Getting Beyond the Clash of Christianities

The arrival of world Christianity in the second half of the twentieth century has implications that we are yet to begin to comprehend. To borrow the language of Samuel Huntington who talks about the clash of civilizations, my long engagement (as an African) with Western Christianity in Europe and North America has led me to believe that we are actually experiencing a clash of Christianies. Especially in the West where Christianities from different parts of the world have come to exist side by side, it is evident that they do not get along well. As a matter of fact, they rarely mix. To use biblical images, these Christian encounters feel more like the dispersion of Genesis 11 than the gathering of Acts 2. Of course, we invoke Isaiah’s prophecy, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations,” (Isa. 56:7 and Mat. 21:13) and the eschatological images of “a great multitude … of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues,” (Rev. 7:9 or Rev.5:9), but in reality, every Sunday morning, we are moving away from Acts 2 running back towards Genesis 11.

Recently, a friend of mine, Israel Olofinjana, published a book entitled “Turning the Tables on Mission” in which he edited biographical essays of several non-Western missionaries serving in Britain. The book itself is a great read, (Israel has done it again), but the stories are heart-rending accounts of the harsh realities that non-Western Christians face in Western cities. In their own ways, and words, the authors tell of the hurtful experiences of rejection at the hands of fellow Christians who only differ from them by race, geography, and economic status. They all tell of being denied fellowship and community largely because of race, class, and culture.

When Christianities clash like this, it is the enemy of Christ that wins.

To begin to move back to Acts 2, I will suggest that we think about how these three life-practices could be of help:

1. Chase cross-cultural relationships first, and partnerships will follow. Not the other way round. Learning to see God through the eyes of a different Other maybe one of the most enlightening experiences.

2. Trust the Spirit of God to be at work in our cross-cultural relationships. Of course, the Spirit loves diversity (again, Acts 2). I have become convinced that intercultural mutuality is actually a form of spirituality for the culturally sensitive Christians of today.

3. Being hospitable to the different Other. The mission of God usually depends on the hospitality of the receiving community. The missionaries usually come in need of such hospitality. Luke 10 (verse 10) is clear about this. Of course, there has to be room for difference. And we will never be able to resolve all our differences. But still, it is by our loving one another–even with our differences–that we will be able to effectively evangelize the world. In addition, often times God is more interested in the conversation than anything else.

We need to go back to Acts 2. This multicultural world needs a culturally diverse but united missionary movement.

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