Becoming an intercultural church does not happen by accident or by wishful thinking.
It takes a lifetime to create space in which everyone can gather and be welcomed, celebrated, integrated and reconciled to God and one another.
This new humanity is neither European nor African, Mennonite nor Pentecostal, tradition-bound nor law-observant, but a redeemed community that transcends all ethnic, cultural and traditional differences.
What makes it possible to create such a new interethnic, intercultural humanity?
It is possible only when our cultural values, preferences and even our identities are ready to be bent, though not broken; only when we let the work of Christ regulate our ethnic pride, combatting ethnocentrism and cultural superiority and elitism; only when commitment to Christ supersedes other rankings, loyalties and beliefs; and only when the person and work of Christ become the anchor for a congregation’s primary identity.
In order to succeed in becoming an intercultural church where all are welcome, any cultural and ethnic identity should be pliable. In anthropology, this is called “situational ethnicity.”
Remember Paul’s versatility in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” His words do not speak of a compulsion to be like others but of freedom from his cultural preferences and values.
There is no permanently fixed cultural and ethnic identity in Christ. It is no longer we who live, but it is Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:19-20). We are now Christians whose lives are transformed, governed and directed only by Christ, not by any specific culture.
If you are rigid in preserving your own cultural and ethnic identities, values and traditions, and your ethnic and cultural pride is too strong to be negotiable, you will have difficulty creating an intercultural church.
An intercultural church is a place that challenges us to leave the comfort zones of our separate traditions and find a creative third way, fiercely and humbly, in which all nations and tribes are welcomed, respected and empowered.
Therefore, becoming an intercultural church is a new wine–new wineskins movement—a movement that is counter-cultural, counter-traditional and counter-ethnocentric.
It asks us to renew our minds and hearts, which are comfortable with the status quo of the institutionalized church, and retrieve and resume the zeal for evangelism and reconciling mission displayed by early churches.
It further challenges us to participate in God’s ongoing ministry of peace and reconciliation for the world.
This movement cannot succeed by patching small bits and pieces from an old wineskin.
Unless we are transformed by the spirit of reformation, unless we hold on to an unshakable vision to fulfil God’s mandate regarding the unity and reconciliation of all nations, and unless we persistently pursue this vision at all costs, pursuing an intercultural church will be nothing more than a daydream.
Only visionaries, only those whose spirit is curious, venturesome and undaunted can achieve this eschatological vision that is prophesied by John of Patmos in Revelation 7:9-10: “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, [was] standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
Then and there, peace will finally prevail.
Dear Mennonite Church:
Where are we, and who are we? Are we a church in which visionaries, risk-takers and innovators are welcomed, embraced and encouraged?
Who in the church dares to make this grandiose, reconciling and redeeming vision come true right here and now? Who can keep this banner flying?
Our journey is not finished. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” let us “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Let’s move forward, friends, lifting up our voices! The Lord is near.
This is the final instalment of “Riding the Waves of Intercultural Church.” Thank you to all readers, near and far, who have journeyed with me this far.
Joon Park serves as intentional interim co-pastor at Holyrood Mennonite Church in Edmonton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.