Monday, June 04, 2007

"The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History"

The following is an excerpt from pages 78-79 of Andrew F. Walls' book The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History. The chapter is examining "The Ephesian Moment," when Christian history was at a cross-roads, and we witness the establishment of the first "multi-cultural" church in history. This reading of Paul's letter to the Ephesians is remarkably relevant for us today.

The understanding of Christ -- knowing the "full stature" -- thus arises from the coming together of the fragmented understandings that occur within the diverse culture-specific segments of humanity where he becomes known. When Ephesians was written, there were only two major cultures represented in the Christian church, the Jewish (reflecting a spectrum of attitudes and accommodation to Greek thought) and the Hellenistic. They could easily have formed two separate churches, but that thought does not occur to the author. Two races and two cultures historically separated by the meal table now met at table to share the knowledge of Christ.

The Ephesian moment - the social coming together of people of two cultures to experience Christ - was quite brief. Circumstances - the destruction of the Jewish state in 70 C.E., the scattering of the Jewish church, the sheer success of the mission to the Gentiles -- soon made the church monocultural again; and in the eastern Mediterranean the Christian movement became as overwhelmingly Hellenistic as once it had been overwhelmingly Jewish.

But in our own day the Ephesian moment has come again, and come in a richer mode than has ever happened since the first century. 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.

There are two dangers. One lies in an instinctive desire to protect our own version of Christian faith, or even to seek to establish it as the standard, normative one. the other, and perhaps the more seductive in the present condition of Western Christianity, is the postmodern option: to decide that each of the expressions and versions is equally valid and uathentic, and that we are therefore each at liberty to enjoy our own in isolation from all the others.

Neither of these approaches is the Ephesian way. The Ephesian metaphors of the temple and of the body show each of the culture-specific segments as necessary to the body but as incomplete in itself. Only in Christ does completion, fullness dwell. And Christ's completion, as we have seen, comes from all humanity, from the translation fo the life of Jesus into the lifeways of all the world's cultures and subcultures through history. None of us can reach Christ's completeness on our own. We need each other's vision to correct, enlarge, and focus our own; only together are we complete in Christ.

1 comment:

Deb said...

Excellent post.