The following commentary addresses the sixth point as advanced by Myron S. Augsburger in “The Contemporary Relevance of the Anabaptist Faith” (Brethren in Christ History and Life, August 2000), which is: “Interpreting Our Participation in Evangelism as Socially and Ethnically Inclusive.”
Augsburger begins his thoughts with a reminder of the meaning of compassion. “The meaning of compassion,” Augsburger writes, “is not limited to any ethnic sameness but is a call for us to see all peoples alike created in the image of God. The kingdom of Christ is inclusive, and our witness of grace must be consistently so.”
Amen! It is not hard to agree with Augsburger on this well articulated point! It is, however, harder to actually live as if it were true. Don’t misread me: it is true! The problem is not in the truth of the statement, but in it’s honest and practical application. Gospel compassion is not - by any stretch of any imagination - limited to any sense of ethnic sameness! The Gospel is a clarion call to embrace the image of God in other(s). As participants in this very Gospel, our witness of this truth must be consistent. The inclusive Kingdom of Christ demands it. But do we live as if it were so?
Perhaps I would not even be asking such a pointed question if it were not for my reading of Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church. The consumer driven church of North America is largely a suburban movement. It is a suburban movement driven by upper/middle class economics and mobility. Seriously, would you even be a consumer if you had no money? Would you even be superimposing a consumer mentality over Christ’s Church if you had not already forged such a mentality in three-cart-wide isles of choice-filled shopping malls? That said, there is nothing at all wrong with upper/middle class economics! If only we all could live in such realities (with a better sense of stewardship, of course)! The problem or difficulty arises when we strap the way we actually “do” church to an upper/middle class sensibility and limit the Gospel to expressions born therein. The problem becomes a monster when those limited sensibilities are confused with ministry philosophy and our way “doing” church becomes an extension of the suburban church movement, in spite of context. “What’s wrong with the suburban church movement,” you ask? Nothing! It only goes wrong when that’s all there is! It goes wrong when the upward mobility of the movement is confused with the Gospel and the whole thing is transformed into THE philosophy of ministry for any church. It goes wrong when the urban centers are avoided because the mobility inherent to the suburbs produces “success”. It goes wrong when it is superimposed over all contexts, in spite of contextual differences and realities. What’s left, when this happens, is a Church that no longer is built upon a Gospel that authentically reconciles God and people and people with people. What’s left is a church that perpetuates - celebrates - the race and class divisions that result in ethnically segregated congregations. This works both ways too, mind you. It’s a lot to chew on, I admit it. So, take your time.
Augsburger’s expressed Anabaptism offers a solution to the above problem. The solution is not in the Anabaptism itself, but in the stripped down Gospel it expresses and animates. Augsburger’s expression is stripped down, but it is not void of strong statements. He, for example, writes the following:
As Christians we are witnesses of equality in the human family, for all alike are created by God and called by God. There is no Christian culture as such nor is there any primary ethnic group in the kingdom. The human tendency is to regard one’s own race as superior. This is not only true of Caucasians, it is true, for example, in Japan, in the Middle East, and in Africa. But as Christians, we should recognize the primacy of being children of God, of together belonging to him.
Augsburger’s thoughts re: the inherent tendency to think of one’s own race as superior is obvious. The Gospel of Christ is a clarion call away from such thinking. It’s easy to admit that much, I think. There are no white, black, or brown divisions in Christ’s kingdom. We understand that much, usually. Right? Augsburger’s comment concerning a “Christian culture” is not, however, so easily or quickly digested. There is no “Christian Culture?” Seriously?!? Augsburger thinks not, if I am reading him accurately. I would agree with him too! There is no singular, permanently set “Christian Culture!” Christian Culture is a myth born of our personal need for social, political, and religious familiarity. It’s the one thing our conversions to the faith can’t peel. We are left with cultural idiosyncrasies that we neither sense, nor feel, and we superimpose them all onto a Gospel that is supposed to transcend culture and time. Therein, a myriad of time-wasting problems and issues are born. And oh do we spin …
Augsburger’s expressed Anabaptism and it’s strong stance on a “Christian Culture” is a very, very good place to start for those who desire desperately to live and experience a socially and ethnically inclusive evangelism.
For those who interested, the August 2000 issue of Brethren in Christ History and Life can be ordered for $5.00:
Brethren in Christ Historical Society
P. O. Box 310
Grantham, PA 17027