Discernment in Cross-Cultural Ministry

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This paper on discernment by Rev. Bert Adema of the CRC’s Indigenous Christian Fellowship (formerly IMCF) in Regina was presented to attendees of the CRC’s Cross-cultural Ministry Forum, held in Edmonton, Alberta in 2000. The resource considers cross-cultural ministry and the difference between syncretism and contextualization, recommends elements of a process of communal discernment of these questions, and includes the ICF’s position on smudging. To read the full report of the Cross-Cultural Ministry Forum, click here.

Proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the nations of the world is the church’s faithful response to the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20). From the beginning that mission has been challenged by cross-cultural issues. On Pentecost Sunday, it was the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit that empowered the apostles to speak and be understood in different languages. With due respect to the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit, we need to note that all of the peoples present on Pentecost Sunday, despite their linguistic differences were from the mid-eastern world with shared cultural values and world and life views.

As evangelists traveled out from the Mediterranean world they encountered greater and greater differences in languages, cultural values, practices, and world and life views. To the Pentecost Sunday challenge of faithfully proclaiming the gospel in multiple languages was added the difficulty of bringing the gospel message alive to people with vastly different cultural heritages. Where that has been done well, the gospel message has been contextualized; where that has been done poorly, the gospel message has been syncretized. Simply put, the process of discernment provides the difference between faithful contextualization and syncretism.

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