What language does He speak? It’s both funny and scary how we caricature a native English speaking God in our own image. Unfortunately it can then be a short step to presenting a God who “looks like us” to others, even when they don’t look, live or talk like us at all.
In the same way many expect the church, his body, to look a certain way, like what we’re used to and familiar with. The awesome truth though, is that every ethnicity can express worship, be community, and reflect the image of God as genuinely and naturally as we can.
Did you know that as far as religions go, this truth is unique to Christianity. For example, the more Islamic a society becomes, the greater the influence and imprint of the culture from which it was birthed – 7th century Arabia and Arabic. Christianity however, is the most translatable faith of them all. The council decisions of Acts 15 set the tone for what was to follow. Following Christ and worshipping him together doesn’t mean that we have to track towards any culture. The variety of Christian communities is astounding, and it continues to widen exponentially.
Think for a moment about the vital process of “church planting.” It’s a funny phrase, isn’t it? How do you plant a building? Ok, so we’re not really that daft, but it does sound kind of odd.
It might help to think of it, not as reproducing our church experience in another place, like the transplanting of a tree, but rather sowing the essence of the gospel as seed. We begin by sowing this seed as widely as possible, sharing and modelling this gospel in word, deed and sign. We then allow the seed to grow in its own cultural context, its soil so to speak. By God’s grace it slowly but surely grows into a gospel plant that has its own unique branches but the same vine.
So mission becomes more a case of sharing the gospel essentials, with as little as possible of our cultural nuances. In this way others can build their own relationship with Him. Then they can share that with friends, and gather a group together who worship Jesus in their language, with their music, in their cultural setting. Cross-cultural mission (and church planting) is about seeing a group of God’s people take shape that’s not at all out of place where it’s found. Local forms and traditions are adjusted or redeemed in the worship of God, and in the life of the believing community. It may be a little uncomfortable to the foreigner, but it’s a “coming home” for the local believer…and that’s really good news!