Why Contextualize? (Part 4) We need the whole Church

For those of you who may be just joining us, what I’m doing here – broadly speaking – is attempting to write just a whole bunch of stuff on contextualization generally and the practice of contextualization among Hindus in particular.  And, I’m trying to begin by laying down a number of theological foundations in answer to the question, “Why should we pursue contextualization in mission?”  Today, I want to provide a fourth and (for now[i]) final foundation to consider.  I encourage you to take some time to consider all four of these foundations together (see links on the right) so that you can get a real sense of the cumulative weight of Scripture on this topic.

4. Our Need of the Whole Community of Christ

Here’s what we’ve already established:

·         We want to be like Jesus.
·         We want to reach all people groups.
·         We want to please God.

And we’ve seen how these desires are inextricably tied to the pursuit of contextualization.  That is, the imitation of Christ necessitates an imitation of His incarnation; the Bible believes that contextualization is necessary for reaching the lost; and God is pleased with the long term preservation of at least certain elements of the unique glory and splendor of each and every nation.

But as we study the Scripture, we note that these three desires cannot be attained nor even meaningfully pursued in isolation
from the whole body of Christ.  The word of God teaches that without cooperating “together with all the saints” we cannot attain to “all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19[ii]).  Likewise that if we want the “world to know” about Jesus Christ we must become “perfectly one” (John 17:20-23).  Finally, that pleasing God isn’t possible apart from a unified church.  For that is where God commands his blessing (Ps. 133).

So, I submit to you that we followers of Christ need each other.  We need the whole Church.  I cannot imitate Christ without you.  The U.S. Church cannot reach the world without the Nigerian Church.  Asian Christians cannot please God without European Christians.  And I submit further, that without a sincere and global pursuit of contextualization, that kind of partnering and joining together cannot happen—the whole Church cannot be truly whole.

 I say this with 1 Corinthians 12 and a broader-than-typical view of contextualization in mind.  Regarding the latter, I am convinced that when the pursuit of contextualization is motivated solely by evangelism, it is somewhat less than authentic.  We can be justly accused of precipitating a kind of “bait and switch” when we lure in unsuspecting men and women by a contextualized evangelistic message or event only to impose conformity to Western, “established” forms of discipleship and “doing church” once someone has professed faith.  Contextualization, however, is even more for followers of Christ than for those who don’t know Him.  Note that only one of the three previously mentioned Biblical foundations for contextualization is focused on sharing the gospel with non-Christians.  If one could hypothetically conceive of a cultural context that was 100% Christian, pursuing contextualization would still be every bit as critical as it would be for that small band of Christ-followers living in a place where the vast majority of people don’t know Jesus.  Disciples of Jesus must pursue the incarnation in their unique contexts.  The must seek to preserve and enhance those particular deposits of glory and splendor, that God has already made and continues to make in them, with which He desires to be praised and reflected now and even into eternity.  The Word made Flesh must be realized by the people of Christ in every generation, nation, culture, and village—and that for the sake of the whole Church becoming whole.

And so I come to 1 Corinthians 12, a very familiar passage that I hardly need to say much about.  We are the body of Christ.  And each of us – Mokilese, Garung, Rajbansi, Beja, Punjabi, Korean—are a part of it.  And we need each other.  And if I try to make feet conform to the function and method and appearance of noses, I am essentially saying to the rest of the body, “I don’t really need you, I just need more of me.”  Contextualization says feet can be feet and noses can be noses – and, indeed, should be.  Contextualization says, the body of Christ is whole when each part is fully what God intends it to be and is that in relationship with all the other parts.  We must recognize that if that doesn’t happen, we’re in trouble.  As Paul poignantly asks, “If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (1 Cor. 12:19)

[i] Note: I’ve got another theological foundation brewing in my mind and heart – a foundation-o-foundations—that I will share some time later.  It just needs to steep more in my heart.  But I think, it ends up being the foundation upon which all these foundations are ultimately built.

[ii] See also my article on this particular scripture passage entitled “The Theological Impetus for Global Partnership”.

1 comment:

  1. I think this idea from 1 Corinthians 12 of the mutual building up of the body of Christ is a point that is often missed by many Christians in debates about contextualization. Believers from different cultural backgrounds are going to have something to say to me about God and the Gospel that I would otherwise miss. We do need each other so that we can attain to “all the fullness of God." Thanks for posting your thoughts!
    August 2, 2010 @ 7:58 PM