Alastair on Missions

Here is another Alastair post that I would like to commend to your attention.  (Wow.  Two Alastair posts in two days.  What’s up with that?)

This post is a very lengthy post, and it may require some effort to get your head around everything that Alastair says.  But if you are willing to expend the effort, I think you will find it to be very much worth it.  It is part two of a series that Alastair is doing on denominations, denominationalism, and Christian unity that has come out of the post I linked yesterday.  The first installment of this series is here.  I would recommend that one to you as well.  It serves as a reminder that God’s purposes in history are not always what we would expect, and it makes the point that perhaps God has a purpose for the present denominational order of things in the Church that we can’t even begin to suspect.

The second post in the series sort of tags on to that by venturing a guess as to what that purpose, or part of it at least, may be.  Different people or groups of people understand certain points of Christian belief in different ways.  If the Church had remained one body, then in all probability these differences of understanding would have been glossed over in the name of unity and never truly discussed, and our understanding of these issues would have never changed.  But with many denominations, we have many different perspectives, all of which are preserved intact.  At some point the Church will be mature enough to come to a new understanding of these issues which takes all of these different perspectives into account.  At that point perhaps the Church will be ready to reunite.  Alastair then uses the issue of infant baptism as an example, discussing how the Church’s understanding of baptism has changed over the course of history and how credobaptists (those who say that baptism ought to be for adult believers only) and paedobaptists (those who favor infant baptism) serve as corrective influences on each other.

What I really latched on to from this post was about a third of the way in, where the discussion turns to the subject of cross-cultural missions.  Let me offer you a sample:

It is incredibly sad to see the absence of cross-cultural theological dialogue in many parts of the Church when we have so much to gain from such dialogue. There are some who believe that missionary efforts merely involves transplanting our cultural forms of Christianity into foreign settings. The goal of missionary activity, for instance, becomes that of getting African Christians to think in terms of the Westminster Standards. The idea that our form of the Christian faith, deeply culturally conditioned as it is, might have a lot to learn from humble dialogue with more indigenous African forms of Christianity never seems to occur to us.

I have said it countless times before on this blog and I will say it again:  We who live in the world of present-day American evangelical Protestant-dom are NOT the end-all, be-all of what God is doing in the world.

Unfortunately, our approach to missions seems to be heavily influenced by the belief that we are.  A lot of what we offer as biblical Christianity to the peoples of the world whom we attempt to evangelize is, instead, biblical Christianity filtered through the grid of Western culture.  We believe that the peoples of the world must be instructed and corrected by us, and we have no room for the conception that they might have anything of worth to offer us in their conception of Christianity.

Now this is not to say that all perspectives are equally valid.  Certainly there are some perspectives–and in a people that has had limited exposure to biblical Christianity there are likely to be many–which are faulty and which need to be corrected in the strongest possible terms.  But can’t we at least listen?  Can’t we approach our engagement with cultures whom we seek to evangelize from the standpoint that they might have something of worth which would enrich our understanding of the Christian faith?