A lot of events have happened this week back home – which oddly enough – has gotten me thinking about the role of culture in the church.
The church, as we see and hear it Sunday to Sunday, through and through is Euro-Western in structure and processes. It has become it’s own little enclave of the Modern Western mind-set adding to it’s own ‘church culture’ what it see’s fit from society around it – and this usually comes from the Eurocentric world-view. In essence, these churches conform to society – not vice-versa – and they are quite picky about which ‘society/culture’ they pick from.
I am guessing (from Acts and Paul’s Epistles) this whole thing started off Jewish – in writings, teachings, structure, leadership, and processes. There was a gradual trade off when Paul started to take this faith to other cultures and communities – and things started to change from a Jewish focus to one of all cultures are included (or equal) – new leadership abounds, new writings, new structures, new processes, and new teachings. Actually the early church is a great study in this ‘battle’ for the integrity of the faith and the rigid lines laid down.
What seems to have happened is the solidifying of certain cultures into the actual structure of the church – we see this first in Constantine’s Roman inclusion of Christianity but is later made ‘petra’ by Orthodoxy/Catholic schism in the 1000’s, the reformation branches from Europe, and denominational off-shoots from that tradition in the 1800’s and 1900’s. Fact is, if we look at this with integrity – the church resembles nothing of Acts 2 and has lost real connection back to it’s Jewish roots (even Jesus Christ is not Hebrew/Aramaic but Greek).
But that bothers me a little – what bothers me now is my culture (First Nations in Canada) – is deemed by overwhelming ignorance in current church culture as ‘pagan’. There is nothing Aboriginal (or Indian/Metis) about the churches we have in Canada and America – yet those are the founding peoples of this land. As much as we like to believe there is no ‘church culture’ – that is purely not true – it is a mix of European cultures (founding these denominations) and Western societial values. It is this same ‘church culture’ that seeks to change the Indigenous one’s around it – actually – to destroy them through a process of assimilation (losing one culture for another one) – and this is more than documented globally.
The church these days only takes from Western – European societal values whenever they seek change – it’s never another culture – like the Asian, Indigenous, or African communities – even when some of those ideas are mind-boggingly brilliant. Or why don’t they let these communities re-define what symbology should be used in the actual presentation/services of their faith – since in times past this was ‘outlawed’ (but we know better now – cultural diversity and respect and all).
My example will be First Nations – since that is what I am (or Indian as we were first called). We have ‘feasts’ – which work as a commemoration of the dead person or rememberance (could easily double for communion). For prayers being offered up like ‘incense’ – my people ‘smudge’ with sweetgrass and other herbs – and we pretend to wash in the smoke – which then goes up to heaven – and we are cleansed (could double as a teaching on repentance). We have sharing/talking circles where each and every person is given a chance to speak – and this could help build community and listening/sharing (could be used as a bible study technique). We also have traditional dances and drum songs – which are all about a certain theme – and this could be used as an aspect of the worship service (cause we all love to dance).
But I think you see what I am saying now. My culture cannot be alone with great symbology/ideas to add to the convo – we live in a culturally diverse world with lots of good God-given cultures – and none of them are bad – what’s bad is the narrow view the church has held towards them. Question these things in your church – I mean – even a lot of European cultures have some great stuff – who doesn’t like a good Irish tune?