As a longtime friend and partner of North American Christians, what have you noticed about us?This interview with the Rt. Rev. Dr. David Zac Niringiye, assistant bishop of Kampala in the Church of Uganda is an eye-opener, and a string reminder that Western Christianity is not necessarily where the Church is thriving.
One of the gravest threats to the North American church is the deception of power—the deception of being at the center. Those at the center tend to think, "The future belongs to us. We are the shapers of tomorrow. The process of gospel transmission, the process of mission—all of it is on our terms, because we are powerful, because we are established. We have a track record of success, after all."
Yet recently the Lord led me to an amazing passage, the encounter between Jesus and Nathaniel in John 1. Nathaniel has decided Jesus is a non-entity. Jesus comes from Nazareth, after all.
Nathaniel's skepticism comes from being in power, being at the center. Those at the center decide that anyone not with us is—not against us—[but] just irrelevant. "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" It doesn't warrant our time. But the Messiah is from Nazareth.
In the early 1970s I recal hearing about missionaries from Third World countries coming to the United States to serve us. My reaction then was one of astonishment followed by condescension -- like seeing a child try to take on the mannerisms of an adult.
By the late 1980s and 1990s, I had grown sufficiently to be highly embarrassed when an Anglican prelate from one of the developed countries responded to an action of the 1998 Lambeth Conference (led mainly by Third World bishops) by saying that these were children in the faith, and that when their faith matured they would be more in line with their European and American counterparts. The particular issue, by-the-way, is still threatening schism in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
One particularly interesting part of this interview is the Rt. Rev. Dr. David Zac Niringiye's shifting of emphasis from the "Great Commission" (go into the world...) to the "Great Invitation" (come, follow me...).
Christianity is growing at its margins, and that may explain a lot about why the Church seems to stagnate where it has been established for a long time. It also is caution that what are now the margins may eventually become the stagnant center. Here is where the "Great Invitation" needs to be heard again and responded to -- and we can be thankful to our fellow Christians at the margins for calling us to follow Christ.
Technorati tags: Religion, Christianity, mission