Wednesday, February 24, 2016

White and Western. . .

With two words you can dismiss nearly everything that has to do with Christianity. . . at least if you want to.  It is all white and all Western, Eurocentric to the core.  At least that is how a great many of the church's critics (both inside and outside the church) have attempted to tear down the church's history, legacy, and witness.

Of course, there is always truth to every fallacy.  There is truth to this.  The worst of many things in the church has come when Western culture was equated with all that is good, normative, and pure.  But this is a fallacy.  The Mass was formed and shaped not by a Western culture but by the culture of the Middle East.  It surely did transform as it was lived out within the culture of the white West but it did not originate in Germany or in England or in France or even in Italy.

Inculturation often begins with the task of stripping away all that is white and Western in the church to get to some core that is pure ecclesial culture and then allowing this core to be manifest in other cultures and allowing them the same privilege of adapting it all to their own voice, sound, and society.  This inculturation is a mistake and proceeds from a false idea of what the mass is and the role of culture toward the mass and piety of the people of God.

The complaint is often made less by those from the non-white and non-Western cultures than it is by those within it who have become the harshest critics of the church.  No where is this revealed more clearly than the liberal disdain of those in other cultures who have the nerve to disagree with them.  At the very time when these are issuing calls to diversity, the missionary churches that have taken root and now exhibit a vitality the white West has long since forgotten are challenging liberalism by holding up the doctrinal shape and liturgical identity of the church and the moral confidence that flows from them.

I will admit that there is within Christendom a history of equating European culture as the rightful home of the faith and some of the mission impetus has been to export this culture with the faith as if they were inseparable.  But I will also insist that the mission churches who were planted within the last century or two have done a remarkable job of seeing through this smokescreen and identify not only catholic doctrine but catholic practice as being part and parcel of what it means to be Christ's own by baptism and faith.

We do not need a white church or a Black church, a Western church or an Eastern church... what we need is a church true to the faith, steeped in the culture of Scripture, rejoicing in the heritage that has faithfully been passed down to us, and intent upon adding only that which is best and faithful to those who come after us, wherever they might be found.  We need a church that transcends cultures with the Christ who gave Himself for the sake of the whole world.

It is my hope and the hope of many that the erosion of Christian faith and values that has characterize the white West will be challenged by our brothers and sisters in Christ in Africa and in Asia.  When Europe forgets, their children and grandchildren a continent or two away will have to remind them.  When America forgets, we will have to be held accountable by those churches we planted in an era when confidence was ripe and skepticism of the Scriptures and the faith was less universal.

I for one am not so quick to dismiss so much of Christian identity, worship, and confession as white and Western and I am also grateful for the unwavering witness from so many of our pious brothers and sisters in the once mission fields now bearing so much fruit.  If Anglicanism will continue, it will be born on the backs of those who believe in the words of the Scriptures as much as the prayerbook.  If Lutheranism is to continue, it will be born on the backs of those who insist that our Confessions norm what we believe even as Scripture informs that belief (and norms the norm).  All in all, I remain hopeful that the tide of those who love to demonize the church as too white and too Western will be turned as we see how they have employed culture and diversity to strip the faith of its very cross-cultural identity.

1 comment:

Kirk Skeptic said...

The facts that Christianity started as an Afro-Asian religion and, prior to the Mongols, the largest "denomination" was the Assyrian Church of the East has either escaped or been ignored by Niebuhr's "cultured despisers" who, like their patron saint Pilate, never stop asking "what is truth?"