Ethical Implications of Contextualization: Part 5/6: Ethics and the Power Dynamics of Contextualization

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The following is Part 5 of a 6 part series:


Power and Information:  Withholding power by withholding information

When a contextualist decides which parts of the message to share and which to omit, a dangerous power dynamic develops. The control over the message can give undue power to the messenger over the one who receives the message. In some forms, contextualization can insult the intelligence of the hearer and deny the work of the Holy Spirit.

In many cases foreign workers isolate the new believer in order to have a “blank slate” to test their theories or out of fear that their followers will be “contaminated” by others with a different view. This exertion of power can have a damaging effect on a young believer. Just as God gives us freedom, we must also allow new believers freedom to explore their faith.

Power and Culture:  Colonialism and Contextualization

In the desire to develop a truly indigenous church an inadvertent neo-colonialism can develop. Colonialism asserted that since the colonial power had a superior culture “the natives must be encouraged to adopt x, y and z practices.” Contextualization runs the risk of repeating this error in a new way: in order to develop an indigenous church we must avoid poisoning the local culture with undue western influences, therefore “the nationals must be encouraged to adopt x, y and z practices.” In both cases the problem is the same. Outsiders, with social, economic, and educational advantages are making decisions in what they believe is the local’s best interest. It’s good to bear in mind that, after the resurrection, Jesus himself did not stay around too long – he let the disciples take over.

We must allow the Holy Spirit to interact with the local believers to direct the expression of the church. All too often the theories, agendas and training of the missionary takes precedence over the leading of God among his people. I have known young people in church plant situations to clash with foreign workers over the music in worship – the young people want to use guitars, the missionaries fear that it will make the church “too western.” In another tragic situation in Lebanon – a church was strangled to death by a zealous contextualist missionary who insisted that everyone must call themselves “Muslim followers of Isa.” Many refused saying “I’ll deny any other name before the name of Christian 1 In another devastating case in Jordan, missionaries pressured a Christian-background man to formally convert to Islam in order to marry a Muslim convert girl who was legally a Muslim (even though there were other options for their marriage) the incident tore the church, and the couple in two, but not before the damage was done.

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Notes:

  1. In Arabic ‘Christian’ can be translated as “one belonging to Christ”
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About Author

Andre Houssney is a Lebanese American with many years of global ministry experience. From an early age he has engaged international students including Muslims. Having lived in Lebanon and Egypt and traveled in over 30 countries, Andre has a wealth of knowledge of cross cultural issues in relation to missions. His studies in Ethnomusicology have prepared him well to help national believers to produce ethnic worship music. Among others, he has worked on projects in Sudan, North Africa, Lebanon and Kosova. For the last 12 years Andre has been on staff with Horizons International with numerous responsibilities not the least of which is teaching in the Engaging Islam seminars in various locations nationally and globally.Andre has a passion to see the missionary movement restored to its biblical roots. Andre is also president of Sambah Naturals, a mother company for Zambian Soap company and Zambeezi organic lip balm http://www.sambahnaturals.com/

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