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Thursday, September 09, 2004

It's about time!

Over at Messy's there is this talk among some of the commenters currently about the "Asian Church." Messy herself was wondering about the notion of a Malaysian expression of the Emergent Church called "Emergent Malaysia" a movement that is tentatively spear-headed by Sivin Kit, Messy's pastor. Some of the commenters have responded by asking for more information about the Asian Church.

First, let me say it's about time Malaysian churches, and for that matter, national churches in other parts of Asia, Africa and other non-Western countries take their calling seriously as salt and light in their parts of the world. For too long, they have imported the Western man's seasonings, and used what my mom used to call "foreign lanterns" to shine in their little corners. My mom also used to described those foreign lanterns as things that are effective for throwing light to places far off, but ineffective for doing its work for places close by, but that is another story, probably more appropriate for another post.

About twenty years ago, while in college I had one of my articles published in the college newspaper. In the article I imagined that a third world national church was writing an open letter to a Mission Board in the USA. I imagined the home church leaders pleading with the mission board to stop sending the missionaries because these missionaries brought a Western Gospel that is more "Western" than Gospel. They transplanted the quarrels such as those between Luther and Calvin to foreign soils, brought along Western hymnals, idiosyncracies, and traditions. They were reluctant to help the nationals to forge a local identity of what it means to be a Christian in their local cultural context, mistakenly assuming that the way to "do church" is the way they and their forefathers have done for so many years.

There were immediate outcry and uproar on the campus after the publication of the article. You will remember from my earlier post that this was a conservative evangelical Christian liberal arts college. Some accused me of having only read older missionary texts, and not considered modern works where supposedly more enlightened contemporary missionary initiatives and thinking were surfacing. Yet others thought I was calling for a watered-down syncretized Gospel. Unfortunately very few understood the intent of my words. They were borne not out of reading or thinking alone, but out of real life experiences. So, it is gratifying for me to see that the church, at least in Malaysia, is now rising up to its challenge to re-define what it means to be Christ-followers in their local context. And, I think, in some sense, that is what the Emergent church is about as well. It seeks to re-define the meaning of being Christ-followers in the light of our modern contemporary context, and to proclaim the unchanging message of the gospel and the claims of Christ to a changing, fluid society whose values, priorities, attention span, passions, philosophies and purpose are constantly under review, redefinition and reconstruction. It is good to see that finally Christ's followers are beginning to see the importance to reflect what it means to be an authentic citizen of contemporary society following Christ in an authentic way, with an authentic, culturally sensitive expression of that faith so that it is not only attractive to peers, but also so that the follower of Christ finds authenticity in his or her own journey with God.

| 3 pre-Haloscan comments:

Really great post! You're right on the money about how we use Western man's "seasonings", how we do things their way on our culture, and think that somehow it could work. I like your mom's quote about foreign lanterns ...

It's a little sad about the reaction from the people in your college though. I wonder why they reacted the way they did?

By Blogger Messy Christian, at 5:09:00 AM

Hi MC,

Thanks for your kind comments. On reflection, I guess I shouldn't have been too harsh on my alma mater. There were pockets of support from various groups. The editor of the student paper defended my right to free speech, and I enjoyed being one of its contributing journalists in its pages for a while, writing both feature articles and interviews. There were also other students who shared my views, including a sizeable group of the "MK's" (Missionary Kids), members of the Evangelicals for Social Action and others who leaned slightly left of center! :) A number of professors actually sought me out to shake my hands and thank me for my views (although I don't know what that really meant!) One actually asked me to send my articles to the Intervarsity Magazine! Feeling giddy with such compliments, I sent away one of my "better" articles, but the editor of HIS sent back a reply saying they could really not publish such "types of articles", and asked me instead to write a feel-good story about my first Christmas in America as a foreign student. I felt the full brunt of such condescending patronization that I chuck that letter in the trash and never tried to write for any other evangelical publication! Sigh! Such is the hasty reaction of hot-headed impulsive youth!


By Blogger thebloke, at 9:31:00 AM

Hi there, I'm not too sure about the "spear-heading" part. I started with just wanting to invite a handful of like-minded people for some tea and coffee and my house :-)

Seriously, thanks for the affirmation ... in fact, much has been done (more is still on the way) probably at the more academic/seminary level. My former theology teacher Dr. Hwa Yung is consummed with the passion for Malaysian and Asian churches to rise up to the challenge. You can google his name "Hwa Yung" and/or search for "Asia" or "Asian" on my site... I think there are some links here and there.

and I'm always very cautious about the "transplanting quarrels" bit (and hope the recent critique on Emergent by renown NT scholar D.A. Carson won't import another one). having said that, I've been "knocked" more than once knowing even this is a reality we live with here in Malaysia and Asia.

By Blogger Sivin Kit, at 6:08:00 PM

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