Recently, while discussing a situation in a Christian Bible College in India with an acquaintance, trying to solicit my understanding and sympathy, he remarked, “We are both foreigners and we understand each other”. No doubt that is true but after 41 years in India, understanding a situation and agreeing with the solution is a different thing.
At our church in Nagpur, The New Hope Church, one of the teens, in absence of the keyboard player, grabs the keyboard – which he cannot play, to accompany the pastor who is sometimes off-key when he sings. Add to that a group of boys who sing out of harmony you have quite a concoction of sound. It bothers nobody but me. I finally convinced myself that if everybody enjoys it, and enjoy they do, I must be wrong. Also, after all I go to church to praise God and not stew about the atonal noise emanating from the sound system – even if it sometimes gives me a headache. Being deaf on one ear and having only 80% hearing on the other ear of course helps. In the past I used to rage in my heart over the table cloth on the communion table that was always askew. I would sometimes get up and straighten it out. Once Bapu plainly told me, “This is our church not your church”. This means if it doesn’t bother us why should it bother you? A good question. I needed that reminder! Now, the table cloth during communion is straight, the curtain in front of the backdoor on the platform is closed – just to please me not because it makes any difference to them. These are but a few of the things that bothered me and I must confess – some still do. But as Bapu rightly observed, “This is our church not yours.”
In dealing with another culture we should remember it is not our prejudices but theirs that count. It certainly would solve a lot of problems.
The Church professes to have but one Head – the Lord Jesus Christ; one authoritative voice – His voice. The old hymns states: “We are not divided all one body we…” To any observer this seems wishful thinking; the instructions issuing forth from one head to its various members does not give contradictory orders. Yet, we are divided. Where are we going wrong?
The Gospel speaks only one language!
Looking at Christ’s commandments, the life of the church should be super-simplistic;
The first one: “…and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 (NASB)
The second one is: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19 (NIV)
The problem comes in when we insist that others should fulfil these commandments our way. They should love God and men our way; they should disciple people our way. Who says? They not only bring the seed (gospel) but also a bag of cultural soil to plant it in.
Rupert Brooke epitomizes this in his poem The Soldier.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
“a richer dust concealed” says it all. My culture is superior to yours. The way I arrange the chairs is superior to the way you arrange them ad nauseam. My way of loving God is superior to your way; my way of making disciples of all nations is superior to your way; now get with it.
Admittedly this does not only apply to foreign missionaries but also to some missionaries from within our country – south versus north.
And so, when we move with the seed, the gospel, to another country, another culture, leave the soil at home. Let us remember, the soil you will find is qualified to nourish the seed, to produce it 100 fold yield.