Krish Kandiah’s post on Facebook, “Why is genuine unity for the sake of mission so difficult both locally & nationally?” prompted me to reply “probably because many Christians mistake unity for uniformity”. This misunderstanding has created relational episodes that are not generative. What people argue about might be different but the sentiment is usually the same… “I will only work (relate) with you if you agree with me” (ie, my version of the truth).
Like a broken record, we are stuck in a conversational ‘hex loop’ that probably explains a puzzle described by an Organisation Consultant I know. She observed, “Christian organisations are often characterised by external pride but internal pain”.
In my view, modernism has a lot to do with this. For example, the term ‘exegesis’ is based on the assumption that you can ‘mine and extract’ absolute truth in biblical texts through scientific scholarship. Once you get to a truth, we turn this into a proposition, and invariably get stuck in a dualistic discourse of ‘agree or disagree’, ‘in or out’.
Kish’s question speaks to me about the desperate need for Christians to learn how to express and celebrate diversity in the context of unity. Our propositional approach has inadvertently created a culture where we will only work others, once know that they agree with us.
The modern world is littered with examples of how adversarial forms of communication have led to violence and atrocities.
Indeed, it is still a tradition at the House of Commons that front bench politicians are required to speak from behind a red line drawn on the floor, calculated to keep them at a distance beyond a sword’s length from their opponents. This strange tradition is an example of the underlying adversarial basis of communication in the West.
In his seminal book, God is Rice, Japanese theologian Masao Takenaka likened the Western concept of debating to ‘ya-ya chambara’ – a form of Japanese sword-fencing where combatants say their name, shout “ya-ya” and then proceed to do battle. He noticed that in theology, this is an approach based on deductive metaphysics rather than inductive learning. It is an approach of confrontation rather than mutual sharing.
From a Christian perspective, my great hero, Andrew Walls reminds us that because of the diversity of contexts, mission is always about learning.
Andrew coined the phrase ‘the Ephesian Moment’ to describe the social coming together of people of two cultures (Jewish and Hellenistic believers) into Christianity in the first century, This led to a distinctive new Christian lifestyle that corresponded with their ethnic and cultural differences. For Walls, the Ephesian moment has come again. He wrote:
“Developments over several centuries, reaching a climax in the twentieth, mean that we no longer have two, but innumerable, major cultures in the church. Like the old Jerusalem Christians, Western Christians had long grown used to the idea that they were guardians of a ‘standard’ Christianity; also like them, they find themselves in the presence of new expressions of Christianity and new Christian lifestyles that have developed or are developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to display Christ under the conditions of African, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Latin American life. And most of the world’s Christians are now Africans, Asians or Latin Americans.”
While, Andrew is referring specifically to cultural diversity, I believe that this applies to denominational, gender, age and world-view differences as well.
So back to Krish’s post… a united, genuine mission engagement requires vulnerable learning. In particular, learning how to express, celebrate and embody difference in the context of sharing the good news of the gospel to a fallen world.