scripture.
I believe that’s the call of the church whether black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Jewish or Arab. All too often however we fight to protect and highlight the micro-cultural issues that distinguish us instead of charting a course toward the biblically centered macro-cultural issues given to unite us. My first post on this topic asked if we could define what ‘blackness’ is and I thank you for your responses. Though we may not all agree on a single definition for what is or is not blackness we’d probably concur that the very idea of blackness is a fluid one. Our brother Thabiti highlighted that in his response by noting that blackness for black Americans is clearly different from the ‘blackness’ of black Caribbeans. But I don’t think that’s true for genuine biblical Christ-centered culture. I’m convinced that we can define it, embrace it and live it. The question is: are we ready to go where no culture has gone before?
To Him Who Loves Us…