Sunday Gospel - Christian unity and inculturation in the Gambian context
Friday, January 25, 2008
BY: FR EDU GOMEZ BA, BD, M.TH CONVENOR OF INTER-FAITH / INTER-CHURCH OF GAMBIA CHRISTIAN COUNCIL
To the Blessed Trinity One God, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the perfect source of unity of all Christians be praise, glory and thanksgiving. I dedicate this article to all Christians in The Gambia on the occasion of the Christian Unity Week of Prayer 2008.
DEFINITION OF TERMS : Our definition of terms relates to both the terms Christian Unity and Inculturation.
CHRISTIAN UNITY : The presumption here is that the various denominations are to come together as one. I believe that to understand the term we need to take on board what the term is not than what it is. By this, the presupposition is that Christianity was founded as a united religion and to some extent this unity has been threatened by certain rifts and splits over the centuries.
In a very simple survey last Sunday, I asked the congregation that I assist in Banjul whether they felt that Christians are united. To everyone's hearing, a majority of the congregation answered in the negative that Christians are not united. In fact someone remarked that the very fact that there exists a week of prayer for Christian unity explains that Christians are not united and so they pray for unity among themselves.
Over the centuries, the rift that existed in the middle ages and brought about the separation of the Church between East and West expressed the division that first existed. During the sixteenth century the aftermath of the reformation brought about greater division among Christians.
Even in later years when the Christian message was brought to mission lands in Africa, there existed untold conflicts, polemics and factionalisms. Missionaries brought a gospel of denominationalism than that of Jesus Christ. Methodist, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics were all involved to spread their denominations instead of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. The second Vatican Council decree on Ecumenism highlighted this division:
"Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but they differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ himself were divided"
To put it rightly Christian Unity means the process through which Christians become aware of the rifts and splits that exists in the Church founded by Jesus Christ as man made and also being willing to seek fruitful ways of coming together once again.
This involves accepting the highest exemplar and source of unity in the Blessed Trinity, having Jesus Christ as our foundation, the word made flesh and the Holy Spirit as the principle of Church Unity.
b)INCULTURATION: Inculturation is a new term in Christian theology and has become an important theological symbol of our age. It originated from the context of a third world - Southern America in particular.
As the term is yet new and is open to a lot of developments and later thought, it is yet not given a standard definition.
Our attempt here then helps us to view two aspects in which inculturation can be understood. Inculturation can be viewed as a model - ie. an objective reality with the focus on what it looks like. It can also be viewed as a method - ie. a process of interpretation with the focus on how the reality comes to be.
For the good of our trend of thought, we want to view inculturation as a method. Here it is a process of interpreting the Christian life and faith from within the perspective of a particular culture and the people's social and historical life experiences in such a way that Christian values are made to animate the people's way of life.
It involves mutual interaction and influence between culture and Christianity whereby the culture is transformed in the process and Christianity is reinterpreted in the light of a new culture and historical life experience.
There are three things that characterize this process. First is the use of the resources of culture in question in interpreting the Christian faith. Second is that the good news of Jesus Christ is made to challenge culture. Third is that all this is done from within the perspective of the culture and through the agency of insiders in culture.
II.BIBLICAL BASIS FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY
The fundamental basis of Christian Unity is expressed in the Bible since Christians are a monotheistic people who share the Judaic tradition as a people of God, "Qahal Yahweh" (Heb). We know from Gen. 17:1-14 that all the descendants of Abraham were one united they all belong to God. In Isa. 62:12, Ezek. 73:16-28 and Jer. 31:31-34, these Old Testament prophets continually reiterated the theme of one people belonging to God.
In the New Testament, Jesus established one discipleship as well. In John 10:14-16 and 11:52, Jesus the good shepherd guides not many flocks but one flock which does not run away from him. Again too he is the shepherd who cared for the lost sheep in order to bring it back to the remaining ninety-nine (Lk. 15:3-6) or (Mtt. 18:12-14). Also, we know of John 17:11, 20 & 23 where Jesus' focus was on prayers for his disciples that they may be one as he and the Father are one.
Christians who are God's people and disciples of Jesus in this modern era have the challenge of the word of God to judge themselves. History has shown that Christians have been tested over the period and they failed and that is the reason for the fragmented Church of Jesus Christ today. The efforts taken in many ecumenical ventures like the Second Vatican Council and WCC should be fostered and revisited in our present age.
III.BIBLICAL BASIS FOR INCULTURATION
Inculturation as described earlier ultimately goes back to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He is the word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom and called apostles and disciples to continue that work after his own death and resurrection. "Go therefore make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mtt. 28:19). The Church had for two thousand years tried to carry out this mandate.
As a model for incarnation, Jesus Christ became incarnated in one particular time and place. Even there he spoke differently to his own apostles than he did to the Scribes and Pharisees, differently to the Samaritan woman than to Peter.
He could be stern or gentle. He knew when to speak and when to be silent. He was sensitive to the generosity of the widow at the temple and to the need for affection on the part of the children who sought his blessing. His entire life and ministry remain the central paradigm for uncovering and inculturating gospel values of the kingdom into particular contests.