The good news of Jesus is for everyone. That’s the wonderful truth that is the basis of our mission to reach the city and reach the world. We want people from all different cultural and religious backgrounds to be able to come along to one of our campuses and hear the good news of Jesus.
To that end we try run our Sunday services in a way that removes needless obstacles to the ‘everyday’ person we’re trying to reach. This is without doubt a wonderful thing. Aussies who come searching or with questions can do so without or with minimally being weirded out by church.
But what about others? When my wife and I visit our Muslim friends Boris and Natasha*, we not only have a great time, we dream of the day they will be open to the gospel enough to come along to one of our services. But what would happen if they did?
Cultural Faux Pas
The whole time Boris and Natasha would be in our service, cultural faux pas would abound on both sides. There’s literally no end to the mistakes, the offenses, etc. that would take place
But that’s OK. When people from different cultures meet, that’s bound to happen. Whenever my wife and I have dinner with Boris and Natasha, all we ever really do is offend each other over and over again. But we get that and we’re happy to let it slide. And the thing is, if we get it, so do they. And they let it slide too. In fact, it can make for interesting conversation in which we learn about each other and even a good laugh.
Most of the time.
There are, of course, certain values a culture holds that run deep. They are fundamental, moral, assumed to be universal and important to the heart. When they’re broken you feel them in your gut. And the really hard thing is that Aussie and Islamic culture hold them to be opposite. And they’re on view from the moment you step into church.
Men and Women
The first thing Boris and Natasha would notice is all the men and women engaging in rampant sexual immorality with each other in church. What I mean is, men and women who aren’t married to each other would be socialising together in the one room, talking to people of the opposite sex who aren’t their spouses and sitting next to each other. Considering
church is supposed to be (in their thinking) a holy place, even husbands and wives should be separate inside, preferably entering from different doorways into different sections.
As Christians we largely disagree with the sexual morality of wider Australian culture – but for Boris and Natasha, Christianity and the Australian culture they see around them are the same thing.
But perhaps they’ve lived in Australia long enough to realise we just have a different way of relating as men and women and are open minded enough to live with that. But all that’s about to change with what happens next, which is inexcusable.
Where’s Your Bible?
Once they actually get into the service and sit down, they might initially be taken aback by things that so culturally different from going to a mosque – people sitting on chairs, the music – but it wouldn’t be too long before they saw what really mattered: What people are doing with their Holy Book, the Bible.
Muslims’ holy book is the Qur’an and it’s deeply significant to them; it’s the heart of their religion. It is in their minds God’s very words to them and as such must be treated with absolute reverence and respect. The Qur’an needs to be kept in absolute pristine condition – no covers falling off or dog ears! It shouldn’t be handled by an unbeliever. It shouldn’t ever be written in.
And it should never, ever, under any circumstances, be put on the floor.
To put a holy book on the floor is an act of profound disrespect. It’d be like someone tearing pages out of a Bible for us. It defiles. And many Muslims consider Christians to worship the same God as them and think the Bible is another book from God. And even if they don’t, for us to put our Bibles on the ground is to say that we don’t think much of our God and that this is an unclean religion.
And Boris and Natasha have now seen Bibles on the ground all over the place. We might try to tell them that for us honouring the Bible is a thing of the heart – listening to and obeying what God says in it. But for Boris and Natasha it’s all the same thing. And they feel this deeply. In their guts.
That would be enough. They won’t be back. But there’s more.
What are You Wearing?
In any culture, what you wear communicates things about yourself. That’s true for Aussies and for Boris and Natasha. But what we’re saying to each other is very different to what we might think. F and S don’t expect women to have their heads veiled. But loose fitting and long is respectable and decent. And men don’t wear shorts. Shorts are for boys. Any man worth listening to wears long pants. This past summer has been difficult for me.
What’s for Lunch?
After the service people from church are very welcoming to them and bring them over to have a sausage on bread for lunch. But people don’t realise how anxious they are because they don’t know where the meat’s from. Is it halal? If it hasn’t been killed a certain way they mustn’t eat it. They’re not allowed. But it’s also really important to them that they don’t offend us by refusing to eat what we offer. They’re feeling pretty stressed.
This Sounds Hard. Maybe We Could Invite Them to an Evangelistic Event First. There’s a Steak and Beer Night…
No. In fact it’d be helpful if we could make sure they never hear about it.
And we haven’t even got to the language barrier yet…
A lot of the ways we try to remove obstacles for one group of people to come to church builds a wall of obstacles for others. But it feels like removing those obstacles will just rebuild them for the first group. What then? Is it just too hard?
The beautiful thing is that while crossing these cultural barriers seems impossible to us – and is – it isn’t to God. He is God of the impossible.
When I assume I need to do this from my own ability I despair. I focus on those cultural differences and get frustrated or fearful. I miss the real people behind them; real people with real relationships, real hopes and fears, disappointments and loves. I despair that it isn’t quick and painless and that I can’t hold out the gospel from a safe distance.
It’d be good if I could just invite someone to church, they come and hear the gospel. But it feels like years before someone can even listen to the gospel much less come to church. It takes a long time of entering their homes and welcoming them into mine, of listening to the people behind the different clothes, of making my and bearing their faux pas and misunderstandings, of slow and maybe awkward conversations. Of feeling like nothing’s going anywhere.
But when I bring all this to the God of the impossible I remember that all these things look like what he calls love. That he achieved the impossible not from a safe distance but through the costly love of the cross of Jesus. That his Spirit lives in us and empowers us to love others the same way. That this is how he saves lost people.
And I remember that he hasn’t sent any of us to carry this on our shoulders alone. He’s sent us as a community of saved people to hold out his love to the world as we love each other. And then I feel joy.
Will you be a part of this mission?
Cross Cultural Connect Pastor