Let’s be honest - the world is a strange place. Our daily routines cover up this reality with our brains filtering through the billions of odd happening each day and stringing them together as a daily routine story. Yet if we stop and really, really look we will see the strangeness around us. Small little customs and practices that showcase a cultural connection with those around us. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with this shared oddness, it does pose a challenge for those of us who answer the call of the Spirit to tell the tribes, nations, and people groups of the world about the Creator King and his love.
So what are we to? How can we filter through our own internal biases as well as the countless practices, values, and customs of the culture we are trying to reach? Though our heart and passion may be to contextualize the good news of the Kingdom, it is easy to get disorientated in the sea of strangeness and default back to the ways of our youth. Luckily this is not a new question but one that has been tossed around for centuries. And one of the best answers to this question comes from Pope Gregory the Great around the turn of the seventh century.
Having a heart for the Anglo people of England, Gregory had sent Augustine of Canterbury to the British Isles to tell them about Jesus. Augustine was overwhelmed with the strangeness he found in the land and didn’t know what customs and practices were worth embracing and which ones needed to be forgot. Needing help, he wrote to Gregory and asked for his advice.
Before I share Gregory’s reply with you, I must mention that Augustine wasn’t the first follower of Jesus to reach out to the people of England. The Faith had entered the land hundreds of years before through the lives of people lost to history. In fact, Ireland, Wales, and other parts of the British Isles had a thrilling church culture. These churches just weren’t engaging the Anglo-Saxon people of Kent hence Augustine’s missionary mandate. With this background, let us turn our eyes towards Gregory’s response to Augustine:
“My brother, you know the customs of the Roman Church in which, of course, you were brought up. But it is my wish that if you have found any customs in the Roman or the Gaulish church or any other church which may be more pleasing to Almighty God, you should make a careful selection of them and sedulously teach the Church of the English, which is still new in the faith, what you have been able to gather from other churches. For things are not to loved for the sake of a place, but places are to be loved for the sake of their good things. Therefore choose from every individual Church whatever things are devout, religious, and right. And when you have collected these as it were into one bundle, see that the minds of the English grow accustomed to it.”
For those of us in the Vineyard, Gregory’s words sound strangely similar, albeit more verbose, to John Wimber’s pithy advice to ‘eat the meat and spit out the bones.’ We are to love and learn from those around us – whether that be another church, culture, people group, etc. The core message of Jesus does not change even though the way that message is shared and/or celebrated differs. In humbly acknowledging that the Spirit of the Creator was there before us, we can follow Gregory’s advice “to choose from every [church, culture, people group, etc.] whatever things are devout, religious, and right” and teach those things. The strangeness of life will still be around us – both at home and abroad - but it will be a contextualized strangeness that will have lasting impact on ourselves and those around us.
 Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, eds. Judith McClure and Roger Collins (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 43.
Joshua S. Hopping, VI Facilitator/Cohort Leader, Vineyard Boise Christian Fellowship in Boise, Idaho
Joshua S. Hopping is a passionate follower of the Creator King with a missional heart and a love of people. He considers himself a Christian mystic with an emphasis on living out the inaugurated eschatology of Kingdom Theology within one’s daily life. Joshua is the former pastor of the Sweet Vineyard (Sweet, Idaho) and the author of The Here and Not Yet: What is Kingdom Theology and Why Does it Matter? In October 2018, he moved to Kuna, Idaho intending to start a faith community focused on helping people explore the mystery of the Creator.