A few years ago – before I really started studying the church from the perspective of the New Testament – my family went to Nicaragua with some friends on a mission trip. When we got to Nicaragua, almost everything was new and different because we were in a new and different culture.
But, when we “went to church,” it was like we were back in the southern part of the United States of America – except the language, of course. Even then, I noticed the stark difference between the culture and the church.
In many nations we have been to, the church resembles any traditional church in the West. The buildings look the same, the people dress in Western clothes for services; they sing translations of Western hymns or songs. Pictures of Jesus portray him as Anglo. The people love God with all their hearts, but Christianity is known as a foreign religion by those outside the church because it looks so different–so Western.
The history of missions shows much insensitivity to local culture. Missionaries, with the best of intentions, confused Christianity and Western culture. They are not one and the same.
The Good News of Jesus transcends culture; it can be contextualized within any culture.
In many places, the damage is done. With great intentions, the gospel was planted along with a Western church culture (the good, the bad, and the ugly of that Western church culture).
But, today, wherever we are, how do we ensure that when we proclaim the gospel we are not also proclaiming our own church culture, whether that is a more institutional church culture or a more organic church culture? (And, you do have a church culture…)