I recently read a very interesting article by Dyron Daughrity in Missio Dei, a missions journal from the Stone-Campbell Movement. Here’s the abstract of the article:
This paper looks at problems that have occurred in Church of Christ missions by focusing on a case study in India called the Arise Shine Church of Christ Mission. The paper argues that paternalism in a cappella church missions has led to a “time capsule effect” wherein churches in India have become stultified. Indian Church of Christ members have developed a hybrid identity. They try to be faithful to the sending churches—in this case Canada’s valiant missionary J. C. Bailey—but they have to balance it with faithfulness to their own culture. Several issues are brought forth such as Bible translations (especially the use of the King James Version), contextualization and indigenization, and the unfortunate dependency that often arises in Church of Christ missions efforts.
In the article itself, Daughrity says:
The Church of Christ in India, however, has not turned into the fused symbiosis that Walls witnessed in Africa. Rather, the time capsule would be a more fitting analogy. And major challenges loom because of this theological and cultural stagnation. Members remain deeply loyal to the form of Christianity brought to them decades earlier by stalwart missionaries.
I have seen the same thing throughout Latin America. I remember having a discussion about a controversial topic in the church in Córdoba, Argentina. We had discussed for nearly an hour, when one member who had been converted 20 years before said, “You can say what you want; I know what the missionaries taught me.” She then pronounced a stance on that issue. No appeal to Scripture or biblical principles. This was what the missionaries had taught, and that was good enough for her.
You don’t have to go overseas to see similar things, of course. People will hold to what granddad taught or what their favorite teacher taught, even if they may not understand the reasoning behind the teaching.
I’m not sure how we avoid this. I have some ideas. One thing that I try to do in my ministry at Herald of Truth is focus on teaching people how to study the Bible rather than on the content of the Bible. That can be a scary thing, for you run the risk of people reaching different conclusions than you have. But if they reach those conclusions based on the Word of God, is that such a bad thing? Isn’t there a chance that they’ll reach right conclusions on subjects where we’ve missed the mark?
What are your thoughts? Is this sort of thing avoidable?