Friday, September 14, 2007

One World, One Culture

Christ Liberation Fellowship strives to be a mono-cultural church. Does that surprise you? Much is being said and written concerning the issue, value, point and importance of culture. To some being intentionally mono-cultural is anathema. From their viewpoint the heavenly scene recorded in Rev. 7:9 should be reflected in local church’s on earth. Consequently, no church should strive to be mono-cultural.

On the other hand there are those who would applaud my stance. They assert that subdominant groups have a right and responsibility to maintain their culture. And since the gospel is universal, no group should have to subordinate their culture just to adhere to the faith. (an issue found in Acts 15) Moreover, it’s especially important for the black church to retain our culture since to jettison it for the dominant one would essentially kill our witness within our community. In fact some might say that the reason the Nation of Islam is so compelling to black men is that they offer an alternative cultural religion to the ‘white man’s Christianity’.

I have some understanding of where both are coming from having participated in promoting and preaching each position. And to some degree both are right and wrong. Say what? Don’t switch the dial just yet I haven’t gone po-mo. (or as they say on the Simpson’s ‘weird for the sake of weird‘) The infant church began as a somewhat multi-ethnic fellowship. (I say somewhat since the Jerusalem church consisted of Hebraic and Grecian Jews, not Jews and non-Jews see Acts 2:5 and Acts 6:1) As the church began to spread more and more into the Greco-Roman world congregations arose that incorporated both Jews and non-Jews. Despite their cultural differences there doesn’t seem to be any apostolic attempt to separate God’s people along ethnic lines.
Along with that however was the reality that as new groups were incorporated in the Body of Christ they weren’t required to relinquish those important (though transient) aspects of their culture in order to remain apart of God’s church. Believers of different cultures were expected to display humility and love while striving together to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

So then why is CLF striving to become a mono-cultural church? Won’t that exclude those who don’t easily fit within our culture or don’t wish to jettison theirs? In adopting a mono-cultural attitude aren’t we just as guilty as those evangelicals who view their culture as both sacred and normative and thus expected anyone who wished to be apart of their fellowship to fall in line? Not necessarily. Our challenge isn’t to pursue or cultivate a particular God given ethnic culture (which in some ways is quite easy), but to seek out the Christ saturated, kingdom centered culture that our Lord Jesus taught and modeled during His earthly ministry. You’ll recall that one definition of culture is people with shared beliefs and practices: a group of people whose shared beliefs and practices identify the particular place, class, or time to which they belong
Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

That’s not the only definition of culture, but it is one that suits our discussion at this point. CLF seeks to be mono-cultural not in picking out a particular human culture to emphasize but in aiming to embody the biblical culture that should mark out God’s people regardless of the other cultural aspects that identify them. But aren’t you going to have and display some form of human culture? You’re not really claiming to be acultural are you? No we’re not. It’s just that I hope that as we grow and develop our transient (though important) God given human culture doesn’t overshadow our Christ centered, kingdom focused culture.

“Isn’t this just another way you black reformed brothers seek to abandon your blackness and mimic white folks?” I hope not. But for the sake of discussion if we were to pursue being a black church what shade of black should we be? Should we seek to be the black traditional church, Word of Faith black church, hip-hop black church or Afrocentric black church? You see being the black church just isn’t what it used to be. The issue for us is this: do we emphasize our God given human culture and thus primarily identify ourselves in that way or should we strive to highlight the Christ centered, kingdom focused culture that should mark all of God’s people everywhere?

And should you be in the area you’re welcomed to join our quest. Whether your traditional or hip-hop black church. It doesn’t matter if your emerging from the WofF movement or want to flaunt your afro-centricity. You can be formal presby or informal Pentecostal. Emergent, submergent, baby boom or bust. We’d love some first, one and a half or second gen Koreans, Chinese or Hispanics. While we’re at it lets include some Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters, Arabs and Persians. Are Africans invited? They most certainly are along with Indians, Europeans and South Americans. West Indies, East Indies, Pacific Rim and Canadians. And in case I’ve missed anyone we’re even open to both Klingons and Romulans.

For us the issue isn’t primarily who you are (and yes that’s important) but what we’re becoming by the grace of God and power of the Spirit.

To Him Who Loves Us…
Pastor Lance


Anonymous said...

In your last paragraph you left out "white." Oh never mind, you mentioned "Emergent." :P

Thanks for writing, brother.

Anonymous said...


Good Post.


Anonymous said...

Pastor Lance,

Amen !!

I have some time off work this week to write on the subject of multi ethnic church - theology and practice, which is extremely relevant to my own situation.

Can you recommend any useful books and / or internet resources to assist me to think further on this?

I already have read Ortiz, Bruce Milne, the divided / united by faith books and George Yancy on the subject. The NSBT biblical theologies of race and mission, have also been helpful.


Colin Thomas

FellowElder said...

Good word, brother.

Rodney said...

"The Nation of Islam is so compelling to black men is that they offer an alternative cultural religion to the ‘white man’s Christianity"

I think the reason that ‘the nation” is so compelling. They portray black men as strong, disciplined common sense leaders. Who will fight for what they believe in?

I believe that if a church is in an area that is dominated by one culture it should represent Christ in that culture for His Glory and the spreading of the Good news. But I also think that that church should fellowship and work with churches outside their culture. For the Glory of Christ and to be a witness to all cultures, of the unity and love we have in Christ for each other.

One more thing, I could NEVER! Be a member of a church that had Romulans, Klingons yes, but not Romulans:)

Jim Pemberton said...

Great observations here, Pastor Lance. As one who is involved with cross-cultural missions (my long-time dream has been to be a musical ethnologist), there is a sense in which we must be unified under the Cross Culture, which transcends the cultures of men.