Weekly Reflections: Incarnational model of doing mission


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”— John 1:1, 14

Mission Month

August is designated as Mission Month. It is a time for us to reflect on the nature of the church as God’s mission in the world. In an age of fast developing globalized culture, native peoples’ way of life are threatened to be dominated and assimilated by the culture of the global community, particularly by those who control the instruments of culture, especially the mass media. Nowadays, the mass media is perhaps one of the strongest, if not the strongest instrument of cultural formation in our contemporary life. Religion used to be the strongest molder of cultural values in ancient times. But time has greatly changed.

In any case, religion, being one among the instruments of culture, is not spared from serving as channel through which the dominant culture tries to subjugate the native culture by alienating native people in Christian communities from their own culture. Hence, you have a funny situation wherein native people converted to Christianity would no longer use their own musical instruments, like gongs, in their own worship services, but instead they use guitars, drums, and synthesizers, and praise and worship songs patterned from the rock music of the sixties and the MTV music in more recent years introduced by Western missionaries. Perhaps, native people thought that these Western music and musical instruments are sacred, while their own are not.

The conflicting point of views among native people converted to Christianity relative to their own culture is a product of two contradictory approaches of mission work: the acculturation approach, and the inculturation approach.

Acculturation vs. Inculturation

On one hand, the acculturation approach happens as missionaries try to gradually replace the culture of native people with their own culture presumed to be Christian, and declaring the native culture as pagan or even satanic. As a result, the native people, who became Christians and embraced the culture of the missionaries, are now alienated from their own culture.

On the other hand, the inculturation approach happens as missionaries try to show great appreciation of the native culture even as the people receive the Christian Gospel into their own way of life. Unlike in acculturation, the chief actors in inculturation are not the missionaries, but rather the people belonging to the native culture in which the Gospel takes shape. Acculturation is the work of the missionaries, while inculturation is the work of the native people themselves. Understandably, missionaries who would like to subjugate and exploit native people using religion would make use of acculturation as an approach of mission work.

Inculturation as Incarnation

Inculturation is God’s own approach of mission work. The Gospel of John says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). God becoming flesh and dwelling among us is what we call incarnation. In other words, the good news of God’s love is shown concretely in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hence, inculturation can be understood as the incarnation of Christian life and message in a particular native culture and through members of that culture, in such a way that Christian experience is expressed in terms of that culture, and it also becomes a source of inspiration, direction and unification, transforming and remaking it so as to bring about a new way of life, the kind of life that Jesus lived.

Inculturation as incarnation of the Gospel primarily means that the Gospel is to have a concrete shape in a culture expressed in worship, social activities, systems and structures of relationship proper to a specific culture. In other words, the Gospel has to take root in a culture, particularly in the Filipino culture.

God in Christ is universal and addressed to all cultures. It is therefore possible and necessary for the Gospel to become incarnate, in many ways, in all cultures.

Hence, missionaries who would like native people to really embrace the Christian way of life and make it their own should make use of inculturation as an approach of mission. In this case, native people would be free to develop their own unique expressions of the Christian faith using their own music, musical instruments, dances, and other cultural forms. Instead of negating their own culture and declaring it evil, native people would rather take their culture seriously and develop it further and thereby making significant contributions to a Christian way of life. And thus, Christianity will truly become a Filipino religion, rather than an American or European religion in the Philippines.# nordis.net


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