When I write the word ‘church’, what is the first thing that pops into your head? I expect you imagine a building or a service (taking place inside a building). Well, these are expressions of church but not church. If you have been reading my articles for a few weeks then you will know that church is not something you go to, but a community of people glued together by the love of God expressed through the person of Jesus Christ.
How the church expresses itself, well, that is up for grabs. Churches express themselves in different ways based on the social and cultural context in which they were established and exist. The Anglican Church in Bermuda organised itself into parishes and erected buildings with pointy towers in which they could gather to offer worship to God. To fill the big spaces with a big sound they used huge sound systems — otherwise known as pipe organs. They created books with specific words and prayers they found helpful, and sung songs to the lively tunes of the day.
It is worth remembering that every Christian church was once planted. Every Christian church was born, first out of a community that had no buildings, no songs, and or words of their own. I am a leader of an Anglican Church, and cannot help but wonder that, if we were to plant a Christian church today, how would we do it? What would it look like? What are the things we would hold dear — values, if you will, that would shape and define our lives together?
One of the wonderful things about Christianity is that it expresses itself in whatever context and culture people find Jesus. And yet, the church has been guilty of inculturation. In other words it takes people from one context and shapes them and moulds them into a church context.
For example, I have been a long-standing member of the world-wide beatboxing community. For those that do not know what beatboxing is, it is a form of mouth-drumming and is part of the wider hip-hop movement. I created the world’s first beatboxing video tutorials, ran the world’s biggest website for beatboxers, and have been a judge at the last two World Beatboxing Championships. I love beatboxing, I love hip-hop, I love the Bible, and I love Jesus. To this end, I wrote the entire Gospel of Luke in rap and have beatboxed and performed to audiences all over the world. So, what happens when a young person who has grown up being part of that music culture gets to know Jesus and becomes a Christian? Do we say to them that they have to go along to their local church building on a Sunday morning (when they lie in after partying all night), sit in pews (where the only other place they have seen them is in the court house), and expect them to sing Victorian hymns with obscure words accompanied by a pipe-organ?
Now, I love sacred spaces and pipe-organs, especially when played by Angie, our talented organist, but on reflection, I have to recognise that I was inculturated into Churchianity. I adopted expressions of church that were not natural to me and since being ordained as a priest I have fought to keep one foot in both worlds. My calling has been to bridge the gap between church culture and wider culture. But I do not do this of my own volition. It is part of the calling of every Anglican priest. When I was ordained and each time I took up a new post I had to make something called the Declaration of Assent. In it are these words:
“The Anglican Church is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation.”
Notice the last part. “to proclaim afresh in each generation.” Let that sink in. It does not say, “proclaim in the ways it has always been done, using the same formulas that have always been used, and using the same language that has always been spoken.” No! The Anglican Church recognises that in order to effectively proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and be witnesses to God’s love, then we need to use methods , language, and styles that are appropriate for the wider social and cultural context in which we find ourselves. I made this public promise in front of the Bishop and the congregations which I have served, and it is something I take very seriously.
Right now there is a whole world outside of the church that is a different culture. How does the church bridge that cultural divide? Well, it can do this by making our expressions of worship and ministry culturally relevant. For example, at our all-age worship at St. Mark’s we sing modern songs with cool beats, have accessible words, and provide relevant and engaging talks. As well as being culturally relevant inside the church building, we also proclaim the message of Jesus and be witnesses to God’s love outside the church building.
One of the ways I seek to connect people to Jesus, is through The Hip-Hop Gospel. It is a rhyming version of Luke’s Gospel and is written to connect with a wider non-church culture. In fact, there is a group of us, here in Bermuda, looking to take it to the stage as a musical production. If this is something you would like to be involved in, or know someone that would like to be involved, let me know. It is a very exciting project. You can download a free copy of The Hip-Hop Gospel from https://thehiphopgospel.com/ and it is also available, for a small fee, from the Kindle store.
So, this week, may you shine like a star and be Jesus to everyone you meet both inside and outside the church, and may you be blessed to be a blessing.