Guest post: Why we need each other

5 04 2013

One of my good friends in this intercultural journey, and one I have leaned a lot from, is Ken Baker, who served for 25 or so years in West Africa planting churches, and now serves in the USA with Culture ConneXions.  Out of a retreat of the Ethnic America Network, and discussion group carried on an email exchange dialoging whether multi-ethnic churches are mandated by Jesus and the Scriptures, or are recommended. In this post, Ken argues (if I may summarize) that if we really believe we need each other in the body of Christ, then we will not consider it normative nor acceptable to fellowship in isolation over the long term. This is, in my opinion, a brilliant summation of why we truly need each other in the body of Christ. Here’s Ken….

“I believe the best starting point is to focus upon shaping our understanding of ‘kingdom character’ and its implications. The foundation of ‘kingdom character’ is “love one another.” This is a restoration narrative as the body of Christ lives into the character which God intended for humanity from the outset…joining a restoration of all things which culminates in God’s stated goal to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Eph 1:10) In Christ, we are not only new creatures, but also a new type of humanity. (Eph 2:15) We are not the same as we once were. We have a new identity, a new role. Just as Christ is the 2nd/last Adam, the realization of what a human was to be, we, in and through Christ’s body, collectively, represent true human community as it was intended to be. What does it mean, then, to “love one another?” Are there any limitations to this mandate? Any who are not included? What is the rationale for not pursuing relationship with each other in Christ? (too hard, impractical, wastes time, too idealistic, we prefer not to, etc.—deep down, we know these are not sufficient responses) The bottom line is that our prayed that we would be one, that we would be together. Thus, unless we are continually moving toward each other, then we are falling short of that which God intended for us. But, why? The whole point of the metaphor of the body is to emphasize how much we need each other…not just our functions as edifying contributions, but our personness as well. All that we each embody (personality, ethnicity, culture, age, gifting, history, joys, sufferings, etc.) is part of this contribution; and each culture has the contributive role as well, for the edification of the entire body. In my observation and experience, this is the fundamental disconnect—realizing and embracing the biblical reality that we need each other, that we are incomplete without each other. This disconnect is driven by human nature. We don’t naturally believe that we need those who are unlike us (however we would define this). The progressive among us can be curious, appreciating the mosaic of diversity, kind, welcoming, polite and accommodating of difference…but still not believe that we need what people from other cultures (ethnicities, generations, gender, economic status, etc.) can contribute. It is why ‘inclusion’ is not enough… the new humanity in Christ is about kenosis, (Gk., for emptying) ourselves, submitting one to another, confessing our sins one to another… that is, living in full mutuality—the image of the Father, Son and Spirit. Given this reality, what are the implications? How is this new type of humanity in Christ supposed to live in this diverse, fractured, antagonistic, selfishly sinful, lost-without-Christ world? In such a way that “all men will know” that we are his disciples, that “the world will know” that Jesus is from God… that’s all. We are to be living out a divine, restoration narrative to the glory of God. What do this look like? Perhaps it is better to ask, what does it feel like? I would propose this… when there is no longer a “them,” just an “us.” …when we can gaze upon our co-followers of Christ, and all our humankind ‘neighbors’, as our Lord does, gushing with compassion, love and humility, saying, “what do you want me to do for you?” We are on a journey to understand and apply that which God has revealed and entrusted to us. We are sinful and imperfect, thus, our models are flawed and compromised, but we press on. I fully realize that much of what I have shared is rather ethereal. But, I defend it as a way of clarifying biblical outcomes. If our understanding of outcome is incomplete, by default, the process will also be incomplete. We tend to be limited by what we believe to be possible. Since most of us, if not all, have issued from Christian churches and contexts that were (are?) primarily homogenous, we often do not have a track record of experience which provides an alternative perspective of what is possible. An example: when we first went to Niger as church planters we had already had twelve years of church planting on two other fields in W. Africa. In our experience, we had enjoyed good, edifying relationships between mission and church. However, upon arrival in Niger, we discovered that relations between church and mission were chronically strained and tense. Hence, discussions among the missionaries were negative and generally hopeless as far as the church was concerned. The vast majority of these colleagues had never lived and worked on any other field, so their experience was shading their conception of what was possible… What if intercultural mutuality was the normative experience of every believer? How would the Christian landscape be different? Such has been my experience… of the five churches that I have had the privilege to see born, in five different cultural contexts, each one has been a diverse community of multiple tribal identities coming together in Christ. For me, this became normal. I didn’t start out that way… I had to learn it. They taught me. They lived it. Were they perfect pictures of grace and harmony? No, but they were trying to navigate this new humanity in a hostile environment. (Three of these churches were in Islamic contexts.) I am trying to communicate in the North American context what I have seen and experienced here, in Europe and in Africa…


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