Evangelizing another culture requires points of contact – not just person to person, but culture-to-culture. How do you reach out to an entirely new culture and share the good news of Jesus? Sure, sure, to the Jews the whole concept of “Messiah” was already there. The entire Hebrew Bible (in all of its linguistic diversity) was a preparation for Messiah. But when Paul got to the Greeks we had to look deeper: Logos – already in the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures – came to the fore. What do you do when you get to a culture that doesn’t have the same Biblical antecedents?
Bishop Alopen reached China in the 6th Century. He and his entourage of missionaries brought with them Christian scriptures, icons, vestments. They were welcomed by the Imperial Court and instantly they began looking for points of contact even as they learned the language. The mission (mentioned in the stele posted at the top of this article) lasted until the 10th century. During that time the faith took on a remarkably Asian flavor as the missionaries learned to speak into the Buddhist and Taoist traditions that were there. In China the Church was called Da Qin Luminous Religion – “Da Qin” meaning from the Roman Empire. The teaching of the faith came in a remarkably Chinese flavor linking Jesus and the other paths.
What do you do when you don’t have the entirety of Hebrew culture and the rich, polyglot Jewish scriptures to provide the foundations of your work? Do you need to make people Jewish before you can make them Christian? The Church has answered this question with a profound and loud “no” since the Apostles were first asked this question. Over time, the Church has learned – as St Paul saw (following the Hebrew prophets) – that God has been preparing all peoples in their own experience of his revelation. Christ is not only the fulfillment of the Jewish Prophecies. If he is God in the flesh, the Taoists, the Buddhists, the Celts, the Hopi, the Aztecs, and even the Amazonians must all have points of contact for the Gospel.
They don’t need to be Jewish first. Nor do they need to be European. They don’t need to be urban, educated, or even “civilized ” as we understand it in the sense of colonizing people with our culture. What they need is Jesus.
More importantly: what we can learn, as Christians in the dying First World, is that the Gospel is both a levan in our politics, economics, culture wars, and colonialism – and is entirely liberated from and transcending them.
You can find Jesus without being a white, Anglo-American in suburbia. And the Jesus you meet will look more like you than you expect and more like you than the missionaries expect. And the Jesus you meet will enrich the entire Church in ways she did not expect. For the Holy Spirit was moving in your culture before we got there, preparing you, raising you up, opening your heart.
If only we could hear him as clearly as you do.