The other day I wrote a long blog post in Japanese. I haven’t posted it yet; I have a feeling it might offend people. That isn’t why I haven’t posted it, though—I want to make sure I offend the right people to just the right degree: not too much, of course, but not too little either. Here I want to work through the philosophical underpinnings of that post—why I wrote it and what I’m thinking about it, and why I think it’s worth offending people over. Read more about Counter-contextualization: Keeping our saltiness
I walked past a cult church today. Well, OK, “cult” is a subjective labelling. I walked past a sect today. I was out with Caitlin wandering through an area of town that was new to me, and came across a sign on a building proclaiming “Jesus Christ!” Once again, I wondered what I was doing here as a church planter - Japan already has a local church and there are a reasonable number in my area - until I realised that the church was one that I had been warned against by a local pastor here.
How do you tell when a church becomes a sect? The obvious answer is in its teachings, and yeah, this one in particular is pretty off the wall, but in general it’s not so easy to say; there’s a huge diversity within Christian teaching and the boundaries are fuzzy. It’s easy enough to use proof texts from the Bible to pull down other Christians and call them nasty names, but I can’t help thinking that isn’t what the Bible is for.
But there is an easier way to tell. A sect is sectarian; it’s a church that has decided that it already has as much of the truth as it needs, and that it need not learn from any other Christians. We’ve got the Bible, we’ve got the Holy Spirit - we don’t need anything else. It’s a misunderstanding of that same Bible which always talks about greeting one another, teaching one another, learning from one another, having mutual concern for one another, encouraging one another and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, but there you go. That’s what a sect does: it rejects the gift of one another that God has given us. So because it thinks it doesn’t need to learn from other Christians, it closes itself off, to the point at which it simply doesn’t have the opportunity to learn from any other Christians, and so will never know when it’s becoming idiosyncratic or heretical. In that sense, ecumenism is a mark of the Church. Churches that don’t work with other churches are sects.
I suppose the logical conclusion of this is that an awful lot of Evangelical denominations are sects. Hmm. Read more about We ghettoize ourselves
Our mission agency is currently trying to convince us all that we need to write job descriptions for ourselves. I’m not sure what I think of this idea. I don’t feel particularly warm to it, but I don’t know if that’s just because I’m a typical gen-Xer* who prefers having freedom to being nailed down and put into a box, or because I’m against bureaucracy in general, or because I’m against managerial missiology in all its forms and I’m throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Maybe a bit of all of the above. On the other hand, I am in favour of missionaries being self-evaluative, and thinking about whether what they’re actually doing relates to what they think they should be doing.
But there’s another reason to be in favour of job descriptions for missionaries: it helps to remind us that there’s no such thing as a typical missionary. Yeah, it’s something that we say: “I’m a missionary.” But it’s like saying “I’m an office worker.” It doesn’t communicate at all what you do. There are missionaries who are Bible translators, and some who are pastors, and some who are preachers, and some who are musicians, and some who are IT consultants, and some who are development workers, and some who do disaster relief, and get this, there are some who are not pastors or preachers or church workers in any sense, and yet they still get lumped in with this general category of “missionary”, which makes people think that they are church workers.
There are some senses in which “missionary” is a useful word, but on the whole I am starting to wonder if we’re better off without it. Read more about What is a "missionary"?
Suppose you heard this:
The UK is a white country. It is easier for those of other races to be here when Britain has confidence in its white identity.
How would you feel? How would you feel if you weren’t white? Would that make things “easier” for you? Or would it make you feel like you were a (possibly unwelcome) guest in a country that isn’t yours and doesn’t really value you. Read more about Christian countries
I get really incensed when people call Japan a “difficult” or a “slow” country. It really isn’t the Japanese people’s fault that they aren’t buying what we’re selling. It may be that we’re not selling it all that well. Gilbert Arland’s quote seems relevant:
When an archer misses the mark, he turns and looks for the fault within himself. Failure to hit the bull’s eye is never the fault of the target. To improve your aim, improve yourself.
But at the same time I will admit the equally prevalent saying that Japan is a “missionary’s graveyard”. Things just don’t happen very quickly here, or at least as quickly as we would like. It wears us down. Perhaps that just speaks about our impatience. I don’t know. What is interesting to me, though, is how different missionaries deal with this. Read more about Working the Graveyard Shift
When I went to Bible college, we were taught about a variety of theological viewpoints, with the implication that you would pick the one you liked the look of, since, you know, we’re all Protestants and so there’s nobody to tell you which one you should choose. (Although we will happily treat you like a heretic if you choose the wrong one.) And in terms of learning to work in multi-denominational teams and whatnot, that was all very useful to help us understand each other and, hopefully, not treat each other too much like heretics.
But we were also taught about contextualization and about presenting the Gospel in ways that make the most sense to the recipient, and so now when I come back to this idea of choosing which theological camp you belong to, I can’t help thinking, “Do I only get to choose one?” Read more about Can we be theological chameleons?
A funny thing happened last week. One of the communities that we’re part of here, a deaf signing group, went on an outing. The plan was to visit a deaf school, walk from there down the hill through a temple to view the autumn leaves, and catch the bus home from the bottom of the hill. Because of having Caitlin with us, we came by car, which messed everyone up. (Rule one of Japan: Don’t be different.) So the group leader, being a good Japanese leader and so knowing that the most important thing is to keep the group together, did something very clever. Read more about A sign that divides