The fifth core ability of All Nations church planters (see previous posts for previous core abilities) is honor other cultures.
Although we believe that Jesus is the only way to a right relationship with our Heavenly Father, we also believe that God loves each cultural expression of worship to Him. We believe that He does not want us to look the same and that our diversity actually brings delight to his heart.
We want to treat cultures with honor and dignity. We feel it’s a holy obligation before the Lord to try our best to figure out how to honor both Jesus and each culture. But, once again, this is not at all an easy task. Many aspects of church that westerners consider normal are not at all Biblically required and may even be obscuring some aspects of Jesus life that other cultures understand better.
For example, English itself is an easy example of language causing confusion in Biblical interpretation. Many times in the New Testament, the second person plural is used, which would mean “you all as a group.” Unfortunately, in our English language, we do not have a separate term for one “you” and “you all as a group,” so we just have to use “you.” In reality, this means that English speakers often interpret group passages as individualistic passages. And, since we are an individualistic culture anyway, that seems fine to us.
Although Christians often joke about which language we will speak in heaven (with the inevitable result that it’s always the native speaker of whomever is speaking), it seems much more likely to me that culture will exist forever. In Revelation 5:9, when every tribe, language, people and nation are purchased by the lamb, there is no indication that those markers disappear when those people groups enter eternity. Likewise, Revelation 21:24 and 26 talk about the glory that the nations themselves have. In fact, the same word (doxa, from which we get doxology) is used for the glory of the nations and the glory of God.
The trick is that cultures, like the people who create them, have aspects that are fallen. All cultures have aspects that are good reflections of the kingdom, some poor reflections of the kingdom, and some parts that are outright sin. Sometimes, knowing which is which is difficult. Originally, many African cultures were told to not use drums because of their strong association with witchcraft. However, some of the exact same drums are now often used in North American church meetings with no overtones of witchcraft at all. After all, a drum is just a drum. It’s the user that determines if its put to the service of God or not.
In our training, we teach our church planters to hold off on deciding what is sin and to not detect sin around every corner. I am dismayed when people enter into another culture with the underlying assumption that it is evil because it is Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim while they have no feeling of evil within their own secular culture. I have been in many situations in which people on short term teams detected an evil that I did not. They detected it because they were expecting it. In reality, evil resides everywhere and sometimes is strong in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim world and sometimes is weak. Sometimes, if we can just stay calm and observe, we can actually find some quite wonderful things in culture that point to Jesus. But, if we reject everything out of hand immediately, then we will miss the beauty in the culture that Jesus sees and has put there.
And so, we teach our church planters to not make decisions about the culture by themselves. We encourage them to dialogue with locals and local believers and let them make the final decisions. At seminaries, people call this process developing local theologies, which all recognize as a necessary stage to local church growth. To us, we do it because we care about church growth, but we care more about growing disciples while honoring Jesus. And, so we honor culture because we honor Jesus.
Other blog posts in the Core Abilities series:
Pam spent ten years in Central Asia as a church planter and Bible translator working among a previously unengaged people group. Along with others, she was able to help lead people to Jesus and train them to lead their own churches. The local believers have, in turn, shared Jesus with others and also raised up other leaders. Pam’s heart is to train and send church planters to share Jesus with other unreached people groups: those who would never have any chance in their lives to hear about Him. To this end, she trains and coaches disciples who make disciples based on simple Biblical and research-based best practices. Pam is part of the Global Support Team and is also a member of the International Leadership Team.