Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Can Outsiders Counsel Insiders?

From the editorial by Rick Wood of the May-June 2011 issue of Mission Frontiers on Jesus Movements (see my comments below):

To say the least, the phenomenon of Bible-believing followers of Jesus identifying themselves as Muslims, Hindus, etc. has become a hot topic of discussion in mission circles and beyond. In some cases it has led to persecution of these Jesus followers by those in the Church who believe that this phenomenon is a corruption of the faith. Some have even appealed to governmental power to suppress such expressions of faith. As Rebecca Lewis explains in her article starting on page 21, this has been a common practice over the centuries by those trying to maintain what they feel is the “correct” expression of the faith. Tragically, it has led to the martyrdom of tens of thousands of people who were seeking to follow Jesus. In our day, such practices should not be tolerated by any follower of Jesus.

Whether we think that Jesus Movements are a good or bad thing, I hope that we can all agree that these people have the right to follow Jesus according to their conscience and should be free to do so without harassment by people who claim to know the better way to follow Jesus. It is their choice to make whether they stay within the culture of their birth or not, and we should respect their choice.

Jesus Movements are indigenous movements that need to be left to flourish on their own without the kind of outside influence or control that could rob them of their indigenous character and even endanger lives. The members of these movements need to be the ones in charge of the contacts they have with believers and ministries from other cultures. History has shown that even well-meaning endorsement of Jesus Movements can be dangerous. Mission organizations, no matter how well intentioned, need to allow Jesus Movements to take the lead and not try to claim ownership of or authority over these movements.

As followers of Jesus from different cultural backgrounds, we must be willing to allow God to establish biblical faith in other cultures in ways that looks very different from our own. One day, when we stand before the throne of God and worship Jesus along with people from every other tribe and tongue, I do not think we will worship God out of the uniformity of one “Christian” culture but out of the unique cultural expressions of every people. In this way God will be most glorified.

Just a word of caution from my perspective: I wholeheartedly agree that all people have the right to determine their own socio-religious identity, and that outsiders have historically been paternalistic in this matter. 

But I don’t want to overreact and say the outsider can have zero input.  Would I be humble enough to allow a Zambian Christian to counsel me in my contextualized American Christianity? I hope so.  Sometimes outsiders can offer the most prophetic insights! 

I’m just trying to caution what I perceive to be the pendulum swinging too far in this discussion.  I think we can all agree that outsiders can offer insights to insiders, but without claiming ownership or trampling on another’s conscience.  And in the end, in any case, Scripture holds the final authority.

1 comment:

Tim Herald said...

I totally agree with you. Sometimes I get the impression that we think:

Bibles + people who have no background in following Jesus = best church ever

If this is the case, it is a bizarre idea... totally foreign to the early Church. The New Testament shows deep relationships between sent-out ones and the churches/communities they planted. Their beliefs and forms must be consistent with the global body of Christ in key areas. Anything else is a cult. In fact, rather than the formula above, I think that most often:

Bibles + no relationships = cults

That being said, I am not sure that is what the author is arguing for. It sounds like he is saying once they are mature and have leaders, we should recognize their leaders as equals. As brothers, not as children. This means allowing them to make decisions... including what their identity is and how they live it out and who they are influenced by.

I like the way Schreiter puts it in saying that the missionaries are like the connectors between the local churches and the global Church. We have the responsibility to guide (not push) them in a direction that is not at odds with the global Church AND we have a responsibility to let them figure out how the Gospel speaks to their specific context AND we have responsibility to bring their application of the Gospel in their context to bear on the global Church as well. We are kind of in the middle helping each side to inform the other.

Well, I hope my thoughts are coherent. Now it's time for the second cup of coffee!!