Church, Culture, Context and Change
by Rob Weingartner
Much of my thinking about the church and God’s mission was shaped by the vision and example of the late Harold Kurtz who, after 27 years of mission service in Ethiopia and a pastorate in Oregon, accepted the invitation to become the director of Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship.
It was a great joy, not long after I came to The Outreach Foundation, to travel with Harold to India and to see him moving wisely and humbly across barriers of culture and custom. Later, after the trip, I would read this from a slim volume that Harold wrote entitled Mission Matters: “I believe firmly that there can be no true theology produced in one culture, one race, one sex, one nation. Our reformers went astray in their arrogance about the quality of their own culture. We deceive ourselves when we think we can do true theology while remaining in our own cultural environment.”
Harold had discovered what the Sri Lankan evangelist and church leader D. T. Niles framed this way: “The gospel is never safe in any culture unless there is a witness from beyond that culture.”
I am learning that I am safer in the faith and a surer follower of Christ when I am in relationship with Christian brothers and sisters from other cultures and contexts. Often by their example and their understanding of God’s Word, and sometimes by their reproof, they help me to discern how I have confused the gospel with my own culture. There is a lot about being a wealthy, white Westerner that can get mixed up in matters of faith and reduce the true meaning of the gospel.
One of the amazing things about the gospel is that it can be expressed through every culture; that reflects the gospel’s incarnational message and character. But at the same time the gospel stands in critique of every culture, including our own, and compels change. We all can bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. We all also need – always need – to receive that witness from others.
These realities are a part the reason that The Outreach Foundation takes so many groups out into the world, connecting Christians here with the church in the world in order to form relationships that strengthen the churches’ faith and witness. Perhaps you’d like to travel with us. Check our website to see where we are headed. As a friend says, “The first life that you change may be your own.”