Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live faithfully...in the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"Christianized" - A word in search of a definition

My studies of Acts 18 and 19, along with a conversation this past Sunday evening, have reminded me of the great tragedy often happens in the church because of our failure to proclaim the "full gospel".  No, I don't mean speaking in tongues; I mean the earth shattering power and priority of Jesus power to reconcile us, not only with God but with each other.  Miss the human reconciliation and the gospel is hardly the gospel at all.   Here's what I'm talking about...

Rwanda's been in my world a fair bit this past year.  This past week, and old friend was in town who has travelled to Rwanda and been the Genocide Memorials.  When I spoke near Boston last winter, I had the privilege of meeting some Rwandan Christians and hearing, first hand, about the genocide that occurred in the mid-nineties.  You can read about those thoughts here, or skip straight to this article that explains some of the situation.  But if you're in a hurry, just consider this quote from the article:  

Of course, the mystery question is this:  Why would the most intense genocide in recorded African history occur in the most "Christianized" nation in Africa?   The answer to the question seems to hinge on the meaning of this verb, "Christianized".  When I was in seminary, back in the 80's, there was a big debate about what it meant to be Christianized.  

At the time, the prevailing definition indicated that someone was "Christianized" if they'd received Christ as their personal savior.  "No", the missions professionals were telling us back then, "that's not enough.  They need to not only know Christ as their savior, they need to share Christ, and be following in the footsteps of Jesus guiding other people to become followers of Christ.  Until that happens, people are "Christianized."  

No, I don't like the word Christianized either  (it sounds like people have had some sort of chemical treatment or medical procedure, like sanitized, or sterilized), but don't miss the point because you don't like the word.  The missions pros said that replication of one's faith was the determinant of faith's reality.  

By that definition Rwanda was a smashing success story - until all the Christians started slaughtering each other.  The genocide memorial in Rwanda includes this church building.  If you want the straight truth, pictorially, you can find that here.  The fact is, families fled into the church thinking that there they'd find safety, but the reality of tribal hatred and loyalties ran deeper than the blood of Christ.  

And therein lies the problem.  When the gospel we preach declares our hope for reconciliation with God, but ignores the explosive truth that God invites, even requires, our testimony of reconciliation with one another, we emasculate the message, stripping it of it's life changing power in the here and now.  It was, many believe, this truncated 1/2 gospel, that explains the "Christian genocide", an oxymoron if ever there was one.  

Let me make this clearer.  It's not enough to get people to accept Christ as their personal savior.  It's not enough to teach them how to get others to accept Christ as their personal savior.  Ultimately, the gospel as about far more - it's about granting us, by virtue of our own transformation, the power to live differently, as instruments of reconciliation rather antagonism; peace rather than war.  This was, and IS, the offense of the gospel, because it demands of us a laying down of human loyalties, and an appropriation of Christ's love, enabling us to love those who we wouldn't otherwise.  Thus are the walls broken down between black and white, slave and free, rich and poor, Tutsi and Hutu - or that's as it should be.  

But when all I have is a 'personal savior', I can keep my nationalism, my lust for power, my resentments, as long as I've prayed the prayer to accept Jesus.  We'd never say it that way, but look at our own history of slavery and racism, look at Germany, look at Rwanda.  What we say doesn't matter.  It's how we live.  

Did you know that if you go to Rwanda today and ask a person which tribe they belong to, Rwandans are forbidden, by law, to answer the question?  "I'm Rwandan" is the answer you'll get.  Yes, what Jesus said is true, "the world puts us to shame sometimes".  (That's my paraphrase of what he said here)

O Lord of Reconciliation... 

Forgive us for reducing the gospel to nothing more than appropriation of your death, while failing to allow the realities of your resurrection life affect our politics, relationships, sexuality, buying habits, and so much more.  Shepherd us, that we might increasingly represent, in all these areas, the fulness of what you came to bring.  And may our understanding of the scope of your salvation continue to grow until the end of our days.  

Amen... 



23 Comments:

At 6/10/09 11:25, Blogger postcall said...

I'm curious as to your view of ethnic-specific ministries. Is the value of having a Black Student Fellowship, Asian-American Student Fellowship, Tutsi Student Fellowship, etc. outweighed by the mistrust that is inherent in such public divisions in the body of Christ?

 
At 7/10/09 09:18, Blogger Jeremy said...

Dahlstrom, thanks for posting this one. It's so tough sometimes to remember that putting anything in Yahweh's place makes us idolators, but that's exactly what we are when we do.

Great message, and incredibly appropriate for my current situation. I'm thinking God put it on your mind :)

 
At 7/10/09 10:01, Blogger Kevin said...

Postcall:
Is the goal of the Kingdom the obliteration of distinction? Why would the very personal aspects which make us unique and which express the unfathomable and incalculable face of God be a source of tension? Does that tension come from the nature of diversity or does it come from our own discomfort? Although the whole of humanity may share in the unity found within the body of Christ, as individual entities or organs of that body we are incapable of discerning the whole. The problem is not that the divisions within the body of Christ can be publicly seen but rather the ongoing conflict and enmity between its constituent members. The problem is not that you and I are different but that we lack the ability to accept the difference of the other without fear of being conquered by it.

 
At 7/10/09 11:55, Blogger Sherry said...

@ Kevin
The problem is not that you and I are different but that we lack the ability to accept the difference of the other without fear of being conquered by it.

Amen, we fear the differences. Therein lies the problem, fear. So much fear that we believers tend to spend our time doing God's job instead of doing God's work.

In my opinion Richard usually has something profound to say that leaves me wanting more. He seems to cross barriers in the faith community and I find that refreshing.

 
At 7/10/09 20:15, Anonymous lois said...

Few other books have made me question my assumptions quite like "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families," by journalist Philip Gourevitch about the Rwandan genocides.

"Christianized" reminds me most of immunized: just enough knowledge and religious trappings to vaccinate us from the real work of the Spirit.

 
At 8/10/09 02:41, Blogger postcall said...

Hi Kevin,

Appreciate your comments. I agree that we should feel comfortable with our God-given differences and not let them be perceived fearfully. But what does Pastor Dahlstrom mean when he talks about the "failure to proclaim the full gospel?" I wonder if Christians who choose to segregate either explicitly or informally by race or ethnicity (aside from pragmatic reasons like language-specific services) are doing just that: proclaiming an incomplete gospel.

I suppose it is possible for segregated Christian communities to be in a larger perfect unity. (as you say, "not be conquered by our differences") But in reality, I think it reflects an unwillingness to reconcile across social divisions. If I were an outsider looking at the Christian landscape, that would be my initial assumption. I would also say that our segregation leaves us far more vulnerable to Rwandan-type disasters than if we insisted on integrating the Christian body.

On a more positive note, I feel that the Church has been a place where gender divisions are explored, but unity in Christ is much better maintained. Some (e.g. Driscoll) may argue that this is because masculinity has given way to a feminized Evangelical Christinaity, but I should stop before I ruffle too many feathers.

 
At 8/10/09 08:54, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you believe a Christian is a person that is justified by faith ALONE in Christ ALONE, then you cannot call Roman Catholics Christians. The Roman Catholic church teaches that a person is not justified by faith ALONE in Christ ALONE, they teach faith plus works. Roman Catholics need to be evangelized.

 
At 8/10/09 09:49, Blogger Kevin said...

Anonymous:
I hope that you are simply misinformed on this matter, because the Roman Catholic Church is most definitely a Christian institution, and those within the Catholic community are our brothers and sisters in Christ. The teachings of the Church are rooted in the belief that faith which does not result in acts of kindness and love towards others is not guided by the Holy Spirit, and vice versa. In fact, it is the practice of most diocese to rotate through teachers who emphasize different aspects of the Christian life, and most Catholic communities fluctuate between seasons of outreach and mission and seasons of introspection and self-awareness. To borrow from some of RD's imagery, this process is somewhat like respiration: a breathing in of spiritual self-reflection and developing the Kingdom within the community of the individual, a breathing out the of fruits of the Kingdom to the surrounding community.

 
At 8/10/09 11:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin -
Those who are justified are saved and salvation is a free gift (Rom. 6:23), something we cannot earn (Eph. 2:1-10). However, Roman Catholic doctrine denies justification by faith alone and says:

•"If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema" (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
•"If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema." (Canon 14).

 
At 8/10/09 12:41, Blogger Kevin said...

Anonymous:
Well quoted but taken vastly out of context. The various Ecumenical Councils of Church tradition are only one method by which the Church derives its theology; the other three are scripture, reason, and experience, known in the protestant tradition as the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral". Moreover, Church theology is ever developing, and the five-centuries-old opinions of the Church are one part of the tapestry of Catholic thought but not the kernel. During the nineteenth-century, alone, the teaching of the Church jumped leaps and bounds in its understanding of humanity's place in the world.

What is at stake for you in this?

 
At 9/10/09 10:11, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin - The true Gospel describes what God has done through Jesus Christ to save sinners, while the gospel of Rome describes what man must do for God. Paul defines the Gospel according to Scripture alone (1 Cor. 15:1-4). The glorious Gospel of grace is what one perfect man did 2000 years ago to reconcile sinful man to God. It has nothing to do with what any imperfect man has done since, or is doing now. This eliminates all the requirements Roman Catholics have added to the finished work of Jesus Christ. It also eliminates Catholic priests making daily sin offerings on their altars.

 
At 9/10/09 11:00, Blogger Kevin said...

Anonymous:
You give a perfectly adequate summation of the doctrine of propitiation and atonement, but you still seem to misunderstand the particular faith expressions of the Church. For instance, there is no communal practice of daily sin offerings, only the daily observance by many priests of the Eucharistic sacrament, a symbol given by Christ to serve as remembrance and celebration of His sacrifice for the Kingdom of God. There have been no requirements added to the work which Christ did for the Kingdom, but as a community the Church observes many sacred rites and rituals which were developed and which have served to make manifest the Kingdom in the two-thousand years since Christ's work was finished. Although the act of salvation cannot be performed by the human individual alone, each person must freely choose to be saved and that specific act is the very thing which the Church has been working so ardently to facilitate (and continues to do so on every continent for over one billion people). You may not understand the various forms of these rituals or the specific functions which they perform, but such things cannot be understood from the outside. In order to understand the particular manifestation of the Kingdom which is the Roman Catholic Church, one has to be willing to be woven into their story, become acquainted with the characters and places which they hold sacred.

Again, I ask, what is at stake for you? You seem determined to sow the very same seeds of division which have so fractured Christ's church and led us to our current scandal of disunity.

 
At 9/10/09 15:41, Anonymous GG said...

People who believe in Christ as the son of God are Christians.

It is beyond insulting, and rather sophomoric to get into a discussion of who is right, righter, or rightest(did I mean righteous?)

Ultimately, we are all talking about man's fallible interpretations of God's word.

Non-denominational Christian(which has become a denomination by the way), Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, right-wing, left-wing...it might mean a lot to some, but in my opinion it alienates, segregates, and misses the entire point of Jesus' work.

No wonder I appreciate it all from such a distance.

 
At 9/10/09 16:03, Anonymous Wambi Red Antelope said...

i see the debate in your meaning Pastor. Thank you for your thoughts and the debate continues...It is an interesting ? for someone who is trying to follow the Spirit of Jesus, where do i turn too ?
Your Native brother,
Michael

 
At 10/10/09 00:24, Blogger Gerfried said...

"Christianized" or as I would put it educated as a christian or christian socialized is a strong issue we are facing all over the world. If you look in to the evangelical churches you have it in the second generations you have it in North America.

As far as I am concerned we find it in every denomination and it is not so much about in which one we are but in what has happened in our lives.
No faih without works (James) no justification through works (Eph.) So we clearly see that we need to be born form above (John 3). By this I mean that God in His grace needs to give us a new mind that a God hater becomes a God lover and I know that only He can transform. We have the tendency to call people christians, when this newbirth has never happened and it we struggle than with the outcome.

It is a warning to us all that God has no grandchildren, He has only children (John 1,12). And that is the way we need to communicate the Gospel. Be blessed. (Greetings from Austria)

 
At 10/10/09 05:47, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin - which truth should Evangelicals and Roman Catholics be united on? The "truth" that justification involves more than faith alone or the Truth that one is justified by faith alone (sola fide)? The "truth" that church tradition and the Magisterium have authority over Scripture or the Truth that Scripture stands as the final authority (sola scriptura)? The "truth" that salvation involves infant baptism, the Eucharist, and other works or the Truth that one is saved by grace alone (sola gratio)?
----------------------------
You ask what is at stake, people's eternal souls are at stake. If you add to the gospel (which Roman Catholic doctrine does) then it is no gospel at all (read Galatians).

 
At 10/10/09 06:08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard - do you really think these professing Christians in this country are Christians? This is what Jesus has to say:

"But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say? Luke 6:46
-----------------------------
These "professing" Christians need to be evangelized, they are not Christians. They need to hear the real gospel, not Romes's gospel or not the watered down Evangelical "say a prayer" gospel.

And the problem is not just in this African county, it is right here in America. There are goats in the church, and this is due to preachers telling people to say a sinner's prayer and pronounce them saved. But yet there is no permanent change in their life that they have been born again, that they are a new creature in Christ.

 
At 10/10/09 10:39, Blogger Kevin said...

Anonymous:
The truth by which we are united is that Truth which cannot be contained within any Ecclesial tradition, which cannot be contained even within the pages of scripture, and that truth which flows through all of humanity by the power of the Spirit, that truth which is God. We are united in the truth that we are all children of God, that we are all estranged from the ground of our being, and that we all long to be reunited with that from which we have been irrevocably separated. Whether we approve of or even understand this reality, we are bound by it. Is the Kingdom of God so small and frail that it cannot accommodate or tolerate those with experiences and traditions which vary from ours?

 
At 10/10/09 18:01, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin - a song just for you...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E47YH4i5dQ8

 
At 11/10/09 09:23, Blogger Jonathan said...

Lots of thoughts on this one... The one that comes to the forefront of my mind, however, is this: That Rwanda is also currently poised to be a poignant voice into ethnic conflicts around the world because of the way in which the culture and people have embraced the need for reconciliation and true healing... Many of the roots of the previous "Christianization" also stemmed not from missional theology that brings transformative reconciliation but from colonialist aspirations that bred power grabbing....
But, the good news lies in the many people and organizations who are committed to seeing that true reconciliation occurs. None better than this organization that is building schools and has developed a wholistic curriculum / teacher training program that focuses on reconciliation within Rwanda.... Check out the website for "The Wellspring Foundation:" www.thewellspringfoundation.com....The founders are two guys from Trinity Western in Vancouver who both grew up in East Africa. So, there is a significant local connection to this foundation as well!
Praise to the Lord who brings "beauty from ashes, hope from fear, strength from despair...."

 
At 12/10/09 10:05, Blogger Nelle said...

Pastor, Thanks for this article as it is a great reminder of how hard it actually is to be Christian. Something we must get up everyday and do again . . . Wanted to let you know that I have a friend who runs a nonprofit "Rwanda Partners" here in Seattle that centers on helping the people of Rwand reconcile. It is one of the most powerful stories I have ever heard told. If you ever want more information please let me know.
Cheers!

 
At 14/10/09 09:46, Blogger stanwoodabby said...

I was in Burundi this summer (just south of Rwanda, same genocide in the 90s) and have been mulling for months on this issue of the Christianness coexisting with killing one's neighbors. While there, I found serious spiritual hunger. Every time we preached, whatever we preached, the "altars"--huge mats on the floor--were overflowing. I thought maybe this was just the orphan group we were at camp with, then preached in a church and the same thing happened. I can't figure it out. These were kids who go to church. Though one girl told me that in her church, people look down on you if you are humble and repentant before God. What gospel did we bring?? Can't wait to go back. Thank you, Pastor Richard, for posting this.

 
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