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!