Yesterday, I attended a Zoom meeting where we discussed and voted on issues involving the decolonialising of the educational curriculum. While such discussions, I hope, will lead us forward in a truly open and equal society, there is a far more important matter that often eludes the Christian church: our approach to missions.
“Go into all the word and make disciples.” Sounds straight forward enough. But are we sure what that mission entails?
My first degree focused heavily on Christian missions. One key principle of that study was for us as aspiring ministers of the Word, was to never confuse evangelism and colonialism. In one of these missiology courses the professor (a time term missionary) warned us about this. He presented some interesting cautionary tales. One of these is now anecdotal for the purposes of this post (as I no longer have the reference notes from the class). It seems that some of the early missionaries to one of the South Seas islands, found that the indigenous women went topless. Because of European morality, the converts were taught to cover up and started to do so. This set the church back decades. In that culture, prostitutes wore little vests as a mark of their trade. The result was that the Christian women were shunned by the tribe. Short analysis – white male missionaries lusted after the bare breasts, so to avoid their own discomfort and sin, they limited the functioning of the Holy Spirit by imposing their own morality. Again, I cannot reference the case, but I find it very believable.
Similarly, in our cultural appropriation, many White Pentecostals don’t see the African expression of spirituality in their mode of worship. “Why it’s just the outpouring of the Spirit,” they might say. However, much of the European ecclesiastical past relied far more on “smells and bells,” than on ecstatic releases of emotion (I am not saying it never happened, however, before you object). We are in the modern church an amalgamation of merging traditions. Whether it is Greek intellectualism, Hebrew ritualism, or Native American and African passionate spiritualism, we are the inheritors of rich heritages. We all bring so much to the worship of God. It is in a way a corporate and cultural expression of the all one body scripture (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
So as we go into all the world, let us share the good News of the Gospel, and not our dress codes, seating arrangements, non-biblically sanctioned rituals, or even our expectations of the outward appearance of being Spirit filled (after all God gives different gifts to different individuals as He sees fit). Reaching the world, even in 2020 is not a “mission impossible,” as long as we stick to scripture and conduct ourselves in a “mission impeccable.”
Thank you to my dear sister, Joe Elayne for inspiring this post and beginning the conversation.