As I was reading our evening missionary biography with my kiddos tonight, we uncovered this incredible thought from well know theologian A.W. Tozer. We were reading about a missionary to southern China named RA Jaffary from Canada. Wow, what a man of God. Wow, what a story of persistent faith.
Here is an excerpt:
The religion of Christ i like a light, pure in itself, but modified by the surface that reflects it. It was inevitable that the church in the Western world should have been influenced by our society’s psychology. The sun shining upon a red or green surface will throw back a red or green light’ so historically the church has taken certain peculiarities from the national and ethnic traits of those who have composed it. To be saved, the Lord does not require people to change their common ways – except so far as they may be contrary to simple righteousness – but permits them to live after the accepted customs of their own people.
It would have been well for the church if it has remembered this as it sought to clarify truth across ethnic and culture lines during the last hundreds of year. Too often it has confused pure Christianity with Christianity as modified by a particular culture. Its requirements for a person who desires to become a Christian have frequently followed a narrow and prejudiced conception of what constatiutres a good life within one or another social bracket. Often missionaries have attempted unconsciously to make a new convert good Canadians or Americans, forgetting entirely that the traits marking people as belonging to a particular nation have nothing whatsoever to do with Christ or Salvation. Failure to take this into account has hindered the spread of the gospel in no small degree. The inability of the missionary to accept an alien culture as valid has created barriers to the Christian faith where no such barriers should ever have been erected.
Tozer wrote this well before common place church planting and growth terms such as “Relevant Church” or Authentic Faith” or contextualization where being thrown around in ministry circles. I think that is what drew me to his writing.
Additionally, i love how up-to-date this idea is today. Post-COVID, I think the it will be especially important for the church to deeply study how church is done or has been done compared to the current culture we are working so diligently to reach. As a ministry, it has always been my goal to look at culture not as “Alien” or uncommon, but to celebrate the parts of culture which which uphold righteousness and actively work against the grand faith barrier construction which distracts possible Christ followers from pure christianity.