Summary: Enhancing Cross-Cultural Evangelism With the Use of Spirit Led Ceremonies
ENHANCING CROSS-CULTURAL EVANGELISM WITH CEREMONIES
Introduction - In a cross-cultural evangelism class one of the students shared an interesting case study of how a deficient understanding of the importance of ceremonies hindered the spread of the gospel in Kaduna State, Nigeria. In Dumi village a missionary from the Evangelical Missionary Society struggled to start a church using traditional methods. Each time the missionary thought he was making headway, several of his converts would desert to other churches, cults, or societies that offered more excitement.
What the missionary could not understand was why were his converts attracted to these others churches and not his own. His personal evangelistic methods were evidently working as he had led over 50 people to Christ in the village, but he could not seem to form them into a congregation. Finally, someone asked the missionary a question. "What do you do with your converts after they have prayed to receive Christ as their Savior?" The missionary thought for a moment and said, "I teach them more of the scriptures, their responsibilities to do good and to avoid evil." Not content to leave it at that the experienced Pastor pressed the missionary further by asking him, "Do you have any public recognition and corporate social activities that can reinforce, validate, and sanction what has happened to your converts inwardly?" Then the missionary replied, "Since I am not licensed to perform baptisms, weddings, or funerals, I feel that it would be usurping the authority that I have been given, so I just have to wait until a licensed Pastor comes to perform such ceremonies!"
Africans enjoy a sense of community togetherness as it allows for an expression of social solidarity in identity, purpose, and unity of faith. Unlike many of the western missionary who were fiercely independent, the African converts wanted channels whereby they could freely testify to the goodness of God in a public forum. A subtle resistance to this public validation process still lurks in the philosophies of many western trained missionaries. Perhaps the roots to this reactionary sentiment goes back to the days of the reformation.
When the reformers began their movement they wanted to get away from any "Catholic Ceremonialism and Rituals". In their eagerness to simplify the worship of God and put emphasis on worshipping God in "spirit and truth", they forgot the importance of contextualizing the Christian message in forms that all cultures could own as that which resembled socially approved behavior.
Africans like to publicly support triumphs, births, weddings, and occasions that concern the community. Something that affects individuals invariably touches the extended family, clan, or neighbors in Africa. People consider living in isolation of public interaction as suspicious for the most part in Africa. To be alone is to be anti-social which means overt and covert rejection of societal values in most parts of Africa. Perhaps this could be the reason for the importance placed on verses like Phil. 2:2 which says, "Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit... Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." The source of Christian unity may be Christ, but Africans want to validate that in the presence of many witnesses!
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SALVATION CEREMONIES
Salvation to most Africans involves being transferred from a state of danger and vulnerability to one’s enemies into the protection of one with greater powers. Therefore it makes sense to celebrate this publicly with the company of fellow believers. The African Traditional Religious concepts of salvation vary a great deal but it usually involved overcoming a conflict with ones’ enemies and gaining a victory. Yet, even though we are able to teach the vicarious victory over sin, death, and judgment through faith in Christ in our churches, many people continue to look for outward realities - why? Could it have something to do with the fact that many Africans still see themselves in a state of continual peril. They view life as a struggle with the forces of evil and good. While one lives in this state, one is subject to threats of subversion from many directions. Struggles in life are never ceasing until one gains sufficient inward and outward power to overcome lesser influences.
Africans view of realities is such that a struggling man is always aware of deficiencies that need overcoming with greater forces. Celebrations of victories won do not only give one a reminder of the victories in Christ, but they provide him with a public event of what has transpired in the secret sanctuary of one’s heart.
The great desire for an increase in power is usually gotten through social approvals. It is for this reason that the desire to gain and hold respect is so vital to the elderly of Africa. Without this sense of deferential esteem afforded them in public ceremonies, they somehow feel cheated of what is rightfully theirs. Every year at our seminary’s graduation, we have to spend at least two hours giving honor, respect, and public acclaim to the visiting dignitaries. To my Western mind, this seems similar to what Jesus spoke about with the Pharisees that they love the public praises of men. However, in Africa, the public acknowledgements of one’s importance is deemed mere courtesy to whom it is due. A certain year we anticipated spending N18,000 on the food and materials in order to properly honor those chiefs, traditional rulers, and public officials who need the public respect to socially sanction their powers. Perhaps, this is partially what lies behind the great success in launching ceremonies.