Categories
Observations

We Are All Exceptional

It is far too easy for churches in the UK to subconsciously set themselves to transmit with regard to the rest of the world. We see ourselves as teachers, trainers and contributors, but we rarely think in terms of receiving.

The thing about us Brits is that we love to talk about the weather, we are obsessed by it.

This is the sort of thing that you can hear in conversation on any day in the United Kingdom. We have this view of ourselves that our concern about the weather is something special, something that sets us apart from the rest of the world. The problem is, it simply isn’t true. In my experience, most people around the world talk about the weather a lot of the time – even in places where the weather is much more predictable than it is on these islands. Take the United States, if anything, they talk about the weather more than we do. Mind you, they get weather that is worth talking about.

The thing is, all nations or groups of people like to think that they are special, that they are different to others and they will pick up on things that emphasise this. The problem is that the things that they highlight are often (like the British obsession with the weather) not unique to them at all.

Across the world, nations have far more in common than we have that separates us. We all have a need for food, warmth and shelter, we want the best for our kids and (generally) we identify closely with the group to which we belong. The ways in which these things work themselves out vary from place to place, but deep down, we are all pretty similar.

That isn’t to say that nations and people groups don’t vary. There are huge cultural differences. The world would be very boring if we were all the same, but those differences tend to be on the surface level. The thing is, we rarely look below the surface to see our common humanity. Human beings exhibit a massive amount of variety, while fundamentally all being the same.

Problems start to arise when a particular political or ethnic group starts to think that they are exceptional, that they are special and that in comparison, others are less special than they are. The thing is, we are all special – either that or none of us are special, you can view it either way. No one nation or ethnic group is superior to another. Yes, one nation might be in a period of economic ascendancy, but that won’t last (look at the Roman or British Empires) and other places make better coffee, or cook better noodles, but so what?

In the Bible, the only nation that is accorded a special status is the Jewish people, the Old Testament people of God. However, it is made abundantly clear, especially by the prophets, that this status has everything to do with God’s grace and nothing whatsoever to do with any particular virtue on Israel’s behalf. In the New Testament, people from all different nations and ethnic groups are grafted into God’s people. The church is multinational and multiethnic. The political nations of the world are the backdrop against which God’s purposes in the world are being worked out, but they are not the focus, the global church is.

So, why am I waffling on like this? Partly, because I’m frustrated at living in a world where nations are competing for top dog status. My pontificating won’t change anything, but airing my frustrations might be good for my blood pressure. More importantly, I believe that the church needs to think through these issues quite seriously with relationship to mission.

Just as a nation can think that it is special or superior to others, so Christians within a nation can think the same sort of thing about themselves with regard to the rest of the world church. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that Britain is in some way special because of our Christian history and our great heritage of Bible teaching – I’ve probably said similar things myself. But is this any more true than the idea that Britain is special because we once had an Empire? We assume that because of our heritage, we have an automatic role (responsibility or right?) to teach Christians in other parts of the world.

The thing is, our great heritage is not really relevant. If we are to serve the world, what matters is our discipleship today. It doesn’t matter if we have shelves of puritan commentaries or hours of amazing sermons on podcasts. To be honest, it doesn’t even matter if we have read the commentaries and listened to the podcasts; what matters is that we are walking with Jesus. Yes, there is a place for study and the background that we have in the UK does make that easier. However, having an extensive library and a long evangelical heritage doesn’t automatically equip you to teach other people.

It is far too easy for churches in the UK to subconsciously set themselves to transmit with regard to the rest of the world. We see ourselves as teachers, trainers and contributors, but we rarely think in terms of receiving (or if we do think of receiving, it is from the US, where people are like us). We do have a contribution to make to God’s work around the world, but we also have to learn to receive. We have much to learn from believers in other parts of the world, who are living out their faith in different circumstances. Pastors in Africa who are seeing incredible church growth have something to teach us, as do believers who are living under persecution while remaining faithful. OK, they may not have their theological “i’s” crossed and their “t’s” dotted in the same way that our bookshelves do, but we can still learn – if we are humble enough.

It is far too easy for churches in the UK to subconsciously set themselves to transmit with regard to the rest of the world. We see ourselves as teachers, trainers and contributors, but we rarely think in terms of receiving Click To Tweet

When did you last read a book or listen to a talk by someone from outside of Europe or North America? When did someone with a different skin colour and a different first language last preach in your church? If we are serious about world mission, we will ask questions like these just as much as we will ask about how we can send people.

When did you last read a book or listen to a talk by someone from outside of Europe or North America? When did someone with a different skin colour and a different first language last preach in your church? Click To Tweet

I’ll stop waffling now.

1 reply on “We Are All Exceptional”

Thanks, Eddie. Reminds me of this quote:
“. . . if the Jews may not monopolize biblical salvation history, how much more should Western Christianity not be allowed to do so! But with their long Christian heritage, Western churches have tended to see non-Western churches as mere extensions of themselves. But what unites non-Western to Western churches should not be the former’s wholesale acceptance of Western forms of Christianity. Rather it ought to be ‘their acceptance along with the churches of the West of the entire stream of Judeo-Christian history—even as they retain their own cultural history. This process is crucial for the discovery of African, Asian, or Latin American Christian identity.'”
from Yung, Hwa. Mangoes or Bananas?: The Quest for an Authentic Asian Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014, 160–161, quoting Samuel and Sugden 1987, 135.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.