A group of young people from Minnesota North and North Dakota are heading for Kenya in June. They are a part of the Mary Okeyo Scholarship fund for travel and they will experience some culture shock and some theological shock as well. One of the things that we will have to come to grips with as we explore the possibilities and the limits of partnerships are the theological shocks that we encounter as well. Mission folks who study such things will tell you there are some things about churches in the majority world that we will have to wrap our heads around if we are going to learn from them and if we are going to help them as well. Some of the critics of our work in the majority world might want to consider some of these things as well.
Philip Jenkins wrote two books. One book called “The Next Christendom; The Coming of Global Christianity” and the other is “The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South”. The next few blogs are going to be about these ‘shocking things’, some of them mentioned in his books. If I were to describe the point of his books it is that the majority world Christians for the most part are really quite like the early church. Some would say they have a ‘primitive Christianity’ not like our more enlightened brand of the faith.
The first shocker is they believe the Bible. You say, “we believe the Bible too”, and my answer is ‘no, they really believe the Bible”! What I mean by that is this – they, like the early church, have a purposeful reliance upon doctrine. I am going to make some glittering generalities here so bear with me. I am going to mention some things with which I have had personal experience.
In my personal experience they purposefully rely upon Matthew 18 and Matthew 5. I was involved with a fellow that delayed our trip to an area of the country we were anxious to visit because he believed that he had offended another Pastor at a service we had attended the day before and he had to ask forgiveness ‘face to face’. “I know he is mad at me and I cannot bring my gifts to the altar until we make this right”, he said. In other words he believed that he could not conduct the liturgy if he knew that another person was angry at him. In my experience of our enlightend brand of faith we use Matthew 18 as a pretext when it suits us and abandon it all together when it doesn’t. We use Matthew 5 not at all. In fact I had a Pastor scream at me when I told him that Matthew 5 applied to him and that if he knew people in the church were mad at him he had a Biblical obligation to go to them and ‘make this right’. He was furious.
There are those who are talking about majority world church cases that have gone to court and are in the courts right now. In my experience they only go to court when forced by those who will not follow Matthew 18 or 5, or when forced to do so by the laws of their country. In our enlightened brand of Christianity we break Matthew 5 and 18 and we take our neighbors to court. There are some of our enlightened Christians that are actually sueing some of our partner churches. Those that do these things are not only considered heroic by some, but they have status in our churches and give the rationale that just because they are Christians they have not given up their rights as citizens. When they sue people over seas it is because, well, “when in Rome”……….
In my experience with the majority world churches they take Romans 16 seriously – “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” Causing divisions in the majority world church is a huge deal because they actually believe it is dividing the body of Christ. They actually believe that ‘body of Christ stuff’. They do practice a sort of ‘shunning’ but it is only after exhausting all sorts of remedies like Matthew 18 and Matthew 5. Of course we have Greek choruses over here in the ‘enlightened world’ that ask “why haven’t they followed Matthew 18?” Meanwhile we have groups that exist because of division and want to cause more division and we give them special status and sometimes even consider them ‘auxiliaries’.
I have had interesting theological discussions over whether or not Sudanese refugees that were tattooed and wanted to become Christians would have to have their tattoos removed? The basis – Leviticus 19:28, 1 Corinthians 3:16-18 ; 6:15,19-20. I have seen many of our young people wearing tattoos and even some of our younger Pastors and I am sure they never even considered there might be a theological issue. If you travel to a majority world church and visit and you have a tattoo, you will be asked to give a reason and a theological rational. We of course in our enlightened world and faith will say they are just benighted legalists.
I have on my wrist right now 5 bracelets given me by friends in the majority world, or bracelets that I purchased there. I had a great discussion with a friend about when ‘enough is enough’ and at what point was I in danger of messing with Proverbs 21:4; 1 Timothy 2:9-10, 1 Peter 3:3-4. My enlightened answer was “when they start setting off the airport alarms”.
I have seen Pastors and teachers that wear earrings in our churches. I’m talking about men and they are tasteful, but…… It was the custom of the Ishmaelite men to wear gold earrings, according to Judges 8:24. Biblically, a pierced ear is a public indication of permanent slavery – Exodus 21:6, 32:1-3. I included the picture of the headman of Wamba above and I did it for a reason. It may be hard for you to see, but the lobe of his ear has a huge hole in it that looks like it is trying to close. It was a Samburu custom to wear huge earrings that distend the lobe and leave a gapping hole. He stopped wearing the earrings when he became a Christian.
I would love to go on about the 8th Commandment but I might use up the alloted blog space that I have. I might do it yet.
If you are going to visit our brothers and sisters in a majority world church be prepared to talk about these things. They take their Bibles seriously and they take this body of Christ stuff seriously too. More on that later. Right now I have to find out about the latest gossip on some of my favorite blogs.