Friday, February 20, 2009

Cultural Implications in the Ministry

“After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9-10).

The Holy Gospel is not culturally nor geographically bound. Its radius extends to all peoples, of all nations, at all times. The church then is multicultural, multinational, and multilingual. The implications for the carrying out of Christ’s ministry is that he sees no borders in his kingdom, no boundaries which he should not enter, and neither should His pastors today.

The word “culture” is derived from the Latin word “cultura” which simply means to til the land. There is a natural relationship between people and their land and their surrounding neighbors. Cultural anthropologists define culture as an “integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas, and products characteristic of a society.” Therefore culture is (a) a human creation developed over many years, (b) it is learned and shaped the very nature of who we are and how we act. Given original sin, the human condition is naturally somewhat “cultish” in his given locality, sharing similar norms and mores. One tends to “guard” or “tend” his or her area with some degree of standoffishness. Cultural or ethnic separatism, which is often blamed on discrimination or disproportionate distribution of wealth, is usually a self chosen path for security and social similitude.

The calling of the Gospel puts us squarely into our given locality but binds all cultures together into Christ’s culture of salvation and life in His church. Cultural pluralism exists in the church and should be celebrated. Culture is dynamic and is always changing in a given environment. It shapes the way people act, dress, speak, and communicate. It involves the music and the arts, and in Christ’s church it may all be directed for the glory of God. A fatal mistake in the life of the church is to be confused into thinking that one specific culture is naturally superior to another. Though there exists aspects of some cultures that are objectionable, it remains impossible to pass through any culture without experiencing its evil designs and deficiencies. If we can consider cultural relevancy, we must also speak of the theological relevancy of every culture; that every village experiences an encounter with God, the devil, sin, and grace.

The site of heaven in Revelation 7 indicates that all nations will be rejoicing in heaven before the Lamb of God. Likewise, in the Great Commission Jesus commands the apostles to teach and baptize all nations. This is an imperative from our Lord rather than a simply suggestion. It is commanded that apostles move out into all nations to share Christ’s Gospel. Therefore evangelism is not an option but an obligatory joy. As the Gospel moves into the hearts of people of various nations and cultures, Christ’s teaching must not lose its doctrinal purity. It is one thing to be culturally and ethnically sensitive, but quite another to dilute Christ’s Holy doctrine to make it more readily acceptable or palatable for different taste. Besides the command to baptize and make disciples, stands the command to “teach.” The teaching is not a mere transference of emotional sentiments about God’s goodness, but a very real catechesis – a handing over of Christ’s doctrine in the Holy Scriptures. Christ’s doctrine of the justification of the ungodly through faith alone is central to the teaching and guides corporate worship and word and sacrament ministry. In this way we can say that preaching, teaching, sacraments, and baptizing are “supra-cultural” – that they are not mediated and filtered through a given social culture but rather create and sustain “Christ’s culture of redemption” in any given locality.

Besides being radically cross-cultural, Christianity is also given to every tongue – that the gospel may be spoken in every language. Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and most other world religions do not share this understanding. If you want to be a “true Muslim” you learn Arabic. If you want to be a true “orthodox Jew” you learn Hebrew, and so it is with many religions. This is not so in Christianity. On the day of Pentecost (a fulfillment of Joel 2) the apostles (pastors) were granted by the Holy Spirit the voices to speak to the crowds coming to Jerusalem for the Feast. This does not mean that they were stirred up into a mystical frenzy to speak unintelligible words, like today’s Pentecostals, but rather that they spoke intelligibly to the crowds of gentiles and foreigners, so that they might hear the Gospel. Therefore the word of God is not bound to a single language, though all Pastors must diligently pursue study in the Greek and Hebrew.

Mission work in serving the Gospel ought to be done in a spirit of servitude. Christ made himself a servant that he might redeem His creation. Likewise, Christians are called to emulate him and to serve one another in fervent love and charity. This necessitates the evisceration of ethnocentrism, human pride, and cultic isolationism. World cultures ought to be accommodated and celebrated as God’s word moves out into the world to do its work. Christ shed blood on the cross not for a particular segment of the population, or for a certain ethnic group, but rather for “all nations” – all peoples, all times, all places.

1 comment:

  1. Beyond this the Church has her own culture and traditions as well. She has her own melodies and texts, language and dress etc. None of the things we see in Church are particularly German or Roman as much as they are Christian. Nice post.


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