The Perception of Contextualization – A Response to MissionShift

I am part of a group of bloggers, who received a free copy of MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium, edited by David Hesselgrave and Ed Stetzer, in order to participate in a discussion on Ed Stetzer’s website.

I am responding to Paul Hiebert’s Essay entitled, “The Gospel in Human Contexts: Changing Perceptions of Contextualization.” Here is the summary of his thesis provided in MissionShift.

Thesis: The purpose of this essay is to offer some discussion of the state of “Contextualization” as a critical aspect of missions, and of the changing perceptions of contextualization among missionaries and missions scholars. Any analysis of the current status of the Christian mission in the world must take social, historical, personal, and other contexts into account, and examine the relationships between the different contexts in which the people we serve live. In this sense this essay addresses the PRESENT of what has traditionally been termed “missions.”

I am not monocultural – never was and never have been. I’m multicultural by birth: I am Canadian and I am also Korean – I’m Korean-Canadian. I agree with Hiebert when he suggests that individuals like me “are aware of cultural differences and have learned to negotiate between two worlds in daily living.” However, I disagree with him when he suggests that individuals like me “often do not stop to consciously examine these contexts, how they shape their thinking, or the deep differences between them.” Perhaps I’m different in that I am always constantly wrestling with my Korean and Canadian cultural differences – perhaps this is because I believe that I am a ligament in the Body of Christ.

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I am a ligament, what are you?

The image of a bridge, or a ligament (Eph 4:16) seems to be a good way of describing my past and the direction I sense God is leading me. Being Korean Canadian, I was born in Canada, but grew up as a Korean – eating Korean food, going to a Korean church, speaking Korean, visiting Korea – basically breathing Korean all throughout my life. In high school, God used me to be a bridge between the English and Korean speaking youth groups – I was involved with both and knew individuals in both groups. I was also involved in a city wide joint worship team, which had the purpose of uniting or bridging all the Korean speaking youth groups. I co-created a Christian club in my high school to unify all the Christians together. I also organized and ran a city-wide youth worship service when I was pastoring in Montreal. While pastoring in Korea, I co-created a network for English speaking youth pastors, where we would put on events together, pray together, plan together, and strategize together.

As the groups pastor at Beulah Alliance Church, I was part of a team that conducted a survey, which revealed the current and proposed areas of integration amongst the differing areas of ministry.  I was also leading a team that consists of several pastors, in order to bring greater unity to the group life in the church. There is now one front, instead of divided fronts.

When examining my future, I believe that there are three areas that God has ingrained on my heart: church planting, pastors, and multicultural ministry.

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the 21st century north american church (part 3)

The New Testament and Multi-Ethnic Groups

When examining the incarnation, the apostles, the early church, and the eschatological vision in the New Testament, the ethnic picture is unambiguously multi-ethnic. This is best portrayed by looking at the very first multi-ethnic church.

The Church in Antioch as a Model for the Multi-Ethnic Church

The very first multi-ethnic church in the history of Christianity was not established by the Holy Apostles, but it was a handful of “Christians” (Acts 11:26) who, obeying Jesus’ words in the Great Commission and the Ascension, traveled to the “ends of the earth” – Antioch – to “make disciples of all nations.”

Antioch, the “religiously pluralistic and pleasure seeking” urban port city was “the provincial capital of Syria,” and “the third largest city in the Graeco-Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria.” As a result of the city’s multi-ethnic demographic, there was constant interaction between “Syrians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Armenians, Parthians, Cappadocians, and Jews,” which created a cultural ethos of “hatred and fear rooted in intense ethnic antagonisms.” Thus, in this global and urban port-city, the first multi-ethnic church was formed.

The church in Antioch was multi-ethnic because it was a community of faith that was composed of more than two different ethnicities, where not one ethnicity held a significant majority. For example, the leadership of the church consisted of one Jew from Jerusalem (Barnabas), another Jew from Tarsus that was also a Roman citizen (Paul), a black African (Simeon who is called Niger), a man from “the capital city of Libya in northern Africa” (Lucius of Cyrene), and the step-brother of Herod Antipas, a Roman tetrarch (Manaen).

Not only was the leadership of the church multi-ethnic, but so was the congregation. And not only was the congregation multi-ethnic, but so was the city.

Obviously, a multi-ethnic church isn’t something that can be realized everywhere, but should they not be much more evident in multi-ethnic metropolitan cities?

(Sources Cited: Ken Shigematsu, Thomas V. Brisco, Michelle Slee, Crutiss Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, Karen Chai Kim)

the 21st century north american church (part 2)

Is the debate between mono-ethnic and multi-ethnic churches merely a twenty-first North American phenomenon, or is there wisdom to glean from the Israelites and the early church?

The Old Testament and Multi-Ethnic Groups
Despite the assumption that God developed a multi-ethnic vision in the New Testament when the risen Christ commanded the apostles to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), God was actually concerned with all cultures from the moment he created the first one!

Even though God chose Abraham and his lineage to be the specific nation to bring about his redemptive plan (Genesis 12:1-3), nowhere does God state that this nation should be exclusive or ethnocentric. This specific nation, later named the Israelites, had always been multi-ethnic in makeup, beginning with the patriarchs. For example, Jacob’s family had “Aramean, Amorite, Canaanite, and Egyptian elements within it.” Also, Moses and many of the other Israelites married non-Israelite women (Moses married a Cushite). Even when studying Jesus’ genealogical history (Matthew 1), one notices that non-Israelites, such as Ruth and Rahab, were incorporated, not only into the nation of Israel, but also specifically into the genealogy of the Messiah.

In addition to being a multi-ethnic nation, one notices that God is deeply concerned for all cultures in the Old Testament, just as much as he is in the New Testament (Psalm 24:1; Isaiah 66:18-19). This multi-ethnic vision in Isaiah 66:18-19 is very reminiscent of the biblical vision in Revelation 7:9-10. Ergo, it is evident that God, as described in the Old Testament, is a multi-ethnic God, and his chosen nation is a multi-ethnic nation

the 21st century north american church (part 1)

When reflecting on the magnificent vision that John had regarding the Church in Revelation 7:9-10, I cannot help but wonder if contemporary twenty-first century North American churches are embracing this future eschatological revelation.

If God gathers individuals “from every nation, tribe, people and language,” (Rev. 7:9) into his Kingdom, then why are mono-ethnic churches increasingly prevalent in a North America that is progressively becoming multi-ethnic?  Why does segregation, violence, and hate amongst people of different ethnicities, races, and cultures exist?  If it is truly the People of God being described in this biblical passage, then why is there not more harmony and reconciliation amongst the People of God here in North America?

Do mono-ethnic churches, perhaps, add to the existing disunity amongst the People of God, or are they merely indifferent to this biblical vision?  Maybe multi-ethnic churches are the answer to fulfilling this biblical vision in twenty-first century North America, but what exactly does a multi-ethnic church look like?