Beginning The Dialogue On Church And Culture
Bert Waggoner is the National Director and President of Vineyard USA
"Culturally relevant mission"- that is one of five core values that identifies who the Vineyard is and where or how we are investing our time, energy, and money.
This core value seems rather simple and non-threatening. What could be so difficult and significant about this "being culturally relevant" as we go about the mission of Christ?
While pondering this question, I pulled a number of books from my library shelf. There was J. H. Wright's masterful and comprehensive study, The Mission of God and David Bosch's Transforming Mission. You don't read far into these missiological masterpieces before you realize that "mission" is not simple, nor is it a fuzzy teddy bear. You also realize that mission is not limited to what we do overseas. The church everywhere is in a missionary context. Mission is a concept that defines the very essence of the church and what she is to do in the world.
Then you pick up books like Culture Matters, edited by Lawrence Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington or the final classic work on the church and culture from the perspective of Christendom, Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr, and a number of books written from a post-Christendom perspective which question the position taken by Niebuhr such as Craig Carters, Rethinking Christ and Culture or D.A. Carson's, Christ and Culture Revisited and you begin to see that the issue of how the church relates to and communicates with culture is much more challenging than it appears at first glance.
Add to this the plethora of books on youth culture, cross-cultural communication, ethnic diversity, sub cultures etc. and you begin to get a feel for how large the issue of the church, mission and culture really is. Recently I read, Technology and Religion by Noreen Herzfield. As I read I realized that technology was a product of our culture that is changing the way we live, yet I had not read anything on this aspect of how technology relates to our mission and being culturally relevant in that mission. This very helpful book raised a lot of questions for me to ponder.
These questions along with a host of others need to be asked and answered as the Vineyard considers the issue of cultural relevance in mission. Some questions that come readily to mind are:
1. What is "mission" in a post-Christendom world?
2. What is included in "mission?"
3. How does the church relate to the multiplicity of cultures in an age of diversity?
4. How does the church keep from being pushed into the mold of a culture that contradicts its message?
5. How can the church be relevant in its message and still be salt and light in a spoiled and dark world?
6. How do we keep from throwing away the proverbial baby of the Christian faith while dispersing of the bath water of Christendom?
7. What is "Christian culture" and is it a culture that transcends all local culture? How much of this culture is the last vestiges of Christendom?
All of this leads me to say that the statement of this core value, "the Vineyard is committed to a culturally relevant mission," is just the beginning of a vital and long dialogue that may well be the main issue that determines whether we are going to be a small sect of backwater, irrelevant churches or a community of churches that really do make a difference in the world. We have just begun to address the vital questions that this core value pushes to the forefront of our life and discussion.
In this issue Michael Palandro from the Houston Vineyard begins the discussion by addressing the need for churches to become multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. Homero Garcia, one of our emerging Latino leaders from Chicago, then turns the light on the exploding Hispanic presence in the US and how the Vineyard must engage the challenge and the opportunities that this presents to the church. Finally, David Workman of the Cincinnati Vineyard, a church that has always been a leader in the issue of relevance in mission, gives a clear call to cultural relevance in the mission of the local church and a challenge to live in the tensions of cultural relevance with biblical faithfulness. You might also want to read an article I wrote for an upcoming issue of Cutting Edge which should be out in late August or early September.
I hope you enjoy these brief introductory articles that are the opening salvos of a long term discussion on the subject that may well be the single most important dialog in determining whether the Vineyard will be relevant in its mission in the twenty-first century and an effective instrument of God's reign in the world.