08 February, 2013

Rich diversity

Some of our OMF colleagues. I can identify about nine
different countries represented here. I have no idea
how many different church backgrounds are represented.
It isn't something we generally talk about.
Theology is not something that I talk about a lot, here or elsewhere. That is, about the various theories that abound about God and our faith as Christians. It has occurred to me today, though, that I'm living in a slightly unusual situation. Most Christians hang out with other Christians who are of the same theological strain as them. That was true of me, mostly, before I became involved in missions. I'd attended Presbyterian churches all my life. I did go to a Lutheran Primary School (Gr.1-7). And hung out at various Scripture Union events (which is interdenominational).  But generally, I fellowshipped with people who had the same sorts of beliefs as me and same "habits" too.

But then I joined a mission organisation that is interdenominational. Mostly OMFers are not charismatic or ecclesiastical and certainly not Catholic; so there is less diversity than in the general Christian population. But for the most part, what theological differences there are are not spoken of in general fellowship. On Monday, it was a little shocking, therefore to hear a short-termer criticise another mission's theology. Especially when I have friends in that mission.

That same short-termer was amazed at OMF's internationalism. It was the first time he, an American, had been in a small group when there were no other American's present. We had a Singaporean couple, a Brazilian, and me, an Australian. Yet the rest of us "old-timers" were not fazed at all. We've grown used to the diversity, of race, but also theology.

Yesterday I participated in a Beth Moore Bible study. It is "driven" by a workbook and DVD sessions by Beth. This one is on Daniel and now she's teaching from the second half of Daniel about end-times events from a pre-millenialist perspective (granted, she's explained the other views also and recommended we learn about them all). That is totally new to me. It is not what I've been taught in my church background. The ladies who attend the Bible study have a variety of beliefs too.

This morning I prayed with some other parents over our school. There are a variety of prayer-habits and theologies there too. The man on my left was "Yes, Jesus" and "Amen" every second phrase. The man on my right was praying some sermons, including some weird theology that I won't even try to explain here. Often we have Japanese-speakers in the prayer meeting and they sometimes pray in their heart-language of Japanese. It ends up being a rich environment of fellowship. We don't argue, we don't agree, we just pray.

So, it is an interesting environment that we function in. It's not unique to mission: I know that when my husband worked in a Christian school in Australia he also experienced a good deal of theological diversity. But when you add in the cultural challenges, as well as the varied cultural backgrounds of those we meet. You have an interesting collection!

I think the general effect is of being more open minded and a little more relaxed about the differences that aren't central to the gospel. But I do know of people who will be shocked about this. I can only think it is a taste of heaven. Yes, in heaven, I believe, we'll all have the same theology, but we'll still bring with us an incredible diversity that we generally don't get to experience here on earth.


David Ferguson said...

Hi Wendy,

Thanks for this. I have just been reading a book on discernment by Luke Timothy Johnson. In it he speaks of the fact that, as we worship God who continues to reveal Godself, we can learn a lot by listening to each other's stories of faith (with discernment, of course).

He also observes that the best way to ensure that we don't hear God through others is to fail to listen.

It is good to hear your story of working, praying and listening for God together.

KarenKTeachCamb said...

Great stuff! I think one of the things I enjoyed most when I was involved with SU was the interdenominational flavour. I was born and raised in a Baptist family, and our family church was Baptist, but I was grateful for broadminded parents who were willing to let my sister and I spread our wings and go to a Uniting Church youth group when there wasn't a suitable one at our own church. Then I also went to an Anglican girls' school and with a year as a boarder, was very thoroughly exposed to and participated in the Anglican style of worship. I thank God for the diversity in my growing up years, as it certainly helped make me more open to where I might worship.

Interesting that it was an American short-termer who chose to criticise another mission's theology. Somehow that didn't surprise me. I've heard comments over the years that Americans tend to think they are right and everyone who dares to think or act differently is wrong, and also that Aussies tend to be more flexible (i.e. we tend to think it's not wrong, it's just different). Now I realise those are huge generalisations, but that's been my experience.

Thanks for opening the can of worms Wendy.

-J said...

At an interdenominational conference recently, I sat next to a woman who serves in an African country with a certain mission board. Turns out, I know another woman in that country with yet a different mission board, and this woman also knows her.

Then she asked my denomination. I answered, but quickly pointed out that while overseas in a harder country, that quickly becomes less important than rather or not one knows the Savior. She immediately understood - and agreed.

That was very refreshing, as I now am in a religious milieu which appears to be very divided (living in a village with 1300 souls and 6 very different churches!).

Georgia said...

I really enjoyed the way OMFers come together to pray in spite of varied backgrounds. I raised a few family eyebrows on my return to the US and expressed a desire to be involved in worship that recognizes God is Holy. Most of what I've seen seems so shallow somehow. Yes, Americans often think they know the answers and can't understand why others can't just be reasonable and see it our way!

PS I counted 10 countries represented in your photo. (Said the know it all American.)

Wendy said...

So glad others are echoing my thoughts. Perhaps many who haven't experienced this might think we're odd? Or even heretical?

Georgia, who am I missing? I see: Singaporean, British, American, Korean, Japanese, Swiss, Australian, German and New Zealanders. Oh, and Canadian! Whoops.

Wendy said...

Yes Karen, a huge generalisation. I could tell you about some Australian Christians who aren't happy with the way we live and worship. Maybe that is why I haven't addressed this topic in a public way like this before!

Ken Rolph said...

Phase is a good old Latin word concerning the regular changing nature of things. It comes from the Latin phases, referring to the changing moon. Originally it comes from Greek phasis meaning appearance.

I think the word you had in mind was faze. A good old word from the Germanic/Scandinavian set which includes blaze, gaze, amaze, maze, dazed, dazzle. You can see the tone of that set or words.

I was once the executive officer of a Christian arts group in Australia. We often had individuals or small groups turn up at events assuming that we were part of their own theological stream. But we were likely to have people from all across the spectrum. Mostly people ended up having productive interchanges, but perhaps that was because they were all artists and therefore already theologically impure.

Wendy said...

Thanks Ken, a creative way to point out a spelling error!

Isn't is interesting the way we assume others must think the same way we do! But if we can get out of that rut and engage with others who think differently, we do actually learn.