If you are a student learning early Anabaptist spirituality, Leonhard Schiemer’s treatise, Three Kinds of Grace Found in the Scriptures cannot be missed. In his short writing, he displays the profundity of the Anabaptist way of salvation which brings a transformative and comprehensive effect on new converts.
“The first grace is the general light that comes from the Father to every human being through the law,” writes Schiemer in Malcolm Yarnell’s Anabaptist Spirituality. “The second grace is the righteousness that comes through the cross of the Son of God. The third grace is the joy that sustains the disciple as he or she carries the cross of suffering. The ‘oil of joy’ is the Holy Spirit who anoints the church in the name of the Son from the Father.”
If there were three kinds of grace in the formation of early Anabaptist spirituality in the 16th century, there are also three kinds of contextualized, contemporary grace in the formation of the intercultural church in the 21st century. They come as a gift, not a barrier, from God for us to enter God’s reconciling mission in the world.
Grace No. 1: Unfamiliarity
No one is born to naturally adopt a new culture without bias or friction. It is not strange to respond allergically to the unfamiliarity of others; all humans by nature are ethnocentric and xenophobic. As noted by researchers James Neuliep and James McCroskey, when we interact with people from different cultures, the following sentiments can surface, either consciously or unconsciously: “I dislike interacting with people from different cultures.” “I am tense and nervous while interacting with people from different cultures.” “My thoughts become confused and jumbled when interacting with people from different cultures.”
Biblical perspective: Faith is a journey to the unknown, the unfamiliar. “No one has ever seen God,” writes John. Human history would not have unfolded if Adam and Eve had refused to leave familiar Paradise. Many ancestors of faith in the Old Testament—Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David—followed the journey to cross a threshold into the realm of the unknown. Even more profound in the New Testament is God’s act of becoming human, something totally unfamiliar.
Grace No. 2. Uncertainty
Once people courageously cross the threshold of unfamiliarity, they run into the ambushed booby trap of uncertainties that affect the way they think and behave, now that no one can fully predict, explain or understand the other’s behaviour.
All relationships accompany some degree of uncertainty, but when people interact with people from other cultures, the level of uncertainty heightens. Here we have two options: avoid or accept.
Culturally, westerners have lower tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. They gravitate toward the establishment of formal and predictable rules and structures. This tendency of avoiding uncertainty begets an unfortunate myth: “What is different is dangerous!”
Biblical perspective: Where there is uncertainty, God is there. We call this Mystery. If our God is one who wants us to grow, he will test us whether we put limits on our future and stifle our potential by resisting to embark on a journey of uncertainty. Therefore, the goal of our life in faith is not to crave certainty and abide in the cradle of it, but to learn how to live under, and with, uncertainty, believing what Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face” (I Corinthians 13:12).
Grace No. 3. Fear
Once uncertainty overwhelms our level of predictability, fear assails. Fear is a strong and natural biological response associated with real or anticipated interaction with people from different cultures. Fear puts people on high alert so they can prevent real danger and “mindfully” care for what will happen. (Consider how Maria would respond to the appearance of God’s angel Gabriel from out of nowhere.)
Biblical perspective: While the Bible consistently warns us not to be anxious of the things that might or might not happen—“Banish anxiety from your mind” (Ecclesiastes 11:10)—fear is often a precursor to the revelation and reception of God’s word or presence. “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Thus, fear in the Christian heart is not something to avoid, but to embrace, because it signals that God’s revelation is at hand.
Joon Park is intentional interim co-paster of Holyrood Mennonite Church in Edmonton.